Notatki Poznańskie/Poznań Notes

Book Review

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Ruben van Luijk contacted me about his new book: Notatki poznańskie/Poznań Notes.

A few weeks later, I received it in the mail, packaged in a recycled cardboard sleeve. Unfortunately, by the time I’ve got to review it, there are just a few copies left on the Nadorst Publishing website. And thus, this article may function only as a celebration of his craft by the time you get to it (I assume that these books will soon sell out).

Nevertheless, I’m happy to play a role in sharing Ruben’s fantastic work with an audience that might appreciate it as much as I have.

Paper sculpture.

Most photographers I look up to tend to agree: photographs need to be printed to be genuinely appreciated. Indeed, looking at an image on a medium that plays with light and interacts with the physical world — instead of drowning it out with LED illumination — is a different kind of experience.

Book-binding is the next level of physical photographic interactivity, where images must be selected, cropped, and arranged to make sense in three dimensions. Ruben pushed his craft further by designing a hand-bound paper product with pages that reveal progressing bits of the visual story as I flipped, folded, and unfolded sheets of sepia and monochrome print.

In hand, this book feels well-engineered, with bits of imperfections — the kind you’ll notice in items made by skilled hand without haste.

Experimental photography.

Poznań Notes is a book of few words. There’s a list of contributors on the first page and five pages of the appendix that lists every photo, its location, date, camera used, film, developer, and paper. It was lovely to learn about Ruben’s continuous dedication to his Agfa Clack camera, Fomapan 100 film, and the caffenol developing process.

Everywhere else, photography takes center stage. Poznań Notes is a visual journey through a Polish town during various seasons and moods. The images are often gritty with contrast, soft on focus, and dreamy (almost surreal) in nature. Together, they make up what I felt was a coherent and detailed description of Ruben’s experience in Poznań.

The style and the visuals Ruben crafted in Poznań remind me of my upbringing and the subsequent visit to my Eastern European city of birth. Familiar cityscapes, vehicle brands, street planning, and the culture that sprawls from it. This book spoke to me.

I’d recommend this book to anyone wishing to learn more about film photography, printing, and binding. It’s an experience, through a tactile world, enclosed in a few pages that came about in a darkroom underneath an experimental theatre on expired Orwo Dokument Paper. While supplies last.

Over the years, I’ve reviewed a few dozen books and zines that vary in availability, though mostly excellent in quality. These works may be one-off projects by the author, ceasing to exist for the outside world once sold-out.

This is why I recommend buying a book or a zine without delay or, if no copies are available, taking interest in the authors’ other projects and following them online — creative people often have more in store if you give them enough time to produce it.

You can learn more about Ruben and his book projects on Nadorst Publishing and his blog, Ruben van Luijk — Imagerie Obsolète.