Have you ever judged a book by it’s cover? Sure you have, it’s a part of life. If no one judged books by their cover, there would be no need for Barnes & Noble to construct such elaborate displays to entice us to purchase the latest novels. A bookstore would be an austere and cold place, with shelf after shelf of white rectangles labelled in simple black type with the title and author’s name.
The rise of pulp fiction, comics and dime store novels since WWII gave the world some of the best book covers ever produced. These elaborate illustrations were the tool publishers used to sell their novels, which were (more often than not) variations on the same tired plots. Even works that we now consider great, such as William Burroughs “Junkie” and Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” got the dime store treatment, complete with overly-dramatic illustrations on their cheap paper covers.
Thomas Allen has created a series of photographs that bring these book covers to life. He has cut them, folded and positioned them to make his own stories. His camera lens translates these simple, superficial drawings into scenes of dramatic action and powerful suspense.
Such photos, however, do not pretend to be above the books that provide their narratives. In fact, the books are ever-present, rectangular reminders that our easy understanding of the actions taking place are due to the ubiquitous nature of the stories on those pages. The cowboy, the sultry woman, the dangerous encounter, the shootout – each of these has become such a part of popular culture that the images Allen chooses, and his accentuation of their action, only serve to remind us how simple and easy and fun these stories are.
Thomas Allens photographs are enjoyable on many levels. They make no pretense of being constructed, and allow us to explore how they were made and to revel in the beauty of the photography as a tool for creating artificial worlds. They are a fun reminder of the narratives of our popular culture, easy to read and yet rich with history. Perhaps the most pleasureable of all, they give us permission to judge books by their covers.
Bernard Toale Gallery
“Out Of Print” is on view February 15 – March 18, 2006 at Bernard Toale Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Bernard Toale Gallery.