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The Photo Album by K. B. Dixon

The Photo Album

by K. B. Dixon

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Recently added bySamSattler, yourotherleft



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K.B. Dixon's books are interesting experiments with storytelling in unique formats. In A Painter's Life, he told the story of a painter via excerpts from his biography, reviews of his work, and excerpts from his journal. The Ingram Interview probed the depths of the title character entirely in interview format. It should be no surprise then that The Photo Album is, well, a photo album, except without the photos. Okay, it sounds a little offbeat, and it is, but there's something clever to leaving the photos to the imagination and alluding to them through the stories and musings they inspire.

A person, a place, a thing --- for me a picture is always a picture of time, an instant rescued from oblivion.

Michael Quick, Dixon's fictional photographer, is a committed amateur photographer, not so prolific as to be famous, but invested enough in the art to wax philosophical about it. His repertoire includes plenty of shots of his neighbors, the city of Portland, and the occasional inanimate object. The format gives Quick the opportunity to navel-gaze over the art and aesthetics of photography as he collects some of his favorite shots. Even better, it allows for a giving into the urge to tell stories that are, at best, tangentially related to the photo at hand that photographs often seems to inspire as they draw us into the bigger stories of our past and present. By and large, what emerges is an engaging novella that mixes entertaining observations of the ordinary and amateur philosophizing about an oft underappreciated art. Unfortunately, on some pages Dixon seems to be carried off on a tide of overwhelmingly advanced vocabularly. Perhaps there's a method to this, but I'll admit that these pages found me with my eyes glazing over just a bit given the lack of context to give meaning to a bunch of lesser used words strung together in an impenetrable paragraph. I tend to think I have a fairly decent vocabulary, but some of these pages had me second guessing myself.

That said, when Dixon is on the mark, you'll be smiling to yourself or nodding appreciatively at the astuteness of his observations. Quick's anecdotes about the neighbors he photographs can be a window on human nature. His musings about life's oddities, like crossword puzzles drawing words out of you that you hardly realize you know, are things that you might well never think of on your own, but will strike you with their obvious truth. Even his thoughts on photography and how it can rescue a moment, even a life from oblivion strike a chord.

This is a picture of Terry Greenfield... He is working a crossword puzzle. I have never understood the attraction of this sort of pointless intellection. It was snapped just before Terry asked me if I knew a nine-letter word that meant "disturbance." I offered "kerfuffle," a word I didn't even know I knew. I don't know where I picked it up. I have never used it in a sentence. I can't imagine that I ever would.

A Painter's Life still hasn't been unseated as my favorite of Dixon's work thus far, but The Photo Album is another clever and entertaining read that uses an unusual storytelling device to draw out a character and the human condition itself. ( )
  yourotherleft | Jan 9, 2013 |
Because it takes so different an approach to fiction than anything I’ve read previously, I was slow to appreciate what K.B. Dixon is going for in The Photo Album. But when that little light bulb finally clicked on for me about thirty pages into it, this unconventional little book became great fun to read.

The Photo Album can, at first, be a bit confusing because it is a book in which fictional photography-nut Michael Quick explains the circumstances and details associated with 120 favorite photos of his selected from the thousands he has taken. A little box (most of them horizontal, but a few set on the vertical) sits atop each new section of the book, followed by a short narrative about the picture being featured. The catch is that there is nothing inside the borders of the box – it is up to each reader to create imaginary pictures to fit the descriptions below all those empty boxes. This is much easier, and more rewarding, than it sounds. After all, avid fiction readers do this kind of thing all the time, don’t they?

The real fun, though, begins when the reader becomes familiar enough with Michael to be able to read between the lines of his descriptions about his wife, their friends and neighbors, and his search for a photography style fitting somewhere between art and the mundane. Michael has little patience with hypocrites or poseurs and he is not a man afraid to share his personal observations about those he so regularly encounters. Our photographer, however, is not a mean-spirited man and seems genuinely to enjoy the quirky behavior of the people in his life, especially that of his adult daughter, Kayla.

Kayla is the subject of a number of the book’s 120 photos, in many of which she shares space with her new dog, Omar. Over the course of the book, one senses that Michael is finding it more and more difficult not to smile while delivering his deadpan comments about the developing relationship between Omar and Kayla – all of it documented in pictures. This is the entire description, for example, under one Christmas season photograph in the book:

“Kayla is letting Omar choose is own Christmas present. To me he looks confused.”

That is exactly the kind of understated humor that I enjoy. Those sharing a similar taste will appreciate The Photo Album…oh, and I think my 120 pictures came out pretty well, considering my inexperience.

Rated at: 4.0 ( )
  SamSattler | Jun 6, 2012 |
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