Review: Handbook to the Stars by Peter Puklus


Book Reviews, Photobooks




A photobook is like a sentence, or a story. There is a beginning and an end. Whatever story you want to tell (provided there is one) you need to fit inside, between the covers. Per se, this format allows for an amazing range of options. But what if there is no story, or if you want images to relate to each other not as “this one comes after that one,” but as “this one relates to that one, but also to that one and that one”? You could, of course, group all of these images in a single spread, but then that spread becomes its own self-containing unit. What can you do if you want to escape from this restriction? (more)

For his self-published book Handbook to the Stars, Peter Puklus came up with a very simple solution: The images are arranges in an installation, and the spreads of the book show parts of that installation. As a consequence, images often are cut off. You can find their full, uncut versions somewhere in the book, but fragments might appear elsewhere. Conceptually, this approach is not so very different from the old-fashioned idea of sequencing where one image comes after another, with the mental after-image of the image on the preceding page adding to the one on the current page. The difference, here, is that you escape from the often somewhat simplistic idea of “from here to there.” Images might relate to each other in non-linear ways, and if they do why not attempt to work with that?

Handbook to the Stars has a strange world on display that is hard to describe. Straight photographs sit next to very much constructed ones, colour photographs sit next to b/w ones (which might or might not be inverted). I think the best approach to the book is not trying to “get” it straight away. This book is no riddle that you solve, to then put it aside and move on (at what stage did the idea that one needs to “get” art enter the discourse?). Instead, the viewer is invited to experience the book and to see connections between photographs. It really is as simple as that. This will inevitably take you somewhere. Where it might take you I don’t know. Photography as an art form would be tremendously boring if all photographs did was to take us all to the very same places.

The book is self-published and comes in an edition of 300 copies. With these kinds of books it’s hard to say how well they will do, how quickly (or maybe: if) they will sell out. You might want to order your copy, because here’s a book that is confident enough to raise the bar. This is what a photobook can look like, this is what it can do.

Handbook to the Stars; photographs by Peter Puklus; essay by Claudia Küssel; 64 pages; Stokovec, Space for Culture; 2012

(find my video presentation of the book here)