Book Review: Psychometry by Carol Golemboski

Book Review: Psychometry by Carol Golemboski


Book Review by George Slade

The desire to create worlds for the camera to gaze upon and record strikes me as an open-ended art of possibility in which photographic syntax places a high premium on signs, symbols, and the artist’s imagination. The stakes are raised considerably when the medium’s vaunted objectivity and neutrality step aside for sheer acts of willful projection.

To be honest, though, the camera in such practice is even more objective, since it is not subject to variance resulting from hand-held inconsistency. The camera stays still while the scene evolves before it. The photograph is almost an after-thought, comparable perhaps to Andy Goldsworthy’s records of his transient incursions and actions in nature.

Carol Golemboski has carved her own niche among the successful practitioners of the assembled image. It’s a broad category, incorporating both digital and analogue work, talismanic objects and, if an electronic file can be said to have breadth and width, two-dimensional layers contributing to the final product. Envision a range from Maggie Taylor to Joel-Peter Witkin (if one accepts that Witkin utilizes people as props), from Arthur Tress’ “Fish Tank Sonata” and “Teapot Opera” series to Susan kae Grant’s “Night Journey” series.

Golemboski fits comfortably in a formal lineage descending from Robert Cumming, Zeke Berman, David Goldes, and John Chervinsky, all constructors whose final products appear in black-and-white. Her allegorical compatriots include Lori Vrba, Jesseca Ferguson, and Olivia Parker. Photographs in both of these practices are is centripetal and enclosed, all energies drawing together within a defined, rectilinear chamber—etymologically speaking, a camera. Camera lucida, camera obscura, camera collectiva.

Psychometry, her recent book from Flash Powder Projects, extends the constructed experience in seductive ways. Real-time, living creatures are absent from these photographs. Nonetheless, they teem with biomorphism and bodily surrogacy, employing such forms as shoes, shirt collars, phrenological models, dressmakers’ patterns and mannequins, dental molds, and optical devices like stereoscopes. In “Genealogy,” portraits arrayed in a family tree might be definitive traces, but the members’ identities are effaced. Literally: the faces have been wiped away.

One elegant design feature of the book is the occasional appearance of a translucent page of vellum, printed and bound in so as to suspend the rough equivalent of a negative above its positive rendition on the subsequent page. It’s a conceptual stereo image, stacked instead of abutted, sandwiched rather than optically blended.

A quick lookup of “psychometry”—not itself a made-up thing—will tell you that it has something to do with discerning facts from inanimate objects. As Golemboski articulates it throughout her book, however, the psychometric process is more dimensional. Taking, or making, one’s own measure, perhaps. Flesh may be absent, but “self” consciousness abounds.

—George Slade

George Slade is a photography writer, historian, and curatorial consultant based in Minneapolis. He is the founder and director of TC Photo, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting audiences with photography. He can be found in various online guises under the title “re:photographica”; he is also a certifiable Instagram-oholic and maintains three feeds thereupon.

For One Twelve Publishing, Slade also wrote "A Proclamation for Unconventional Photography" in Volume V of Diffusion magazine.

In Psychometry, arrangements of old objects in dilapidated spaces serve as metaphors for human emotions and psychological states. The term “psychometry” refers to the pseudo-science of "object reading," a purported psychic ability to divine the history of objects through physical contact. The objects in these pictures seem haunted. They are designed to transcend their material nature and evoke the mysterious presence of past.

  • Publisher: Flash Powder Projects
  • Hardcover, 10.5x9 inches
  • 88 pages / 39 images
  • Edition of 500
  • ISBN: 978-1-943948-02-4
  • Trade Edition: $50.00
  • Short Story, A Visit, by Shirley Jackson

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