Seba Kurtis, Falsification

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by The Gould Collection (here). Hardcover (9.75 x 7 inches) with belly band, 92 pages, with 49 color photographs. Includes a short story by Hiromi Kawakami. Edited by Laurence Vecten, Russet Lederman, and Yoko Sawada. Design by Ayumi Higuchi. In an edition of 1000 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: In 2016 Laurence Vecten, Russet Lederman, and Yoko Sawada decided to honor the memory of their friend, the photobook collector Christophe Crison who passed away tragically in July of 2015, by publishing a book series. They called the series The Gould Collection, in reference to the pseudonym Crison used online, Gould Bookbinder, the protagonist of Stephen Dixon’s novels. Each book in the series pairs a short story with photography. Over the years, they have brought together an esteemed group of photographers and writers, creating meaningful and exciting conversations between images and text. As an example, their book published in 2021 and titled Two Men Arrive in a Village thoughtfully matched photographs by the South African photographer Jo Ractliffe and a short story by Zadie Smith (reviewed here). 

The newest title in the series is Falsification, featuring photographs by the Argentine photographer Seba Kurtis and a short story by the Japanese writer Hiromi Kawakami. As with the previous volumes, the title of the book is borrowed from the included short story. While the previous five books followed, with occasional deviations, a similar design, the sixth volume now breaks that earlier pattern. The new book has a hard cover, the pages are hosted between two boards, bright blue cotton covers the spine, and an oversized belly band features one of Kurtis’s photographs. Inside, most of the photographs are the same size, with some printed full bleed or positioned slightly across the gutter. The text is printed on a thicker purple paper. There are no captions, no names, no dates, and no locations with the photographs, forming a continuous visual flow. 

Bringing together Kurtis’s photographs and Kawakami’s writings, Falsification offers a combined narrative that engages the text and images in a clever way. The short story by Kawakami is part of her recently released book “People From My Neighbourhood”, a series of 36 interlinked stories with recurring characters from a nameless neighborhood in Japan. “Falsification” revolves around the memories and perceptions of the residents being manipulated, and as a result, changing how they visualize the neighborhood and its people. 

Kurtis’s photographs focus on the migration crisis and the stories of refugees, often drawing on his own experiences. He left Argentina, his home country, in the early 2000s in the wake of the deep financial crisis there, and he spent several years as an illegal immigrant, and that time has informed his practice as an artist. Kurtis’s photographs, often manipulated to alter the appearance of the negatives or the finished images, engage in a conversation with Kawakami’s writing, resulting in a more complex  and layered narrative. Multiple connections come through, particularly in the colors, forms, and shapes. 

The book opens with a bleached image of a landscape with prickly cacti in the foreground and a hill fading into a disappearing background. This image is from the series “Drowned”, in which Kurtis reacts to the death of refugees during their journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Kurtis immersed his film in sea water, adding this resonant distortion to his final images. It is followed by a full spread image of the empty Fañabé Beach photographed from the above and overlaid with colorful light correction filters; here he combines images from his archive with public data related to the pandemic. This is then followed by a portrait of a man seated outside in a chair looking straight into the camera, the edges of the image fading away. This complex opening sequence creates the beginnings of a nuanced story, and it is here, in the first pages of the book, we also find Kawakami’s short story. The first page of the text is paired with an image of a temporary bed in a corner and pages with Arabic writings above it, making a formal connection. 

Kawakami’s writing style is subtle and precise, and also very visual. A character named Dolly has developed “the ability to manipulate people’s memories,” leading to the changing of buildings and people in the town. “The principal’s house had been moved from the heart of the town to the top of a hill on the outskirts; the bank vault, which was previously underground, now sat, exposed, on the surface; a fleet of squid boats with dazzling lights had popped up around Prospect Park; and the river has turned into a raging, two-hundred-mile-an-hour torrent whose shores were now designed as unsafe to approach.” And at one point we are told, “All it takes is one individual who remembers the truth, for the whole edifice to collapse.” The story, surreal and allegorical, touches upon transformation, conflict, memories, and normalcy. 

As we turn back to the visual narrative, Kurtis’s photographs resonate with the story. The writing is followed by an altered portrait of a young man in a white t-shirt, the image itself is faded and contains other distortions, such as dust and hairs. It comes from the “Heartbeat” series of invisible portraits of refugees, which references the police use of heartbeat detectors to find illegal refugees hiding in truck cargo. In this visual metaphor, the subjects are invisible, yet exposed. Each photograph marks a genuine personal story, and linked together, they remind us of the complexities and nuances of being a refugee.

Other images in Falsification continue to comment on refugees, their environment, and their lack of choices – a range of refrigerators in a room each locked with a chain, a portrait of a man next to Coca-Cola sign appears half erased, an empty pickup track in a parking lot. The very last photograph in the book connects back to the first image from the same series – this time we see a rocky coastline with an umbrella, a chair, and towels visible in the foreground. Speaking about the refugee crisis Kurtis notes, “Nobody wants to leave their homeland, sometimes you just have no options.”

Falsification is another thoughtful pairing of imagery and writing in the The Gould Collection series. The way we connect with Kurtis’s photographs is undeniably influenced by Kawakami’s story, which encourages us to look closer and draw alternate conclusions about what we see. In the end, this dialogue invites us to explore a middle ground between the hidden and the unseen, conflict and normalcy, making Falsification an absorbing photobook worth discovering.

Collector’s POV: Seba Kurtis is represented by Christophe Guye Galerie in Zürich (here). His work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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