Lanfall by Mimi Plumb

Landfall is the first title from the artist Mimi Plumb. Constructed from a reimagined archive of photographs made in the 1980s while she was at the San Francisco Art Institute, it carefully weaves a narrative of unknown circumstances that reflect on the time when the photographs were made and of the present. The book opens with a concise yet telling statement, foreshadowing the sombre and uneasy tone for the remainder of the book; ‘I remember having insomnia for a time when I was nine years old. My mother told me there might be nuclear war’. Indeed, the optimism found in Plumb’s previous work has diminished in Landfall, replaced instead by the anxieties of the political and environmental entropy she saw at the time. Scarred forests, military weapons amongst an unassuming public, burnt out houses and dismal landscapes alongside bluntly illuminated people are played out in the book, forming a bleak perspective on The Golden State and society at large. Moreover, while this outlook certainly holds proximity to the voodoo economics of the time, it feels essential that Landfall allows such political discussions to be the hushed context of the work rather than to foreground such conversations.

Plumb astutely translates the fragile climate of the 1980s into visual form, but it is the similarities between the anxiety of that bygone era and those of today that make Landfall such an exceptionally intelligent piece of work. Uncanny parallels can be drawn between the palpable tensions of both periods and as well as the coincidental appointment of two television presidents; it seems that little has shifted in the undertone of humanity where we appear fixed in a constant state of uncertainty. It is rare and admittedly unnerving to find a book that holds such veracity to more than one time and Plumb has succeeded in permeating ideas through both time and scale. In this way, Landfall is exceedingly timely; it feels as if the decision to publish these photographs now, over thirty years on, could not be more relevant to the precarious societal background we sit on today and crucially this relevancy resonates for readers across generations.

Of equal integrity to the underlying ideas behind Landfall is how they are brought into meaningful dialogue with the physical manifestation of the work. The photographs themselves are beautiful; technically accomplished pieces, they speak volumes of Plumb’s ability as an artist to render the world as it is but also of her dedication to both idea and form without compromise. Moreover, it is the normality of many of the photographs, the domesticity of them, that pulls the work closer to ourselves where we are confronted with the quotidian scenes of family life and faces that we can find familiarity in. The blemished landscapes that interrupt this context of home only seem to further the relatable apprehension that Landfall builds in such a competent manner. Plumb and TBW Books have crafted a sensitive structure and rhythm throughout that is just as alluring as it is disturbing. Photographs are persistently placed with a blank page in opposition that gives both time and space for us to consider the weight of each independent photograph before turning the page to contemplate the succeeding image. As a narrative, this mediated pacing manufactures the slow escalation of foreboding thoughts that are inescapable as we read further into the book. There is, in fact, little that is explicitly said in Landfall; it is an atmospheric work informed by an anxiety that we are all so intimate with and because of this, its resonance and brilliance cannot be overstated.