Book Review: Little Romances by Jordanna Kalman

Kalman’s personal portraits in Little Romances are meant to describe the complexities and anxieties of womanhood.

© Jordanna Kalman

Jordanna Kalman photographs prints of her own photographs, and they become a physical object. She surrounds them with elements from her garden or other personal items. This is done not to evoke nostalgia or sentimentality but to deepen her physical connection and/or claim to the images and distance them from the viewer. Kalman poses questions to herself about what it means to be a woman. This series evolved out of her interest in treating photographs as objects and also as a response to having the work that she posted online being equated with pornography. The misuse of her work notwithstanding, often the interpretation of an image of a nude woman is sexual. “By incorporating the image into a still life, building dimensional layers and distancing the original image from the viewer”, she says, “I hope to shift this sexual evaluation into a more comprehensive, thoughtful understanding. Overall, Little Romances is meant to describe the complexities and anxieties of womanhood.”

I want to be sure to address the physicality of Little Romances. The physicality of a photo book is something I always take into consideration. The binding of the book is exposed; showing blue cloth stitches running through the the gathered folios (not unlike some of Kalman’s images themselves.) The thick card-stock cover embossed with the title and an affixed image leave me with a distinct feeling of raw materials, a visibly constructed object with some vulnerability. The dimensions of Little Romances is 6” x 9”. It’s a personal size. It’s not a book the size of a coffee table, it is something you hold close in order to read. Thus the work is being viewed in an intimate space. Her images on the page are inset, providing white space around the images and thus a place for the eye to rest, giving the book the feel of a small photo album, or a handcrafted artists book.

These aspects are worthy of our attention due to the nature of Kalman’s images. There is handcrafted construction to many of her images; either that of a cut photograph revealing another layer or image underneath, or objects laid upon the surface of her photographs. We see placement of natural objects such as butterflies, slugs, moths, leaves, flower petals and mushrooms.

“When considered as an object the photograph exists physically in the world, it belongs to someone; it gets held, it has weight, value. I’ve been interested in this concept for some time. It was this interest plus the recurrent use of my images online without my permission that motivated the creation of the series Little Romances.” Jordanna Kalman

The essay by Jennifer Murray in the book intuitively addresses a number of themes significant to Kalman’s work. Murray mentions the aspect of Kalman’s photos questioning her own female experience or roles she’s expected to play in life: wife, mother, daughter, lover, friend. Murray addresses the performative role these images make, and how the performer is Kalman herself; which presents self-referential symbolism in all its complexity. Through her treatment of the images as objects, and by photographing herself, Kalman asserts her ownership. With the inclusion of objects and sometimes showing her own hand holding the work, she also reclaims the images as her own. While she doesn’t specifically speak of it in these terms, the theme of control and agency comes across in Murray’s comment, “Individually each image is its own small narrative, but their collection in book form is a curated experience, a journey that Kalman controls”.

© Jordanna Kalman
© Jordanna Kalman
© Jordanna Kalman
© Jordanna Kalman
Sample from Little Romances, © Jordanna Kalman
© Jordanna Kalman
© Jordanna Kalman
© Jordanna Kalman

Little Romances
by Jordanna Kalman

Contributions by Jennifer Murray
54 Black & White and Color Photographs
128 pages, 9 x 6 inches
Daylight Books
2019

Jordanna Kalman is an artist based in New York state. She works on many different things very slowly all at once. Jennifer Murray is an artist, educator and is the Executive Director of Filter Photo in Chicago.

Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.