Efrem Zelony-Mindell: Primal Sight
Hardcover, 215x285 mm, 186 pages
What is the purpose of black and white photography today when we have colour?
After the establishment of colour photography, black-and-white has become a choice, an intention. Exploring this intriguing aspect of the medium, Efrem Zelony-Mindell brings together 146 international artists and curates their work into an almost two-hundred pages volume called Primal Sight. All the selected artists have one thing in common—in one way or another, they shape the course of contemporary black-and-white photography.
Our continuous fascination with black-and-white photography says something about the genre’s unpredictability, that it can still present something new. Otherwise, why else would we opt for it? The focus point of Primal Sight is the examination of black-and-white photography’s subversive qualities—questioning what these images can do apart from what they represent. The images that were brought together in this publication can be viewed both individually and as a collective.
Primal Sight’s diverse images are hard to categorize, not presenting one type of photography. One can carefully observe their connections and dissonances. Selected out from individual series, they now become re-contextualized, forming a new narrative. As David Campany writes in his contributing essay, there is something foundational about the genre: “that it is primal, that it lies beneath, that it is a grounding, a solidity, a weight, a home-base. But home is always strange, and more so when you stare at it.”
This notion of uncommonness triggers instinctive reactions, unveiling a primordial state of things and being. As the title suggests, “primal sight” is the way of approaching these photographs. It takes us to the feral side of our mind that we tend to marginalize and avoid. By returning to this untamed state, we are liberated from the outdated preconceptions about black-and-white photography and instead, many questions start to permeate our minds.
In his text, Campany discusses that these photographs illuminate a sense of heaviness and gravity by the way they were photographed, edited and reproduced. Flipping the pages of Primal Sight, indeed, feels as if one was swimming in thick and heavy waters of different shades of grey. This impression is given by the unique design and production—the whole book was printed in white ink on black paper. All the whites are never 100% white, they are mild and there is a metallic feel to them. They almost become sacred. The printing technique, therefore, fundamentally changes the aesthetic experience as it manages to unify all the different visual languages featured—something impossible to experience through colour.
Primal Sight brings our attention to visual elements that are normally unseen, allowing our vision to surpass the mere surface. The publication encompasses the themes of race, gender and philosophy in the attempt to subvert viewers’ expectations. It presents the origin of photography in a bewildering and uncanny way and hence, with every flipped page, it slowly turns into a manifesto of black-and-white contemporary photography which shakes all the familiar pillars of this genre.
Primal Sight is not a nostalgic notion of the past, it is the interrogation of the now – by way of keen curatorial mediation. As Zelony-Mindell puts it themselves: “anarchy introduces new depths of thought and plausible impossibility. That is what photography has always provided: to upset established order.”
Efrem Zelony-Mindell (b. 1987, the USA) is a curator and artist based in New York, the USA. They curated and edited publications such as n e w f l e s h and theretherenow. Primal Sight was designed by Jason Koxvold, the founder of the Gnomic Book. It includes an introductory text written by Efrem Zelony-Mindell alongside two essays written by David Campany (curator, photography critic) and Gregory Eddi Jones (photographer, writer). The publication and list of all participating artists are available here.
As part of the Printed Matter Virtual Art Book Fair, Zelony-Mindell will be in a conversation about Primal Sight with David Campany, Logan Bellew, Sadie Cook, Gregory Eddi Jones, Diana Guerra, Kristen Joy Emack, and André Ramos Woodard on Saturday the 27th of February at 7 PM (ET)/ 1 AM (CET). You can register for the talk here.