Review: Somerset Stories: Fivepenny Dreams by Venetia Dearden


Book Reviews, Photobooks


The other day, I went to a new second-hand book store in New York City, and I looked through its impressive photo-book section. Since I had a lot of time at my disposal I had a peek at each book I was unfamiliar with, and I ended up buying a few. Venetia Dearden’s Somerset Stories: Fivepenny Dreams was one of them. I remember when I first saw the book and some of its images, I was blown away. How could I have possibly missed this book? Why had I never heard about it? (more)

The solution: I had heard of the book before. I basically was familiar with all the images that I did not like, images that - I think - are not necessarily most representative of the body of work as a whole.

Somerset Stories is a portrait of, well, Somerset (a county in South West England) and some of the people who live there. The second part of the title, “Fivepenny Dreams,” sets the stage for what to expect: All in all, Somerset Stories is a very lyrical book, containing stunning landscapes and environmental portraits, some of the former reminding me a bit of Jem Southam’s work.

I think the book would have benefited from a tighter edit, because some of the images don’t fit into the general mood created by the bulk of the work. For example, I don’t even understand how plates 98 to 106 fit in. And some of the images seem to be a tad too sentimental. I don’t want to focus on this too much (and obviously you might disagree with my comments), but I do think the book could have been more - with less images.

That all said, I’m very glad I “discovered” Somerset StoriesThe artist’s website features lots of the images from the book, so you can get an idea of what to expect.

Somerset Stories: Fivepenny Dreams, photographs by Venetia Dearden, essays by Venetia Dearden and Jon Levy, 128 pages, Kehrer Verlag, 2009