ARCHAEOLOGY and the shape of time

Edward Ranney and Richard Benson
The Fisher Press, 2011

Review by Antone Dolezal

Issue 34

In recent years, there has been quite a bit of admiration for small, independent photobook publishers. As a writer of such books, it has been inspiring to witness the magnitude of shifting trends in popularity for these thoughtfully designed and beautifully printed objects. The relatively little known Fisher Press – based in Santa Fe, New Mexico – is one such independent publisher dedicated to handcrafted artist monographs and folios. To pick up and absorb one of their publications is a rewarding commitment to the understanding of how craftsmanship and presentation can truly illuminate an artist’s work. The Fisher Press’ most recent publication ARCHAEOLOGY and the shape of time pays tribute to this notion of an importance to craft and detail, while at the same time offering a timely ode to the photographs of Edward Ranney and Richard Benson.

The pairing of Edward Ranney and Richard Benson’s work is fitting. Both artists are renowned printers – dedicating a lifetime of technical practice to a pursuit of an artistic excellence that preceded their generation. And both men began to find their photographic voice in the 1960s and 70s, looking to the works of an aesthetically conscious group of photographers that included Edward Weston and Paul Caponigro. Their work shares many parallels, one of which being a devotion to the direct correlation between the human imprint within the landscape and the passage of time. Whether it’s Ranney’s well-known documentation of pre-Columbian architecture or Benson’s dedicated study of the impermanent relics of the American landscape, the work of these two photographers has unconsciously crossed paths for decades.

ARCHAEOLOGY and the shape of time is an elegant look at this crossing of paths. The photographs are often subtle -- creating a dialogue that begs the viewer to engage in a serious contemplation of the subject. In one pairing we are presented with two photographs taken by Benson of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial in Boston. Striking in their composition, the images depict a detailed close-up of this cultural symbol. Here we bear witness to the decay of time. The figures cast in this bronze relief show obvious signs of a slow deterioration through the many seasons and years. Benson is not only prodding us to contemplate the literal depiction of his photographs, but also forcing us to go deeper and bear witness to the eventual decay of memory. In another example the viewer is introduced to a single image from Ranney’s thirty-year project documenting the construction of Charles Ross’ earth-sculpture Star Axis. This one photograph not only offers a clear visual observation of the structure, but draws the viewer into a contemplation of how a specific site grows and shapes with the surrounding land, depicting much more than a single moment in time.

Working closely with both artists to produce this exquisite object, The Fisher Press has created a limited edition book that truly exemplifies the art of bookmaking. Along with the stunning reproductions are Robert Adams’ written commentary on Ranney’s photograph Canyon Del Muerto, Arizona 1987 and Joshua Chuang’s insight into Benson’s Mast from Shamrock V, Portsmouth, R.I 1986, providing the viewer with an intelligent portrayal of a single photograph from each artists’ portfolio. And while the comparisons of these two photographers makes for an interesting dialogue, quietly absorbing each individual photograph in this book becomes a rewarding commitment and study of two prolific photographers.

ARCHAEOLOGY and the shape of time is available only from The Fisher Press.

Antone Dolezal is a New Mexico based photographer and writer.
To view more of Antone Dolezal's work, please visit his website.
Antone Dolezal was also featured in Issue 24