The thing is, it’s not a book about Central Park. It is unrelated to the pastures and woods of this Manhattan oasis. It is something much larger. It’s about a state of being and an inner world that Smallwood invites us into: it’s about veiled memories. And it drips with empathy and love.
You see, I can’t avoid the clichés today. Not when I look at those delicately soft portraits of the people Smallwood encountered as he meandered through the park.
Portraits are one of the hardest things to do in photography. And that’s perhaps why I’m generally predisposed to wanting to discard a work that is mostly composed of it.
To be a truly successful portrait, a photo must be more than just pointing a camera at a person and recording their likeness. The successful portraits look like the images you will find in “Languor”.
The people who populate the pages of the book are an integral part of the place Smallwood evokes. They are as natural and integral to the park as the flora captured in the detailed photos in the book. They are all contemplative and, yes, dreamlike.
Taken in the softness of the early morning light, Smallwood’s photographs are unattended, calm, serene. Yes, together they give an unmistakable meaning to the word chosen for the title of the book. Not only are people and plants steeped in languor, but so are we.
It’s as if there was no notion of time in the book. Time has been suspended and frozen in a reverie, not just by the click of Smallwood’s shutter, but by the utter timelessness of the trees, the streams, the cloud-shrouded sky, the people staring at Smallwood’s camera. .
But people don’t just stare at the camera, they commune with Smallwood — and with us. And so the book is actively interactive. Again, this goes beyond simply capturing the natural beauty of Central Park – this book immerses us in the world through which portrait subjects drift, regardless of location.
To become poetic again, these photos reflect the ebb and flow of our daily lives struggling with the vicissitudes of life. Browsing through “Languor” is like getting lost in a favorite song or memory.
It’s no surprise, then, that this is what Smallwood says of his work:
“I made these photographs between the spring and fall of 2020. Every day I woke up at sunrise and wandered through Central Park accompanied by a plume of memories. Thinking about what the park has meant to me all my life.
“I grew up wanting to be an archaeologist. I have always been interested in mysteries and uncovering the truth, the one that has been lost literally and metaphorically. I remember the first time I read Proverbs 25:2, stating that the glory of God is to hide something, and the glory of man is to find it. Why? The sense of urgency and curiosity felt at the time has not yet faded.
That sense of urgency and curiosity is alive and well in this book, not just for Smallwood, but for us as well.
You can see more of Smallwood’s work on her website, here. And you can read more about the book on the publisher’s site, here.
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