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Burdock
     

Burdock

by Janet Malcolm
 

Over the course of three summers in New England, Malcolm gathered leaves of the burdock plant, a “large rank weed” with medicinal properties “that grows along roadsides and in waste places and around derelict buildings.” Influenced by Richard Avedon’s unsparing portraits of famous people, Malcolm is drawn to “uncelebrated leaves&

Overview

Over the course of three summers in New England, Malcolm gathered leaves of the burdock plant, a “large rank weed” with medicinal properties “that grows along roadsides and in waste places and around derelict buildings.” Influenced by Richard Avedon’s unsparing portraits of famous people, Malcolm is drawn to “uncelebrated leaves” on which “life has left its mark,” through the ravages of time, weather, insects, or blight. In her introduction, Malcolm reminds us that writers like Chekhov and Hawthorne have used burdock “to denote ruin and desolation.” And yet, for Malcolm, Burdock is an homage to the botanical illustrators who recognized “the gorgeousness of the particulars of the things that are alive in the world.”

Burdock consists of a series of large color photographs portraying a single, unusual kind of leaf in various stages of growth and decay. As such, it is a work of botanical and indeed philosophical interest as well as an art book. Like all of Malcolm’s work, this project entails looking with a steely but sympathetic and extremely intelligent eye at the world around her, zeroing in on the oddities that others might miss and using them as clues through which she solves the larger mystery.”—Wendy Lesser

Malcolm’s leaves will be shown at the Lori Bookstein Fine Arts Gallery in New York, September 9–October 11, 2008.

“Looking at natural forms close up is an exercise in awe.”—Janet Malcolm

Editorial Reviews

ARTnews

"Starkly photographed against a white background, the leaves suggest Richard Avedon''s austere portraits."—Rebecca Robertson, ARTnews

— Rebecca Robertson

New York Magazine

"Elegant. . . . A marvel."—Tayt Harlin, New York Magazine

[Critic''s Pick]

— Tayt Harlin

New York Observer

"Weird and wonderful."—Adam Begley, New York Observer

— Adam Begley

Art Times
"Breathtakingly seductive, Burdock is almost as much a journey of the soul as it is of the eyes. Though [Malcolm] leaves us with only a handful of images, they linger in the mind for hours after you've closed the book. Lovely."—Art Times
Michael Pollan
"Seldom has an American artist—in any genre—offered such clear-eyed images of the natural world. Skirting all the usual landscape conventions—sublime, elegiac, sentimental—Janet Malcolm has turned her wintry gaze on these most ordinary leaves, and the result is wondrous to behold. Here is the heartbreaking particularity of nature, and the ravages of time made flesh. At once clinical and poignant, these photographs changed the way I look at the green world around me."—Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
ARTnews - Rebecca Robertson
"Starkly photographed against a white background, the leaves suggest Richard Avedon's austere portraits."—Rebecca Robertson, ARTnews
New York Magazine - Tayt Harlin
"Elegant. . . . A marvel."—Tayt Harlin, New York Magazine
[Critic's Pick]
New York Observer - Adam Begley
"Weird and wonderful."—Adam Begley, New York Observer
Publishers Weekly

Malcolm, New Yorker writer, critic and the author of insightful biographies The Silent Women and Two Lives, launches into a different discipline with this collection of botanical photographs. Instead of multidimensional human characters, her subjects are page after page of burdock leaves, the "rank weed... [that] writers have used to denote ruin and desolation." Malcolm writes that she has tried to photograph the leaves "as if they were people," taking inspiration from Richard Avedon's unflinching celebrity portraits and the work of botanical illustrators. Accordingly, many of her chosen leaves are imperfect, marred by blight, insects and the ravages of the environment. These are Malcolm's favorite specimens, as she hopes that the camera's "transformative capacities" confer "aesthetic value on the apparently plain and worthless." That transformation doesn't happen all on its own, though; it requires a measure of technical skill and visual flair, and the evidence in this book is that Malcolm doesn't have the chops for the job. While there is an austere splendor in these simple, plainly lit, head-on shots, too often the images seem flatter than they should. Interesting variations in color, shape and texture are lost to an apparently overly shallow depth of field. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300128611
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
09/15/2008
Pages:
64
Product dimensions:
10.40(w) x 12.30(h) x 0.40(d)

Meet the Author

Janet Malcolm is the author of many books including The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey, and Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, for which she received the 2008 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. She writes for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. Her burdock leaf photographs can be seen at the Lori Bookstein Fine Art Gallery in New York City.

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