Anne Golaz Corbeau review

Hitting ‘top photobooks of 2017’ lists all over the internet, the melancholic and reserved way that Golaz approaches the subject of her family, could seem too quiet to have impact in mainstream photobook audiences. However, when slowly eating up the book from cover to cover it is evident why it has resonated with so many people. The unnamed protagonist quickly becomes a familiar figure in one’s consciousness. I found myself feeling nostalgic for a story that was not mine. Now, was this done through the varied medium of photography – and the different formats used: 35mm, video stills, black and white, colour etc. – or the photographers eye for the insignificant? Yes, the use of monochrome and colour can be analyzed to create a fully rounded aesthetic of the story, immersing the reader in to Golaz’s world. But after a few pages the aesthetic is ignored, what I started noticing was the details in the work, the feeling. I felt the harsh winters night, as the Farmer and his boy had to help a cow give birth. I understood having to deal with the same thing day in day out. 

You can tell that the work was made over a twelve-year period, not just because it says that in the book’s bio, but the work has intimacy that cannot be faked. The nostalgia that is felt, comes from the ghostly presence of the photographer. The image maker is so commonplace to the subject, that they do not exist. There is no otherness, only images that were born out of a deep understanding of feeling. Growing up with the cold winter nights, and how it feels to birth a cow. In a way, the work is authorless. All that exists is the reader, and the unaltered (for the camera) personality of the subjects. The book is genuine; which is probably why, when reading the work, I felt completely tied into the story. Time did not exist, only the fading relationship between the Father and son, that I felt part of. A sequence of 4 pages led me to tear up, and I’m not quite sure why: A short diary entry, a portrait of the son, 2 pages of contact sheets [Fig.1], and finally an image of the father walking away into the distance.

“Goodbye to the house, to the courtyard full of rain and slurry, to the trees; goodbye to the other side...”

... This text was used at the start of the 4 pages of heartbreak, the narrator goes on to write “And then, goodbye to the family, but that was done quickly, without ceremony.”

This notion of familial distance is relatable, not only to this situation, but universally about all family life. A son fleeing the nest and the father’s disappointment. Was is that I projected my own feelings, and nostalgia of being someone’s son? Or, was I so engaged with the genuine details shown to me by Golaz, that I then knew what the hardships of being a farmer’s son really felt like.

Ultimately Corbeau is a very mature piece of work, utilizing the visual language of photography extraordinarily well, to give space and emotion to the sequencing of images and text. Adopting different formats is clever in luring in the reader to the world of the Farmer and his son, in the same way a photo album does with its mis-match of formats and colour. Imperfection is human. But, what is quietly more overpowering than the clever use of photography as a medium, is the closeness to the subject. The understanding of the details- the place the photographer has within the familial situation. The photographer is in situ, bringing along their own: tensions, emotions and melancholia felt in Corbeau, that no other photographer could stick their nose in and find.


An excerpt from my dissertation:
Why did my grandmother deface her image from family photographs? - A study of the archive as narrative, in photography.

From Anne Golaz’s Corbeau. Page 163. 2­­017

From Anne Golaz’s Corbeau. Page 168. 201