In the Second of a series, Modern Matter pays tribute to the late, great Claire de Rouen and her visionary London bookstore by inviting its current owner (and Claire’s former friend), Lucy Moore, to curate her favourite books from its archive.
Litmus Test, by Ed Templeton (Super Labo).
Litmus Test is like a travel diary written by Ed Templeton’s eyes. In 2007, the prolific skateboarder, photographer and painter visited Russia for the first time, spending six days in St Petersburg and Moscow. In the book he made with Toyko-based independent publisher Super Labo, we accompany him as he develops a connection to a new place. Like litmus paper turning irreversibly red after it has been soaked in lemon juice, the photographs document the way that first impressions leave indelible marks upon our memory, shaping what follows.
They’re taken on city streets – at zebra crossings, in public squares, or in the presence of grand monuments. Direct, observant and tender, there’s also a feeling of equivalence between photographer and subject (maybe because Templeton is a skateboarder – and skateboarding is a pavement pastime – requiring familiarity with a city’s hard edges, blind corners and the habits of its wayward pedestrians in order to navigate it with ease).
In Litmus Test, a picture of a naked woman standing in a doorway sits opposite a photo of a street peddler patiently holding flowers and puppets in his hands – he might almost be offering them to her across the page. A girl with a face whose expression of pathos belies her youth gazes out of the passenger seat of a car. Women on horseback cross the street at night. These anachronisms are testament to the surreal effects of the Iron Curtain being drawn open – tradition and capitalism still hold hands, awkwardly.
My favourite image is of teenage kissers (the title of another great Templeton book published by Super Labo). A boy has grabbed his girlfriend’s face in his hand and is kissing her cheek. Her expression is a mixture of pleasure and disgust. We’ve all been there!