Dylan Hausthor & Paul Guilmoth’s Sleep Creek was the Charcoal photobook of the month for February 2020… If you needed any indication of just how far behind I am in reviewing books, well, there you are. It received a ton of press, including some thoughtful comments from Collier Brown in Od Review and some
illegible nonsense thoughts from Brad Feuerhelm in ASX, and I’m very late to the party.
As every other reviewer notes, Hauser & Guilmoth met in college, formed Wilt Press together, and began making the work for Sleep Creek while living together on Peaks Island, Maine. From what I understand, they planned to make work on and about the island, but quickly expanded to the whole of New England, if not in the photographs themselves, at least in the ethos, the feel of the book.
The photographs remind me some of Gary Briechle, who likewise made many photographs in Gary Briechle and Maine in Maine, and so maybe there’s something in the water there, something in the air or land that leads photographers to this stark, flash-lit, almost sinister-feeling work.
I’m reminded also of Nathan Pearce, working in the midwest, though Pearce’s work is somewhat more celebratory and uplifting than anything in Sleep Creek (or Maine, for that matter), and it doesn’t seem like Hauser & Guilmoth had any intention of uplifting or celebrating anything. Between the flash-lit spider webs and the holes and voids that populate many scenes, everything else just feels spooky and unforgiving and like someplace I’d never want to visit.
To be frank, I’ve had enough of the seedy underbelly of America. Whether it’s New England and opioids or the ravages of old age, or California Ideology, really, if any of these photographers turned 15 degrees, they’d see something that pointed more towards joy or beauty or interest, and I, for one, and tired of photographs and photobooks that seek to drag me down.
Don’t misunderstand: I like being challenged. I love photobooks that help me discover other lifestyles, other ways of being or thinking. I don’t mind being frightened or shocked (hard to do these days) or disturbed. But I’ve seen Sleep Creek before, most of it anyway, more or less, and it looks better in Collodion or in Color… and made by Gary Briechle.
There are a couple of images that prick a bit: there’s a topless woman with her back turned and her hair on fire; there’s an owl with a missing eye (I just read the Harry Potter books and thought of Hedwig); there’s another topless woman with her head turned away, one arm across her sternum, one arm down by her side, and another scratching her back. And the whole book has this dark-surreal feeling that I would probably appreciate, that a younger me might really dig, that a me in a different mode of thinking and desiring might really get into, but the me that’s writing this, today, the second of August 2021 just can’t really get into it much.
As mentioned above, Sleep Creek got a ton of positive press. It was Andrew Fedynak and Mark Power’s favorite book of 2019; Collier Brown gave a lengthy and thoughtful review in the Od Review; Holly Houlton’s review in Photobookstore.co.uk is one of the best; and Brad Feuerhelm is in full effect on ASX, for better or worse. They probably all do it more justice than I have, and since the book is now in its second 1250-copy printing, I guess it struck a chord with some people. So, again, as always, your mileage may vary.
Sleep Creek is readily available direct from Void and elsewhere, so if any of the above sounds good to you, go for it. I will say that the printing is great and I like the binding. I just wish the contents were something more positive, wish the whole thing wasn’t so bleak and dismal.