I feel a common bond with this book. Aapo Huhta has explored a few different terrains that I have also explored or happened upon over the last decade, and he has combined them compellingly. It is another book in an increasingly exciting year for the publisher Kult Books, whose imprint I am following closely as the publisher is making a serious push to fill a vacuum for more experimental titles that both Akina and VOID previously occupied. This stated, I consider VOID to be moving toward its mature form; Kult is taking chances and looking toward the darker side of photography previously occupied by the Athens publishers. That also stated there is maturity coming through Kult’s offerings, and Janne is taking some interesting risks with artists, but also how he produces books. His last three volumes are all oriented toward uncomfortable subject matter, such as narco deaths in Mexico and kidnappings in Guatemala.
First, to describe the images in Aapo’s book, I would suggest that they are about bodies-bodies trapped in ice, trapped in a floating cosmology like a piece of ambergris lulling itself up and down toward and away from the surface of a brazenly upset ocean. Each body or piece of metaphorical whale vomit is potent and can transubstantiate with the viewer’s help. The bodies look tired, waxen, and calcified, yet they feel almost holy in their pale illuminance. They exhibit an age in years that suggests somewhere past the ideal, and they morph and dissolve on the page, similarly to Andre Kertesz’s photographs held in a state of denied anamorphism.
In the book, we look for a subtle way to turn the image to flatten and read it with the correct perspective but are denied. The bodies drape the pages like a clock drapes a sagging tree limb in the paintings of Salvador Dali. They look gnomish, distorted, and stretched to capacity. That the skin still holds these bodies together still is a miracle. Allegedly, the artist crafted these images through photographic alchemy, merging bodies from Palermo’s Capuchin Catacombs with other bodies to create these forms through layers of analog printing.
Having photographed and filmed in the crypts previously, I could not recognize any familiar faces or empty and cavernous sockets. Still, I would not be surprised to recognize a few resident mummies if I tried harder. I see more kinship with mummified bodies found in Guanajuato, primarily due to how those mummies “stand” and how their adipose tissue has hardened. However, the press release tells me differently. I also see a face reminiscent of Ramesses II (on his passport, but also in the Bonfils photographs from the 1870s) dwelling among the grain.
The book’s handling of old age and bodies slipping toward the abyss is reminiscent in some ways of Leif Sandberg’s books Ending and Beyond the Mirror, which are also reminiscent, though through a faint echo of John Coplan’s auto-portraits. The distress in the images is also reminiscent of Nobuyoshi Araki’s seminal Endscapes book, in which the negatives the artist had stored in a moist place began their march toward rot that the artist recognized as a key to their potential. Everything in Gravity also feels water-logged and submerged.
The given reason for exploring age is that the artist had recently become a father while making the work. I can completely, as a father myself, understand and empathize with how that makes one feel. If we separate the need to protect, nurture, and steer a new family through these moments, we can also think about the toll on the individual psyche of the parent. One feels at once needed, and at once, that time is slipping away as soon as the life-marking biological act of birth has transpired. I suspect grandparents get a double dose of this feeling. Each successive generation narrows down, through the act of progeny-producing, the lifespan that previously seemed vast. There is a silent ticking of a clock that begins with parenthood that we stave off as much as possible.
Not all the human elements are in decline. Some look like the artist has also been dabbling in AI image-making, but it is hard to tell. Bodies like updates of Hans Bellmer’s dolls fade in and out of the ether. Mid-life figures are also addressed, as are images of toddlers. A recurring eye comes back to remind us of the act of looking, and nebulous landscapes, however imagined, suggest an inhospitable and unfriendly terrain. Then, the stars remind us of the dust we spring from, begging questions about our species’ persistence to exist, to create progeny, and so forth.
This is a great book, exceptionally well-designed with its double-folded softcover, brilliantly emblazoned in gold and blue, with several paper stocks permeating and a simple pamphlet stitch binding to hold it all elegantly together without as much pomp as was possible, but as was needed. I highly recommend this title and the last year’s worth of publishing by Kult. Be on the watch for the publisher as well as Aapo, whose own career also appears to be entering into a crucial phase of productivity.
Original Press Release and Specifications
Aapo Huhta’s book Gravity presents a collection of black and white studio portraits of human figures and shapes combined with imagery of mummified remains from late 16th-century Sicily. In these gently surreal scenes, human bodies float, enveloped in grainy textures from chemical residues and light leaks. By photographing and rephotographing through transparent and reflective objects, Huhta transforms the figures into contorted human-like creatures. He also manipulates the interaction of film, developer, and overly expired photographic paper by hand and re-establishes the unpredictability into a process that is commonly sought to be controlled.
“Gravity seems to take place just outside of the imaginary event horizon of a fantastic black hole, in a limbo where both matter and concepts are altered to the point of collapse. The disintegration of the body is exposed in all its terrifying beauty as Huhta rejects the norms of depicting the human individual. But embedded within the endless night of Gravity’s outer space are clues of what lies beyond the final loss of power: the end is an enduring arid landscape. This, then, is what peace looks like.“
The catalyst for the work Gravity was a change in identity that happened after becoming a parent. The result is a subjective interpretation of the complexity and fragility of human life and an intuitive response toward the unknown.
Embossed double-folded softcover
Pamphlet stitch binding
Monotone and tritone offset printing
22.5 x 27.5 cm
First edition of 500 copies
Designed by Heikki Kaski and Aapo Huhta