Ricardo Cases, TOT

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by Dalpine (here) and Torch Press (here). Cardboard slipcase (20×23 cm) with red ribbon, housing two softcover books (with red/blue stitched spines), 208 pages, with 1655 color images. There are no texts or essays included, aside from a small insert. The colophon is printed on the ribbon. Design by the artist and Tipode Office. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The task seems so simple – tell a story using photography. Of course, if it is a story that takes place in one moment, then it might be able to be captured in a single frame, or perhaps in a selection of images made at the same instant from different vantage points. But if time passes to any significant degree, and things change, it becomes harder and harder for one photograph to convey all that might be going on, and so multiple images, in sequence, in a series, or even in a full cinematic flow, become structural options that a photographer can use to build up a more complex narrative.

Ricardo Cases’ photobook TOT is the visual story of a repeated journey. At its core lies the daily travel back and forth between Cases’ home and his daughter’s school, a trip of some 15km in each direction. But beyond the routine of the drop offs and pickups lies the space in between, where Cases goes there and back along the road, seeing (and photographing) the rhythms of the everyday. TOT collapses six months of daily journeys (from early 2019) into one integrated visual diary of sorts, interleaving the interactions with his daughter and his passing observations of the local world near his home in Valencia, Spain, into one continuous, almost stream-of-consciousness experience. In TOT, we’re never quite sure if we are going or coming, where we are, and what (or who) we might see along the way, and so the usual constraints of time and space get pleasingly muddled.

The layout of TOT is relatively unusual, in that it divides every page into a grid of 12 possible spaces where a photograph might go. If all the slots are filled with individual images, the page has 12 pictures; if multiple slots are filled by larger pictures (from two slot wider or taller images, to twelve slot full page pictures), the page might be filled by between 1 and 11 images. This strict grid structure is surprisingly flexible, and Cases generally uses it in a chronological progression, moving from upper left to lower right in a sequence, which implies the chronological unfolding of small anecdotes, incidents, and encounters, sometimes bridging across an entire spread (or across a page turn) to tell a somewhat longer story, almost like a comic book or storyboard. The pages are then gathered into two stitched softcover books, which are housed in a sturdy cardboard sleeve, with graphic design elements on the front and back that echo the dominant grid format. In a sense, Cases has devised a handy work around for some of the limitations of photographic narrative building, giving himself a controlled presentation space within which he can jump between momentary single frame distractions and more closely observed multi frame scenes with relative ease, without losing the thread of coherence.

Given that the central journey in this photobook is made by car, along roads and highways, it’s not at all surprising that transportation motifs are seemingly everywhere, often interspersed between more sustained encounters. Cases fleetingly notices other cars, buses, and trucks (including rarer sightings like car carriers and trailers filled with chickens), the graphics of roadsigns as they pass overhead or out the side window, people pumping gas, parking, or getting a carwash, road workers fixing pavement and cutting weeds along the roadside, and trains seen swooshing by in a blur on the nearby tracks. These images reinforce the sense of constant travel, of movement back and forth, and of Cases’ attention being grabbed momentarily as he’s driving by. His head seems to turn (again and again) to catch a glimpse of some brashly enlarged roadside advertising, or a construction site with its concrete blocks and cement mixers, or various gates and fences that block off visual access to whatever lays behind, these repeated sightings piling up into a sun-baked torrent of intrusive modernity, with a Burger King never far from view.

But Cases doesn’t seem to have been satisfied with simply grinding out this daily commute, and so he seems to have deliberately slowed down to look more closely at the world he was traveling through, often stopping for a brief visit or an inadvertent photographic adventure along the way. Since at least some of the land he was passing through is used for agriculture, many of these short interludes are farm themed. He visits orange groves, tracking pickers through the trees and paying attention to the geometric stacks of plastic crates. He becomes interested in the graphic forms of tractor wheels, and sees tractors in differing shapes and sizes. He follows a man plowing with horse, passes by a sheep farm, and notices piles of onions drying in the sun. And when he looks up, jet contrails have crisscrossed in a thicket of lines in the blue sky above. Most of these observations take the form of a short series of photographs, where Cases follows his eye as it bounces around the subject, seeing it again and again from different angles or momentary points in time.

People form another subject matter group on this daily journey, with most flitting in and out of view for just a single frame. Most are walking, running, or biking, with most not taking much notice of Cases and his attentions. Other sit in cars, drive tractors, or wait around at gas stations and shopping areas, talking on their phones, getting a quick drink, or offering directions. Many of these encounters seem to take up the span of a short conversation, with Cases snapping half a dozen frames as the he explains what he’s doing or makes idle small talk; most of those out walking (many with long walking sticks) seem happy to stop for a quick neighborly chat and have their portrait taken.

Out of his car and now on foot, Cases notices plenty of objects and found arrangements that might qualify as still lifes. He notices trash and hubcaps on the roadside, old doors and other junk available for the taking, hand-painted for sale signs, murals, and graffiti, and a range of up close flowers that add pops of color to the flow. Throw in a few stray dogs, a dead snake, some twisty plastic piping, a set of keys tied to a fence, a black dog hiding underneath a cactus, and a few birds perched on some piping, and the stream of imagery gets gets more and more detailed, the daily discoveries seeming to jump out from the surroundings with attention grabbing punch.

While all of this is going on, Cases’ eye is periodically drawn back to his passenger and companion for this twice daily journey. She’s mostly seen sitting in her car seat, in bunches of quickly shot images that capture her changing expressions and moods. And while like any young child, she gets bored by the drive, yawns, falls asleep, and wakes up groggy and grouchy, in general, she’s a charmer, whose mop of wavy hair generally surrounds a curious and happy face. When she gets to school, she climbs out of the car, grabs her backpack (or doll), and eagerly hurries down the sidewalk, blasted by the bright sun which casts silhouetted shadows on the nearby wall. These drop offs are consistently visually engaging, and Cases makes the most of them, without intruding too much. She’s remarkably tolerant of her dad’s camera, and as a result, he actually captures plenty of quietly lovely moments that feel authentically intimate.

These images of his daughter break up the flow of the book, creating an inside and then outside rhythm that keeps us guessing. The intrusion of the family pictures also forces Cases to intermingle life as a father and life as a photographer, creating an intriguing undercurrent of tension given that the two are inherently bonded in this project – there is only one flow of time, and Cases has to balance both sides of his life to get everything done at once, with his eye constantly jumping back and forth between the two worlds.

What sticks out about this photobook is the way that Cases has tried to innovate with layout and sequencing to tell this layered, time twisted story. His photographic eye is clearly voracious, even on a dull morning run to school, grabbing on to things as they pass by with an edge of frenzy. Between the bright flaring sun and some added flash, his world seems overlit, pushing even the most mundane moments into a kind of amplified attention, which he has then arranged into a continuous stream of imagery that doubles back on itself with deliberate repetitions and reversals. The result is an energetic photobook overstuffed with the wonder of the everyday, from the fleeting joy of a beloved child to the overlooked eccentricities of a well-traveled road.

Collector’s POV: Ricardo Cases is represented by Angeles Baños in Badajoz (here) and EspaceJB in Geneva (here), among others. His work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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