When I first saw How to Hunt by Trine Søndergaard and Nicolai Howalt, on the walls of their gallery in New York, I wasn’t very impressed at all. The fact that I have no respect whatsoever for hunters and their activities aside, I thought the prints were way too big. Of course, the standard narrative behind big prints is that there is a big negative, so you need a big print to showcase all the details. I don’t subscribe to that point of view. It creates a mindless fetish out of a big print, and it completely ignores the fact that some images don’t work when printed too big (all the details won’t save your photo in that case). (more)
The book containing the body of work, also entitled How to Hunt, does a much better job doing the images justice. Mind you, at around 13.5 by 12 inches (34 by 30 cm) it’s a pretty big book. But it’s just the right scale for these photographs. A smaller book would have taken away too much from the images, and a bigger book would not only have been impractical, but also too big. Credit is due to whoever made the decision about size here. Just in the case of photographs on a gallery wall, for a photobook size, the right size, matters.
If memory serves me right there are at least two other books that contain part of the work in How to Hunt. There is an older (and much smaller) book with the landscapes, and a newer one with just the images of dying birds. Putting everything together in one book seems to be the right decision - but serious book collectors might want to check their libraries first before thinking about whether or not to buy this one.
All that technical talk aside, How to Hunt essentially is a book of landscape photographs, which contain people and animals. In that sense, it is part of a long tradition of art. But it has more in common with, say, landscape paintings than the subject matter. The photographs are also constructed. To be more accurate, they are composites of a series of photographs, often with the same person(s) repeating.
In this sense, these photographs can be compared to, for example, the images in Reinier Gerritsen’s Wall Street Stop. Unlike in that case, where the same image contains elements photographed within a few seconds, How to Hunt presents a vista that unfolded over a longer period of time. You could think of this kind of photography as post-realistic documentary photography, even though I’m sure a lot of people, especially those married to photographic orthodoxy, will not be very happy at all reading that a constructed image could possibly be documentary. That’s a topic for another day.
How to Hunt, photographs by Trine Søndergaard and Nicolai Howalt, essay by Liz Wells, 116 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2011