Max de Esteban’s new monograph, Elegies of Manumission, presents contemporary portraiture imbued with romantic old-world lighting. The portraits serve as jumping-off points to explore intellectual and philosophical musings about identity and image amidst the political, social, economic and spiritual challenges of today's world.
The book is composed of three chapters, each with its own theme.
The writing is heady stuff; the photographs are simple, straightforward and beautiful; the characters are believable people who are attempting to live their lives according to individual codes on the fringes, or outside the mainstream — and we are inclined to try to de-code their inner personalities from the ways they present themselves externally. It's a luscious and thought-provoking book.
Here is a smattering of edited text by the author/photographer:
Elegy I: Vertige
"Since the events after 9-11, the powers of economic globalization, and the two greatest monotheist religions, have taken over the world’s ideological leadership ...
This elegy is in essence a vindication of doubt as a crucial ethical value.
Unsurprisingly deprecated today, it is the prime source of tolerance, progress, creativity and civilization. Doubt is arguably the origin of rebellion against darkness."
Elegy II: Private Utopias
"Private Utopias portray 20 artists of various ages. They were asked to dress in outfits they believed best represented their personalities.
This project was initiated as a reflection upon Julia Margaret Cameron’s series of artists and intellectuals, with the purpose of rephrasing her modernist vision of the role of cultural producers in society. The question to answer was: what should the representation of an artist look like today?Most artists are commercially unsuccessful, barely surviving with their work. This is the case of all the artists portrayed in this project. They openly express sentiments of marginality and neglect.But more profound is their loss of faith in art as a vehicle for society’s progress. Having abandoned ambitions of social change, most artists and utopians today have retreated into the sphere of individuality in constructing forms of rebellion against prevalent values and idols. Unconventional dressing codes, tattooing, piercing and other post-romantic symbology become essential elements of their response..."
Elegy III: On the uncertainty of being
"[This] is a contemporary exploration of the image of youth.The 28 portraits were shot to avoid referential interference, as a means to escape from the imagery that positions youth as the center point of our most private desires...Today the private sphere has disappeared not only by a generalized acceptance of Big Brother in our social space, but also by the enthusiastic embracement of the public diffusion of our intimate lives. By facilitating the means for the construction of imaginary identities and the exposure of our private dreams and fantasies, our society has developed radically new vehicles to avoid reality and hide its political significance."
— Review by Jim Casper
Elegies of Manumission
by Max de Esteban
68 pages, 50 four-color plates
Hardcover, 11 in x 14 in
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After working in near obscurity for 30 years,
zooms in on the beauty of dead bugs, with bright lights and highly selective focus. The results shimmer with minimalist elegance.