Alisa Resnik‘s On the Night That We Leave was the Charcoal Photobook of the Month for January 2022. It’s a little bit bittersweet for me. I cancelled my subscription auto-renewal, and so this is the penultimate book from my multi-year subscription. Admittedly, this probably colors my thoughts some. Anyway. It’s an interesting and very Charcoal-y book, beautifully printed, with imagery and pacing that invites narrative. The images are almost never in sharp focus and feature muted colors that shift into the green/brown spectrum; Resin’s subjects appear alternately dejected and ecstatic, depressed and wondering. I would make some quip like “no wonder they want to leave,” but that’s too obvious.
On one hand, there’s more to it than that; on the other hand, that’s all there is.
As I write this, I’m listening to Georgio Moroder’s Innovisions on the Internet Archive, and maybe it fits… sorta. There’s something driving the book, the pictures, the subjects, and it’s chugging away like… like an early 80s disco beat… like the train that maybe carried Resnik “From Berlin to St. Petersburg,” through this little small Eastern European town and that, always at night, somehow, which explains the color. And the softness.
I could probably write a couple hundred words discussing On the Night That We Leave in the context of Moroder’s unfortunate Nights in White Satin cover. Or, for that matter, discussion of Moroder in the context of the book. It’s not that the book is unfortunate. Far from it. But it is rather open ended in a way that only narrative photobooks can be. And I’ll spare you any further analysis in that vein.
There’s something there, something in the book, something in the pacing. You may find a clue in the publisher’s blurb (in French) or in its English translation over on Charcoal. There’s definitely a clue in Resnik’s website, which breaks project up into three parts, though while there’s some overlap in the sequencing, the web version is necessarily different from the book.
And this brings me to something about myself that I’ve complained some about in the past: I don’t really pick up on things in photobooks so quickly; I usually need someone to point things out. Even then, I’m sometimes not too sure what it is I’m supposed to be getting. I may appreciate the work, may like the color and tone, may enjoy the subject matter, may pick up some very obvious pairings (if I’m absolutely bludgeoned with the obviousness). And I’m almost never able to really get the story without a guide.
On the Night That We Leave has a nice, moody feel, and as I mentioned above, there’s a movement to it that strongly suggests narrative. (And, yes, I’m using “story” and “narrative” sort of interchangeably here, mostly to show my own incompetence.) It jumps a bit though. For the vast majority, we’re in what looks to me like Eastern Europe, moving from town to town or moving around town. I’ve never been east of Germany, but the buildings and all look like the Europe that’s in old spy movies set in the early periods of the Cold War. Then, suddenly, there’s one or two pictures from somewhere else, somewhere more southern: a man in a sombrero and waistcoat, another in a showy red jacket, with a horse in stable or someplace, that remind me of bullfighting. And, as hinted at above, the publisher blurb starts “From Berlin to Saint Petersburg, passing through Odessa or Italy….”
The blurb continues “le lieu de cet ouvrage est finalement la nuit,” in the Charcoal translation, “the ultimate location of this photobook is the night.” And so a very simplistic reading—and one that works, albeit unsatisfactorily and in a way that is just plain wrong—the book could be a sort of “best of” thing, like “here are Resnik’s favorite images made at night in Eastern and Southern Europe in the last decade” or some such. On the Night That We Leave is much more than this, I’m sure, though I doubt I’d get there even with a much more sustained and careful study. I only spent maybe 3 hours with it for this review, after all.
And that’s why I’ve let go of my Charcoal subscription. On the one hand, after almost 40 months, I’ve acquired many many books that I wouldn’t have otherwise even known of, and all shipped better than any other bookseller, all signed, and almost all with a card and small print. They were all great books. Many were quite revelatory and inspiring and moving; some, less so. On the other hand, or maybe it’s the same hand, they all have a certain “Charcoal-y-ness” to them that’s started to tweak me just a bit. It reflect the tastes and positions of the curators, I’m sure, and it’s probably unavoidable. Sure, it’s a taste that overlaps with my own in some ways, and pushes me to expand my own, but after 3 and a quarter years, my taste has solidified some, I have a better idea of what I like and appreciate, and, really, I have too many photobooks that I’m unlikely to ever look at again. So it’s time to say goodbye.
This has little to do with Resnik or her book. I’d be leaving Charcoal anyway. That said, her wonderful book is emblematic of the appreciation I have for Charcoal, its project, its curators and directors, and of the reasons I’m not renewing my annual subscription. That I’m too dense to really get, and therefore really appreciate, On the Night That We Leave, and, for that matter, many other books from the really excellent Charcoal Book Club, is my own loss.
It’s really a good book, I think, especially if you like moody, narrative-y night shots of people and places in older Eastern Europe. You can find copies direct from La Maindonne and elsewhere, and Resnik’s website is worth a look regardless. She has a consistent vision and way of seeing that’s brought much acclaim in the past dozen or so years, and you’re sure to appreciate it, perhaps to a greater extent than I do.