Thomas Hauser, The Wake of Dust

JTF (just the facts): Self published in 2015 (here). Softcover, 100 pages, with 100 black and white photographs. Edition of 200 copies. There are no texts or essays. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The work of French photographer Thomas Hauser is a study of memory and the way it is preserved, archived, and reconstructed. When his grandmother passed away in 2010, Hauser gained access to his family archives of photographs, letters, and objects, which he had never seen before. In piecing together the fleeting elements of a personal history, the old photographs and his own images became the source of a new intermingled photobook project, The Wake of Dust.

Hauser boldly experiments with both the physicality of the images and the post-production process – he manipulates the prints by photocopying, cropping, and overprinting them with added distortions and intentional imperfections. His work with images brings to mind Japanese contemporary photographer Daisuke Yokota, who creates his final images by applying various chance techniques and interventions; Classon, a recent Yokota photobook on New York in collaboration with Yoshi Kametani, has a very similar aesthetic and feel.  

As we flip through The Wake of Dust, its pages full of grainy black and white images, it is not immediately clear what exactly is going on. Portraits of people, young and old, are mixed with statues, broken tombs, stones, clouds, and other abstract impressions. The archival photographs document three generations of the Hauser family, and while we learn their first names from the captions, the relationships between them are not obvious. Some of the images go back to the mid-1920s, while others are as recent as 2015.

The first thing that catches the eye is that all the photographs are highly processed – they look like they were photocopied multiple times, with distortions and added layers interrupting the underlying imagery. The pictures appear almost dusty, as if they are disappearing, fading into darkness. Hauser strips away their initial meanings and specific photographic memories, and creates a new narrative, somewhere between fiction and documentation. The paper ink leaves dark traces on our fingertips, reinforcing the idea of a decaying archive.

A blurry grayish image of a tomb appears on the book cover. It is the King’s Chamber, one of known chambers inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. Can it be a reference to history, power, and/or memories? A version of it – faded with less detail – appears on the first page and serves as an introduction to the book. It is followed by three edits of the same subject as it fades into dark, almost disappearing, stone. The last one is paired with a cropped eye: a definite historical artifact and a gaze appearing next to each other. Eyes play a key role in the narrative, establishing the connection between images and creating the necessary dynamic in their visual flow.

The archival and more recent portraits of Hausner’s family members are positioned in such a way that their gazes either meet or look away from each other; sometimes his subjects cover their eyes with a hand, or they simply disappear into the darkness. One spread has two photographs of Hauser’s young grandmother Line – in one she poses with her head tilted down, while the other is so dark, we can only see the contours of her face. Hauser also pairs portraits of people with statues – an acephalous statue and a portrait of Estelle, his aunt, appear on the same spread – and the people in Hauser’s photographs often resemble faces carved from stone.

In the end, Hauser decomposes his family photo archive and constructs his own visual version of a family narrative. He repeats, montages, and sequences the images, creating a very cinematic flow. Some portraits appear again and again, in different edits or crops, creating echoes and reverberations. The overprinting of the images brings in additional layers of uncertainty, creating ghost-like effects and ephemeral connections. This intentional repetition creates a meditative circle, as images slowly disappear into the darkness and reappear again. As Hauser introduces images of explosions and destruction, a certain feeling of tension and battle filters through the family.

As a photobook, The Wake of Dust is exciting in its simplicity and elegance. It has a soft cover with a jacket – take the jacket off and captions and notes corresponding with images are found underneath. These are written on the book cover sides and appear in the same order as images, without page numbers. Captions identify the people by name, location, and the year picture was taken. Some of the more abstract images correspond with writings by such figures as Roger Caillois, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Chris Marker, providing another layer of possible interpretation. All the images are full bleed with a very small white border, and the book lacks the normal intrusions of page numbers, text, or graphic details. Together, these design choices encourage the viewer to become immersed in the haunting hallucinatory atmosphere. The choice of uncoated paper, the printing quality, and the ink marks on fingertips reinforce Hauser’s sensibility and also create a pleasant tactile experience.

The Wake of Dust hardly makes us more familiar with Thomas Hauser’s family. It rather leaves us with a feeling of incompleteness, like the process of exploring between the hidden and the seen. It is a mysterious series of images, brought together in a cinematic flow, restless and beautiful at the same time.

Collector’s POV: Thomas Hauser does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked above).

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