In the increasingly crowded space that is the photobook world and more specifically where I first encountered it, at OffprintPrint in Paris last November, Tim Smyth’s book stuck out like some sore … carrot!
It begins to work simply and beautifully as soon as you clap eyes on it; you can’t miss it -it’s bright orange. By the time you’ve picked it up you feel, and see, that it is a genuinely considered object. Is the title some clever euphenism or metaphor? The white embossed carrot a red herring? No, as soon as you reach the second picture of a carrot, having noted the neat typography and perfect colour choice of end paper, it is indeed as stated on the cover.
It’s impossible not to smile as you flick through a series of mutant vegetables, enjoying the familiarity of the ‘anyone could have done this’ idea put to page. A sort of English regional champion vegetable grower’s competition catalogue designed by uber trendy early SO’s Mancunian record sleeve designer.
In the next flick through you note that the sequence of rude, ugly, funny roots has been divided into categories by regularly inserted pages, with the cool graphic diagrams explaining and labelling the various defects. Now it’s obvious that there’s more to this deceptively simple work.
It is the short essays at either end that realise the unexpected depth to it. In this totally complete piece of work a simple combination of image, design and a few words has been made, assembled and
presented with precision to touch on much more than the sum of the individual parts. Credit also to the publisher; imagine: “I’ve got an idea for a serious photo book; a series of still lives of carrots”.
If I remember right Bruce Webber once said that the success of a great fashion shoot is in the casting, or something to that effect. Well that could apply here couldn’t it? In photographing his imperfect cast of robot rejected carrots, Tim has confirmed Klimt’s assertion that all art is erotic, more importantly that true beauty is in imperfection but seriously – the real point – reminded us subtly and humourously of some of the most serious issues facing us all today; universal issues, but from a totally local viewpoint.
With that recognisably British edge I can’t help thinking of that unsung British genius, Keith Arnatt, when considering Tim’s book. It’s not subversive in that sense, but at a time when novelty seems to be de rigueur it refreshingly reiterates that much more serious work is made by contemplating, elevating, something out of very little, out of that which is around you, common to everyone, than anything else…
Mark Mattock is a photographer. A proud expellee of St Martins School of Art and former award winning Design Director of the original and ultimate mens style bible, Arena. Long term contributor to magazines such as Vogue and iD he has worked on countless more from US Vogue to the Big Issue! Ad campaigns from Armani to Honda. Excited by the obvious image revolution underway he has turned his attention to his own photo work. Currently on his third self published photobook ‘The Angler who fell to Earth’