For a book that appeared out of nowhere from an artist I had never heard of, One Eyed Ulysses is not only of the most impressive releases of 2018 thus far, but also one of the best books I have seen in years.
Far from feeling like a debut publication One Eyed Ulysses has the confidence, polish and (seemingly reluctant) swagger of an artist with far more experience, and many more books under his belt.
With regard to the book itself. The design is beautifully assured. From the cover with a series of holes cut through that draw our attention to birds in flight. This opens and the full image is seen again through corresponding holes cut in the end paper, and then to the photograph itself. A blue cloudy sky, the aforementioned birds now dwarfed by this infinite background. Although our journey has even yet to begin, it is apparent we are in the presence of a glorious new talent.
Self taught photographer JM Ramierez-Suassi has delivered this rich melancholic odyssey with no explanation or notes, although his website does give this brief hint at the thought process behind the work.
"One Eyed Ulysses proposes a meandering voyage where solitude, melancholy, the encounter with death and nature in marginal settings are some of the themes that run through it. The aim of this book of photos is not to document a specific epoch , but rather to sum up human experience so that we may contemplate its images on an equal plane and from the same view point from which we observe them."
Even without these words the powerful emotional punch of this collection is profound. He may be leaving his audience to draw their own conclusions with regard to the overall experience, but there are certainly recurring themes and images that cycle through the book. Fabulous editing, beguilingly elliptical, but with a distinct rhythm.
Bottles, broken chairs, paths and stairs that are photographed always ascending....disappearing into the distance, their final destination never revealed. Burned out cars. Undisclosed objects covered, shroud like in plastic sheeting. Flowers, nature. Religious iconography....life, death.... mortality, ever present.
To try and expound these images would indeed be folly. In my experience, when talking to artists many of them are genuinely surprised to hear how their work is received and interpreted by others....and the images in One Eyed Ulysses would be a minefield in this respect.
It is however fair to say that this is a very effecting body of work, with moments of crystal affirmation that will linger with you.
A chair in a sunlit meadow, half in shadow with poppies growing through it's battered frame.
A bag hoisted, and hung in a tree, the dead body of an animal, its outline visible though the opaque surface, just hanging there, or maybe ascending.
A path in a dusty hillside winding to nowhere.
A smashed and broken windshield with no explanation as why or how this damage occured, but the ominous curve of its surface offering a hint that leaves little doubt.
A portrait...the sitter looking directly at the camera, his full grey beard and hair dominating the picture. Why is this such a memorable picture, and why do his eyes which are barely visible, continue to haunt you, returning even when you close your own eyes?
Each of these pictures stand alone. They demand attention and seductively promise to impart their secrets, but as long as we stare and plead, the more they tease. Some secrets, it seems are never to be told.
Taste is undefinable, and the meditative almost funereal tone of this work may prove a little too downbeat for some. For me, however this is one of the best photo books, and finest collections of images that I have seen in ages.
When I first saw the book, my initial instinct was to draw a comparison to Gregory Halpern's stunning ZZYZX. Both are odysseys of sorts, both feature some of the finest colour printing, and both benefit from masterful editing. However, the haunting and spiritual nature of One Eyed Ulysses elevates it well beyond Halpern's already towering and much lauded book.
Sometimes it seems that it really is more rewarding to embark on a journey and not know exactly where it will take you.
Work of this quality does not happen by accident....there is simply too much of it on display here. What it does indicate, however is that JM Ramirez-Suassi is just getting into his stride.
Produced in an edition of just 175 copies, I cannot recommend One Eyed Ulysses highly enough, and urge you to grab a copy before it disappears.
One Eyed Ulysses is available from