Tuesday 20 September 2016

Book Review: Isis Sousa & Ove Neshaug – 'Valencia Noir: The Beautiful, The Fantastic, and The Grotesque Of Valencia, Spain'

'Valencia Noir: The Beautiful, The Fantastic, and The Grotesque Of Valencia, Spain'

Following on from their beautiful photographic studies of the Norwegian countryside in 'No Escapes Vol. 1 – Melancholic Beauty In Norwegian Landscapes', Isis Sousa and Ove Neshaug turn their lenses to the Spanish city of Valencia. More specifically it's rich and abundant aesthetics of bats, beasts, grotesques, and mythological beings carved into the stones of the ancient metropolis.

The book is a photographic essay that not only records the sights, but also delves into the history of some of the city's architecture, statues, and churches. But it is the photography that is the star of the show. The black and white images, high in contrast due to the Iberian sun, not only capture the climate, but switch between documentary and abstract styles depending on the subject. For instance the view form the bottom of a spiral staircase takes on an otherworldly look as it winds its way up into the distance, while the walls of The Quart Towers stand solemnly against the modern streets. And because they are captured in grainy monochrome, they have a timeless sense to them that looks like they could have been taken now or fifty years ago.

The most delightful part of the book though has to be toward the end with the photographs of the General Cemetery of Valencia, with it's large and ornate monuments in a range of artistic styles depicting everything from bats and angels, to scenes of the day of judgement marking the graves of the dead. It is a sight that easily rivals the celebrated cemeteries of the rest of old Europe. For this alone a flight to Valencia looks with the price of the ticket.

It is a lovely book full of beautiful examples of Spanish gothic art that will undoubtedly stir the imagination of anyone who opens it. The heavily photographic nature means that this is a very quick and easy read. The text are essentially footnotes to add context to the pictures, and with 160+ images, they are brief and to the point. The book on the whole is nicely designed with subtle ornate flourishes added tot he pages to drive home the gothic subject mater within.

Some of the image quality does vary in places but with Sousa and Neshaug listing a phone camera in their equipment list at the beginning of the book, this is to be expected. However a few blurred edges does not detract from the beauty of the subject, and in fact it only adds to that sense of timelessness referred to earlier with a more analogue than digital look to them.

For those interested in gothic art and architecture, this is a very nice and easy book to pick up. The emphasis is all on the photography and the city easily speaks for itself. Spain and it's hot weather may not be the first choice for the gothically inclined who enjoy city breaks, however this book may make you think twice about your next holiday destination.  

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