Janet Malcolm Burdock

ISBN 13: 9780300128611

Burdock

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Over the course of three summers in New England, Malcolm gathered leaves of the burdock plant, a large rank weed” with medicinal properties that grows along roadsides and in waste places and around derelict buildings.” Influenced by Richard Avedon’s unsparing portraits of famous people, Malcolm is drawn to uncelebrated leaves” on which life has left its mark,” through the ravages of time, weather, insects, or blight. In her introduction, Malcolm reminds us that writers like Chekhov and Hawthorne have used burdock to denote ruin and desolation.” And yet, for Malcolm, Burdock is an homage to the botanical illustrators who recognized the gorgeousness of the particulars of the things that are alive in the world.”

 

Burdock consists of a series of large color photographs portraying a single, unusual kind of leaf in various stages of growth and decay. As such, it is a work of botanical and indeed philosophical interest as well as an art book. Like all of Malcolm’s work, this project entails looking with a steely but sympathetic and extremely intelligent eye at the world around her, zeroing in on the oddities that others might miss and using them as clues through which she solves the larger mystery.” Wendy Lesser

Malcolm’s leaves will be shown at the Lori Bookstein Fine Arts Gallery in New York, September 9 October 11, 2008.

Looking at natural forms close up is an exercise in awe.” Janet Malcolm

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About the Author:

Janet Malcolm is the author of many books including The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey, and Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, for which she received the 2008 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. She writes for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. Her burdock leaf photographs can be seen at the Lori Bookstein Fine Art Gallery in New York City.

From Publishers Weekly:

Malcolm, New Yorker writer, critic and the author of insightful biographies The Silent Women and Two Lives, launches into a different discipline with this collection of botanical photographs. Instead of multidimensional human characters, her subjects are page after page of burdock leaves, the rank weed... [that] writers have used to denote ruin and desolation. Malcolm writes that she has tried to photograph the leaves as if they were people, taking inspiration from Richard Avedon's unflinching celebrity portraits and the work of botanical illustrators. Accordingly, many of her chosen leaves are imperfect, marred by blight, insects and the ravages of the environment. These are Malcolm's favorite specimens, as she hopes that the camera's transformative capacities confer aesthetic value on the apparently plain and worthless. That transformation doesn't happen all on its own, though; it requires a measure of technical skill and visual flair, and the evidence in this book is that Malcolm doesn't have the chops for the job. While there is an austere splendor in these simple, plainly lit, head-on shots, too often the images seem flatter than they should. Interesting variations in color, shape and texture are lost to an apparently overly shallow depth of field. (Sept.)
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