Departure Lounge is the third book in Jason Eskenazi’s trilogy on contemporary fairy tales. Unlike the first two books, I bought this one myself rather than receiving it from the Charcoal Book Club, which delivered Black Garden, the second book, in 2019, and a second edition copy of Wonderland in 2020, and I bought it just to have the whole trilogy. The other two are signed, so it’s not a matching set, but like Wonderland my copy of Departure Lounge has greasy handprints on the cardboard cover, so, taken together, they sorta match…

Pictures in Departure Lounge were made between 1992 and 2014, with the vast majority coming between 1997 and 2001, and are mostly outtakes and alternates from the Wonderland series. With all three in hand, I stand by my assertions in the Black Garden review: the parings and effective, if a bit heavy handed; it’s clear that a story is being told, and Eskenazi (and various reviewers) are more than happy to tell us all about it, more or less. I also stand behind my statements in my Wonderland review, basically around my failure to “read” photobooks with any sort of though without first reading the photographer or some real reviewer write about it. And so I appreciate Eskenazi telling us all about it…

In some ways, Black Garden and Departure Lounge feel like also rans, afterthoughts, to Wonderland. And no wonder: Eskenazi won all sorts of best of awards for Wonderland, and some of the funding for that project came from a 1999 Guggenheim fellowship. Later fellowships allowed other projects, but nothing really compared to Wonderland, as far as I can tell, and apparently the bug for that type of work, and to do something with it, stayed with him.

So he photographed around Istanbul and up into some of the south-western parts of the former Soviet empire, and those pictures became Black Garden, then culled his archive and made Departure Lounge to complete the statement. It’s a great way of working, I think, and I could learn something from it in my own garbage photography.

The work in all three books is top notch. Eskenazi mixes wonderfully layered documentary-style photographs into some sort of unrelated story: Wonderland was about Fairy Tales;Black Garden extended this, taking the concept of Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis further, sorta; and Departure Lounge circles back to show the “truth” or at least the lived reality. At least that’s what I gather from statements about (and others writing about) it and the series.

Just about the best written discussion I’ve found comes from, of all places, Eric Kim’s blog, where he transcribed an interview between Eskenazi and @twocutedogs, aka Charlie Kirk, whose Katil Var was, and remains, the only book I’ve ever picked as the “photobook of the year” (that I can remember claiming as such, anyway), and if you don’t have a copy of that book, stop reading now and do yourself a favor: it’s some excellent, top of the heap, Capital “S,” Capital “P,” Street Photography, and just a masterwork of the genre. Anyway.

The interview is well before Black Garden and Departure Lounge and Eskenazi goes into some good detail about his background and thinking, about his process. I found it just before posting the Wonderland review, but didn’t really read it; only scanned it to see if maybe, just maybe, it contained the statements so many others quoted around the first book. Alas. It’s still worth a read, and I need to make some notes: some of the stuff has a small bearing, I think, on an idea I had over the weekend for a photo project that I’ll probably never do anything with…

Anyway. Together, the three books really do make a sort of altarpiece, with two wings framing a central panel. It’s an interesting way to tie them all together, though only second edition copies of Wonderland will actually work… (Eskenazi updated the trim size to fit the idea he had long after the first book was published.)

Singly, each book is solid; together they add up to something more, even if it sorta seems a wee bit forced somehow. And once again, I remind myself that I’m privileged to be a member of the Charcoal Book Club, which delivered two of the three, and to have the disposable income enough to just jump on the third. (And hopefully Eskenazi doesn’t come up with a set of prequels and sequels and interludes and and and, ala the Star Wars franchise… I don’t want to give him any ideas, but then I don’t expect this review will cross his radar at all.)

Like the others, Departure Lounge is going to get 4 stars. It’s good, for sure, but if you’re only going to get one of Eskenazi’s books, get Wonderland (or The Americans List II). And only get Departure Lounge if you’re going to get the whole trilogy.

Departure Lounge remains available direct from Red Hook Editions, where you can also find the second edition of Wonderland and Black Garden. They’re all good by themselves, and better as a set, but, and again, if you’re wanting to pick just one, go for Wonderland, and then only after picking up a copy of Katil Var. Really. Do it. I can’t say enough about how good that book is. Sure, Kirk’s book is a sort of greatest hits catalog, where Wonderland (and Black Garden and Departure Lounge) is a self contained story. I’ve learned more and thought more about sequencing and possibilities of narrative form in photography from the Eskenazi books, but Kirk’s book needs to be on more shelves, and Eskenazi already had a Guggenheim and a Fullbright and a dozen other awards, so…

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