Review: MP3 Volume II


Book Reviews, Photobooks

Produced in collaboration with Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography comes the second installment of the Midwest Photographers Publication Project (MP3), MP3 Volume II. MP3 Volume II showcases the work of three young photographers, Curtis Mann, John Opera and Stacia Yeapanis. Just like its first version, MP3 Volume II is a set of three separate books in a slipcase, so it seems best to discuss the individual books separately.

Curtis Mann might be the most innovative photographer of his generation, and his book alone makes MP3 Volume II a must-buy. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with his work from my conversation with him. Curtis modifies photographs by using bleach and other physical means, which results in pretty astonishing, radical and brilliant transformations. With his willingness to push photographic boundaries, I would squarely place his work in the realm of innovators like Thomas Ruff, and seeing his work in print makes it absolutely clear why.

I wonder what we will think of “Second Life” art in twenty years. Of course, the graphics will strike us the same way ’ does today: As somewhat cute, maybe a bit quaint. But what will we think of efforts to use “Second Life” as art? Well… Anyway. Fortunately, Stacia Yeapani’s book contains more than her “Second Life” work, namely photography (taken from TV) re-created as cross-stitched images. In a sense, this work is almost the exact opposite of Curtis Mann’s: Instead of producing photographic art by means of physical destruction it’s the production of photographic art by means of a literal physical creation from scratch. Truly wonderful.

Lastly, there is John Opera’s work, which combines landscapes with abstractions. For me, in the context of MP3 Volume II, this body of work lies somewhere in between the extremes of Curtis Mann’s art and Stacia Yeapanis’s “Second Life” work: It doesn’t excite me as much, either way. With the two other reference points it is maybe most conventional, and it doesn’t question what photographic images do and what they are in the same way the two other artists’ work does. It’s almost getting a little bit lost.

With its focus on more experimental work, MP3 Volume II is bolder than its first version. This boldness comes at the price of presenting work that will provoke reactions like those seen above. But via its exposure of the inventiveness of three young artists, MP3 Volume II successfully expands the discourse of contemporary photography. Given its price, it’s a total steal, and you really want Curtis Mann’s work in book form, trust me.

PS: As a format, MP3 Volume II will hopefully at some stage find imitators. There is a lot of photography that deserves to be seen in (affordable) book form, especially from younger artists (but also from some older hands), and creating sets of smaller books seems like a perfect way to do it.