Louie Palu in his new multi-media publication (can we really call this a photobook?) Front Towards Enemy provides a version of a photo-documentary that resulted from a self-assignment investigation of the war conflict in Afghanistan. This is a very complex region; socially, economically, politically and environmentally that Palu has tried to emulate with an equally complex and layered print concept.
His multi-media conceptual photobook immediately reminded me of Alejandro Cartagena’s 2015 self-published Before the War, which in retrospect, I have found so complex at the time as to be visually overwhelming. There are similar aspects about Palu’s publication as well.
Palu’s photobook has four major components and then each of these break down or expand from there. Part newspaper, The Void of War, part zine, The Fighting Season, part leporello, part a pack of picture cards and finally an insert that suggests how to assemble of this into a exhibition. Wow.
Rebecca Senf in her assay discusses the parallels between Palu and W. Eugene Smith as to how Smith after his tiff with Life magazine about his Albert Schweitzer photo essay left the magazine and went independent. As Palu was self-assigned for his Afghanistan project, likewise he did not have to conform to the norms of a picture editor, but completed his project on his own aesthetic terms. We do not always see his subject but are provided indirect evidence of his subject’s presence; a cast shadow, an out of focus form, heads bowed, truncated feet, legs and arms. A photo-documentary that attempts to connect with the heart.
Newspaper; The Void of War; interior pages with images that are an impressive 8-1/2” h x 21-1/2” w; the ultrawide format of the camera lens creates a distorted visualization that echos the frequently un-nerving human situations that are in a state of progress. The photographic quality of the newsprint has low contrast with muddled blacks, typical of an area of newspapers and harken back to newspaper coverage of the Vietnam War era.
Zine; The Fighting Season, saddle stitch binding, with the essays by Rebecca Senf and Louie Palu and includes the book’s colophon. A mix of the trauma of warfare with the background of the human element, the children and adults with their animals who try to survive in the region amidst the war.
Leporello (Accordion); 14 continuous panels, printed full bleed that when unfolded extends 13 feet, with the photographs on one side and the caption printed on the reverse. The physical manipulation of the leporello to look at the images and then read the corresponding caption is awkward and not meant to be an easy act. The last image (or depending on how you fold the leporello, the first image) of a seriously wounded Afghan solider in a Medevac helicopter’s blue light is incredibly haunting.
Cards, individual prints, which are printed full bleed, 11”h x 7-1/2”w, on heavy card stock. Captions are provided on the reverse side. These are tightly cropped portraits of his subjects who are soldiers that are engaged in the war in Afghanistan. I find their eyes and gaze visually riveting.
Single page insert: Instructions and suggestions on how to create one version of an exhibition with this publication.
As one moves from one part of the publication to another, there is a feeling of messiness, an interesting feeling, perhaps a simulation of the awkward and strained social and environmental conditions that Palu is encountering. Another dimension of this body of work.
Palu has stated that although he has experienced some aspect of war, his photographs cannot provide the reader with the full experience of what this is. Similarly, this review is an attempt to describe a complex publication, but cannot provide the reader with the full experience. Highly recommended you obtain your own copy.