Research can reveal a lot many things. For me it was this book as I researched for a crime based project and for Christian Patterson it was the 1958 story of a young couple who go on a killing spree in Nebraska slaying ten people. Today I introduce to you, Redheaded Peckerwood, a beautifully abstract book which lets you wander on the coast of a horribly tragic tale.
Published by Mack Books, the first edition of the book came out early 2011 and almost immediately sold out. Now after three editions, it still remains one of the most brilliant photobooks out there for your library.
Hardbound and presented as a thick brick of information, you don’t know what to expect when you look at the worn out cover photo of the book. 164 pages thick, the book creates a under pull, its physicality only exaggerating the ominous nature of the images to come.
Patterson spent about a week each over five years following and photographing the story of young Charles Starkweather, a 20 year-old from Lincoln in Nebraska, and Caril Fugate, his fourteen year old girlfriend. Because this documentation takes place about 50 years from the actual events, it acts as a representation of not only the event but the very state of mind of the two rebels, at times romanticising their act and condemning their actions almost in parallel.
In terms of the nature of the narrative, the book also features found notes, images of objects which add depth into the images. These are introduced to you as evidence, abstract and open ended for you to be able to decide their importance and relevance.
Featured in the Parr/Badger History Of Photobook III, its been described as a book which challenges the very medium of photography.
Redheaded Peckerwood is a very contemporary updating of what might be termed the elliptical narrative photo book. Patterson uses every facet of the bookmaking craft to underline a tale that, like all historical stories, we interpret through secondary rather than primary media. The book is a creative reinterpretation of an event that has already been famously reinterpreted in Terrence Malick’s film Badlands (1973), and indeed Patterson does much to clear away that accretion to bring us ‘closer’ to the ‘original’ event. But above all, Redheaded Peckerwood is a complex and challenging commentary on the photographic medium itself.
Redheaded Peckerwood is a beautiful book which actually encourages you to see beyond a biased viewpoint which we all create in our minds. Its open, its abstract and because its detached from any actual violence, it seeks to create a atmosphere where you are held from any presumptions or judgements. For me Redheaded Peckerwood is not just a photobook, its a session in letting yourself be exposed to something which would in a conventional world be a nightmare of humanity.
Also, if you found this interesting, Patterson gave a insightful interview about his process and the project on A Horn Magazine, do check it out. There is always his personal website for you to stalk and be amazed.