Antibodies (Amazon, IndieBound, Powell’s) is like an overload of information you don’t want, like too many postcards from from a hopeless subconscious that you never wanted to set loose, and yet you probably won’t look away from it. You can’t even process every bit of minutiae presented and that will keep you looking.What does it all mean?
Does it need to mean anything? Isn’t this just the unseen world that you can never un-see? Isn’t that the only point.
Antibodies is the work of photographer Antoine D’Agata, an intense guy who you can read an interview with here. The book captures the man and the world as he walks through it.
The book begins with an endless array of decrepit human nakedness. These are not happy nudes, but distressing ones, the people captured looking like they don’t expect the photo, filled with dread or terror, or maybe just blank.
D’Agata isn’t content to catalog just humans lows. He also takes to the streets he lurks with his camera, but in daytime, revealing squalor, violence, and also the impersonal and the abandoned, two of the worst characteristics a daily life might need to survive in.
But the humans are the main event, and the book presents ugly, swirling photos of the downtrodden having sex, of junkies and the marks on their arms and desolation in their eyes, of inmates, of the recently arrested, of skeletal remains found in anonymous dirt.
The only clues to what any of this is are cryptic text pieces that express much but tell you little. Finally when you get to the end — and this is a long book, about 550 pages — you find a timeline of awfulness. It lists the years, the locations, the lost souls, but it’s not a precise listing, it leaves it up to year to perform the grim task of matching up tragic description with disturbing visual.
The bones in the dirt? Tripoli, 2011. But what are they? The timeline only offers “the fall of Tripoli” as a comment. War. Libya.
The tracks on the junkies’ arms? Phnom Penh. I think one of them has scabies.
The devastated faces of women who look like they survive beaten on margins of life? Found on the Internet in 2012. D’Agata didn’t have to go anywhere exotic for these, the devastation they capture exists right on our digital doorstep.
And, so you see, while the work will floor you, I can’t necessarily recommend that you allow it to. It’s a rough book to get through, and after you do, it will sit on your bookshelf, staring at you, containing so much ugliness and misfortune, and you won’t be sure could look at it again. You aren’t sure you want anyone to casually pull it out, because the casual quality of the despair it capture deserves more than the same from someone looking at it.
It’s the unseen world, yes, and once the book is opened, you cannot un-see it. That’s powerful art, but approach with caution.