JTF (just the facts): Published by Deadbeat Club in 2019 (here). Hardcover, 84 pages, with 45 black and white photographs. In an edition of 707 copies. Design by Moss Moss Studio. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Cole Barash started playing with a camera in his early teens. In the early years of his career, he photographed snowboarding and surfing culture. One of his projects documented the surf prodigy John John Florence, resulting in an intimate and unique behind-the-scenes portrait that was self-published as Talk Story. His last book Smokejumpers (reviewed here) offered an inside look at the brave world of wildland elite firefighters. Today he splits his time between Cape Cod, Rhode Island, and New York.
Barash’s most recent project is his most personal work yet. All of the photographs were taken in Wellfleet, MA, and in Beth Israel Hospital (in NY) in one 72-hour period, simultaneously documenting the birth of his first child and the arrival of a nor’easter blizzard. Barash intuitively intertwined the events, without making an immediate connection between the two. Looking back at the photographs, he noticed that the storm and the delivery had quite a lot in common: “the pressure, the build-up, the excitement, and fear that come along with witnessing this incredible transformation of energy.” This body of work was recently published in the form of a photobook.
The book is titled Stiya, and it combines the name of the storm Stella and the name of Barash’s newborn daughter Ilya, symbolically weaving them together. It is slightly oversized, has a black cover with a tipped-in photograph, and has a raw cotton strip that runs over the spine. The photo (a hand inside a bent leg) hints at a personal aspect to the book without revealing much. All the photographs are black and white, and some are printed in silver on black paper, adding an exciting element to the visual flow.
Throughout the book, there are pages of three different sizes, with Barash using construction and sequencing to mindfully intertwine the two rather different narratives. Right from the first spread, we are introduced to overlayed pages. The smallest page is a landscape covered in snow with numbers on the back (indicating a date, time, and location); the second page is black and the photo on the back side shows a mirror through which we see a pregnant woman; and the photo on the full page shows a print out of a medical chart. The combination sets the environment of the hospital and brings in nature.
A few pages later, we are introduced to Barash’s wife Alix. On the left side is a full page close up portrait of her looking to the side, with a needle injection in her arm; in the middle, there is a medium size black page with a set of numbers, and as we turn it, it reveals another portrait of Alix brushing her teeth while on a hospital bed as she looks straight at us; the photo on the right is another full spread of Alix, and three images seen together, taken moments apart, create a striking and sensitive portrait.
The next spread is another layered group of images: the roiled movement of the ocean before the storm, a small blurry photo of Alix with her arm over the belly, and then two photographs of Alix taking a bath to relieve the pain. The labor lasted four days, and while in the hospital with his wife, Barash captured Alix with respect and tenderness. The images taken in the delivery room are mixed with shots of the upcoming blizzard, drawing parallels between the power and movement of nature. Barash increases the intensity by carefully pairing images and incorporating sequences of photographs taken just moments apart.
As the narrative moves forward, there is a photo of Alix with a newborn baby, probably taken just minutes after the delivery. The photograph is rather small in size, and it appears on the right side of the black spread, bringing our full attention to the image and highlighting the significance of the moment. The following spread depicts the day after the storm, and a medium sized black page has no image, but lists the newborn’s details and measurements: “Iya Willow Barash 3:51 pm 3.20.17 Length: 18 inches, weight: 6 pounds and 1 ounce.” The very last photograph depicts a bench close to the shore – the storm has passed, and it is a sunny and calm day.
Stiya is an intimate photobook, thoughtfully reflecting on the experience of witnessing the birth of a child. Barash creatively uses the photobook format to share his perspective, offering a male gaze on the event, creatively mixing his feelings of love, fear, helplessness, and awe in face of such powerful natural forces. His book is a warm and humane contribution to the collection of photobooks on the subject.
Collector’s POV: Cole Barash does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. As such, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).