Sunday, July 12, 2009

Eirik Johnson: Sawdust Mountain

Sawdust Mountain is a gorgeous book. I'm not a photographer, a historian, or a visual artist - but I've been a bookseller for a decade, and I've lived in the northwest almost twenty years, and this book comes closest to visually depicting the legacy of logging than any other book I've seen.

These pictures are true. These pictures are subdued. They are full of fog and mist and shadow. They are full of rain and dams and salmon, full of forests and clear-cuts and rural poverty, resignation, and years of sadness. The past weighs heavy in these photographs, records of a northwest even those of us with roots here don't commonly remember or recognize.

Eirik Johnson has captured a sense of struggle, like a salmon running on light test, something harrowing like the memory of birdsong in a forest turned to weeds. His images evoke without comment, yet they speak volumes about a shared heritage, capturing the contradictory impulses and directions that northwest lives have lived. In Sawdust Mountain, the hard-working eyes of loggers and fishermen mirror images of denuded, empty landscapes, of ramshackle towns and threadbare winter clothes.

These are photographs of nebulous existence: the trees are gone, but the people who felled them remain; the land is cleared, yet it still defines what it means to be a north-westerner. These are photographs of the everyday, and because of that, they are timeless. Therein lies this book's power - as David Guterson succinctly states in his introductory poem, "There was nowhere to go and we went / There together."

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