There is always a bit of magic to the opening of a new photo book. Whatever expectations we may have, if the book is any good, are both defeated and expanded. The photo book is a reimagining of the universe we know, the universe we move through every day, an artistic interpretation and remaking by the photographer.
“Where The Ocean Drinks The Sky” by Stephanie Duprie Routh
Published by Rene Marcelle Publishing, 2021.
review by W. Scott Olsen
Sometimes the reimagining is simply a matter of intent and purpose. Look at this issue, the photographer says. Look at this problem or joy. Sometimes the reimagining is thematic or personal. It doesn’t really matter. Good photography always gives us what we know and what we have not yet imagined.
In this way, photojournalism, street photography, landscape work, fine art and abstract approaches are all the same. Begin with what a lens can see. Then make it your own.
That’s the magic. I’m familiar with the world the way I see it. The way someone else sees it can be a profound and intimate joy.
I am thinking about artistic vision and photographic voice because I have on my desk a new book called Where The Ocean Drinks the Sky, by Stephanie Duprie Routh. This is an energetic, wonderful, insightful collection.
According to the author’s website: “People around the world are all the same: We all need and want the same things – love, respect, safety, nourishment. Yet, we are all different. This book combines both street photography in the documentary vein with fine art photography to connect people, places, and ideas from around the world. The major theme showcases the unification of humanity while simultaneously extolling the benefits of diversity.”
The book is divided into six sections: Time Travel; The Sameness of Beautiful Contradictory Differences; Mirrors; The World is My Muse; Laundry; and The Invisible Nature of Things. Each one takes a different approach, but every one of them is bold and electric.
Each section is introduced by a short section of lyrical text. The opening for Time Travel, for example, includes: “Being transported to a different hemisphere where society may parallel my own world or be a totally alternate universe is a dizzying trip… While I sit here, writing, eating, sleeping – generally going about my day – someone elsewhere is doing the exact same thing. Friends on the other side of the world wake as I go to sleep. People dine in the moonlight while I play in the sun. The notion that we are all the same with like needs, wants, and responsibilities is a deeply gratifying and calming thought.”
The images in this section are filled with bright colors, blur, reflections, an exciting jumble intriguing to explore. It is very much as if different locations are being joined.
The section called The Sameness of Beautiful, Contradictory Differences, begins, “We do not all think alike. Yet we are all influenced by universal elements that are acknowledged worldwide… The Thai phrase “Same, same but different” accentuates sameness through repetition of the word same while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of difference… The entire world is a collective of “ones,” millions of individuals: All the same. All different.”
The images in this section are from around the world, people in fairly mundane tasks, each one of them celebrated for the very fact that they are doing what we all do every day. They are very much like us, and very much different.
There is a darker vibe to the section called Laundry. (“Fortunately laundry almost signifies something new and possibly useful, even if a stain remains,” the text reads). But even here the images are neither gloomy or violent. There is a generosity throughout this book that makes every page intriguing.
Perhaps my favorite section is the one called The Invisible Nature of Things. “Curiosity,” the text reads, “is the only way to find the magic that makes life interesting… Having faith in the mysterious and believing in human connections for the celebration of the obvious are two of my defining convictions. These parallels cannot exist one without the other.”
Each of the images in this section takes some time to peruse and understand, whether it’s spheres hanging in a store window, the reflection of a pedestrian, dewdrops on a spider web, water droplets, or feet hanging from a balcony, each image is an invitation to explore not the verisimilitude or any type of reporting veracity. Instead they are invitations to explore a vocabulary of joy and celebration.
Again on Routh’s website, the “About” section reads: “About the gal who wears a camera like jewelry… Stephanie Duprie Routh is a freelance photographer based in Austin, Texas. She travels worldwide for assignments, commissions, and personal projects. Her imagery is found in the permanent collections of The Wittliff Collections, Texas A&M University, and Concordia University. Her images have been exhibited in the US, Japan, and India, both in galleries and juried shows. She has been published by FRAMES Magazine, PDN Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, The Austin Chronicle, and by several independent photo reviewers.”
Where The Ocean Drinks The Sky is a remarkable book. It’s impossible to define it as either photorealism or abstract. It sits in that tremulous space between the two. This is the kind of book where you pick it up, turn to some random page in the middle, and try to parse your own reaction. All the while, smiling.
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