In Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder’s amazing film noir, screenwriter Joe Gillis tells one-time great movie star Norma Desmond “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big”. To this, Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson, mercilessly responds “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small”. The line is one of the most famous in the history of cinema, and one can’t help but wonder whether, to some extent, it speaks to present-day photography as well. As an art form, photography is more than safe, and the sheer volume of selfies taken every second should more than suffice as proof that it is also inextricably tied to our every-day reality. But how often are these constantly shot photos printed out? It seems, at times, that as the phone has replaced the camera, so the digital photo has replaced the picture frame.
Isabella Thaller traveled the world for 9 months, and visited Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, California, Costa Rica and Iceland. The pictures she took of that long journey are now VOYAGE, a book of 90 photographs printed on an Indigo Press on Mohawk Superfine uncoated, with a screen printed greyboard cover and open stitch binding. The edition feels luxurious, not only in the production choices made, but in the act of production itself, that being publishing photographs. It is not that seldom that this happens, and yet photographs of travel in particular bring back to mind Desmond’s line. The published photographs make the world bigger again.
Thaller, an Austrian graphic designer and art director who has worked for a number of leading design studios before setting out as a freelance designer, acknowledges as much when she notes that “when we immerse ourselves in foreign surroundings we gain new impressions and often take on an observing role”. And so she observes, and fills her shots with her new impressions, distinct and particular as a feel of each place she visits, but also with an observer’s awe, minimalist in its excitement at an expanding world unfolding before the camera’s lens. The result is a book made to help pictures shine. VOYAGE is very wise in its selection of fonts, but even wiser in its restrained use of them. Flipping its pages demonstrates an almost nostalgic neatness constructing a very clever reconceptualization of the photo books that not so long ago dominated most ventures into one’s memory.
The pictures themselves are as diverse as a crossing into so many states of mind as much as anything else should be. From crowds to the absence of the human element, and from forbidding landscapes to animals comfortable in their exciting habitats, each photo begs a description, a narrative which Thaller consciously avoids putting into words. After all, a good photo book was always one that started a conversation, not one that dominated it. If the pictures and the world in it are going to avoid getting smaller, this is the way about it.