I took a risk when I ordered this book a few weeks ago. I need not have worried...
"Created Equal" is an astonishing piece of work; a list of superlatives is inadequate to describe this fascinating collection of revealing portraits of American people, photographed at the cusp of the 21st century.
From the moment I opened Amazon's package I knew this book was going to be special. There is no paper jacket, but the book is protected in transit by a cellophane wrap which keeps it in pristine condition. The overall presentation is handsome; the design and finish of the hardback, in subdued grey cloth with bold silver lettering, a pair of sample images boldly applied to the front cover, the crisp binding and trim, ooze quality. The publisher is German; perhaps this explains the high standard of production, but I suspect Mr Laita has had strong personal involvement in the look and feel of the book, to ensure his work is displayed to best possible advantage.
Curiously, Amazon advertise the book's author as Ingrid Sischy, and, as is the case with many `high end' books on art, architecture and photography, I had expected a limited selection of discreet photographs artfully displayed on acres of white paper, preceded by a lengthy tome on Mr Laita's philosophy of life, and detailed analyses of his style and intent. Fortunately her essay is short, informative and clear. Then the images commence ...
As I have now gleaned, Mark Laita is a highly successful and skillful commercial photographer. His advertising images for clients such as Apple, MINI, Ester Lauder etc. have probably been seen worldwide. However, clearly not exhausted by his commercial workload, he has immersed himself in several major private photographic projects on subjects that stimulate his imagination. One such is "Created Equal", an eight year odyssey across all 48 contiguous American States, examining the breadth and diversity of its people. He commissioned a large format film-based camera, built specifically for this project, and used a standard portable `studio' backcloth and lighting array to achieve an evenness of illumination, and a uniformity of approach to his subjects. To my mind, this is part of the appeal of the book; as everyone is photographically examined and compared on an equal basis.
The stunning, very detailed monochrome images are presented in almost full page vertical format, with narrow white margins. They are intended to be seen in diptych form, and have obviously been very intelligently selected by Mr Laita to form meaningful pairs. He must be a very persuasive man, for his portraits embrace a broad spectrum of society. The images will inform, amuse, fascinate, shock and disturb. Although there is some nakedness it is neither degrading nor pornographic in treatment; several subjects pose in quiet dignity.
Some miniscule criticisms: There is a tendency for very shallow depth of field on some of the images; this is probably due to the limitations of the portable booth and lighting set-up, needed to capture the immediacy of the moment. Secondly, in several pictures folds in the quickly arranged backcloth produce shadows that I find slightly distracting, and lastly the descriptive text to most of the thumbnails at the back does not expand on what can be understood from the full page reproductions. None of these detracted from my absolute enjoyment of the book.
Those to whom I have showed this book have been enthralled by the imagery. One of my experienced photographer friends said he would have been proud to have taken just one of the images, let alone a book full.
In a few weeks I have already developed a pride in ownership - "Created Equal" has become a treasured possession. I now eagerly await Mark Laita's next book "Sea" when it becomes available later this year.