Review: Elementary Calculus by J Carrier


Book Reviews, Photobooks


Photography derives its power not from what it shows, but from what we think it says. Seemingly very specific, photographs are anything but - which means that at least in photography, the idea of the death of the author is flawed: There never was an author in the first place. Instead, the photographer always is just the instigator, the person standing next to you who’ll whisper secrets into your ear to make you believe in certain things. With Elementary Calculus, J Carrier plays that role well, understanding what photographs do, and how they do that. Focusing on our (shared) desire to connect to one another, the book focuses on migrant workers living in Israel who have to rely on pay phones to talk to their loved ones back home.

Pay phones, phones that were physically connected to some wall, used to play such an important role in our lives: You’d need to be in a very specific spot to make a call, and if you used a pay phone you’d need to have the correct minimum amount of change to place a call. The phone itself was a destination of sorts, and even if it was just something to reach another destination. The convenience of cell phones has made many of these aspects of a telephone call disappear for most of us: Why would a phone call be special if we can have one, at any time, anywhere?

Seen in that light, while we communicate more, we understand less what communication means, to the point of communication often essentially having become entirely meaningless (you can witness this on Facebook). Instead of caring, we’re now mostly concerned about pretending to care, and the act of reaching out, through its convenience, has become devalued in ways that often make me shudder.

Elementary Calculus sheds a light on this, while at the same time pointing out that life essentially is a pointless game of chance. You don’t go from A to B, you just move around. The book doesn’t go from an A to a B, either. It navigates a wide field, looking here and there. Cats play a prominent role in ways that remind me of the roles of foxes in Japanese folklore. Going through the book you start to understand a bit more what might be going on - or maybe Carrier is really just a very good instigator.

Highly recommended.

Elementary Calculus, photographs by J Carrier, 128 pages, Mack, 2012