Everything is part of the same wonderful, mysterious, beautiful universe.
Pity the poor photobook collector who reads about much-buzzed titles published in limited print runs whose supply often fails to meet demand. Alec Soth’s excellent Songbook, reviewed in these pages, went out of print quickly and already fetches a premium. The list price for a good quality photobook starts at $35 and typically runs at least $50. But the latest book from one of today’s most inventive photobook designers is still available months after its release. You can even show it to your kids.
In fact, This Equals That, designed by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin, is a photobook meant for kids, “a game of connections for ages five to 105.” The book cleverly introduces children to concepts of associative thinking in colors, shapes and numbers. The Aperture Foundation, who publishes the book, even provides an online learning guide with definitions of visual concepts as simple as “motion” and as complex as “depth of field.”
The book’s lesson plan is right there in the pair of images on its cover: a photo of a drafting triangle sits next to a photo of a huge artificial shark’s head. It’s a basic concept perfectly and dynamically illustrated: even though the objects’ angles point in different directions and the color schemes are completely different, the images are inextricably related.
Such comparisons, albeit with more enigmatic connections, have been the signature of photographer Jason Fulford’s previous books, each of them as well-sequenced as they are well-designed. The fact that This Equals That is created with children in mind doesn’t mean this is a watered down version of his aesthetic. The project indeed resonates with one of his early successes.
Fulford’s 2006 book Raising Frogs for $ $ $ came in a fire engine red binding with an image of a frog embossed in the cover. It looked like a vintage children’s library book. The images inside were at times mysterious, but typical of the way Fulford sequences images the book made tenuous connections between and among its dryly humorous images. Every picture may tell a story, but a sequence of images tells a rich narrative that is more than the sum of its parts.
Fulford’s previous books like The Mushroom Collector can be more elliptical and abstract in their sequences and metaphors, but in This Equals That, the plan could not be more clear. Each page spread is like a miniature “Sesame Street” lesson in which you try to figure out what two very different images have in common. The connections are easy enough for a child to explain: the branches of a tree and a wooden octopus; a wooden octopus and a toy jack. But what of the toy jack and an orange hanging from a tree? The jack is an orange-tinged yellow with rounded ends mirrored in the orange; beads of water drop from the fruit, echoing the jack’s multiple arms; thus a simple connection is more complex than it seems; such pairings encourage children to tell their own stories.
The richness of simple connections is the book’s central, all-encompassing world vision. What the book’s authors are saying about the visible world is cooly declared in the book’s mathematical title: everything is part of the same wonderful, mysterious, beautiful universe.
This Equals That is printed like a children’s board book, with rounded edges and durable pages to make it a durable, child-friendly object. But its lessons aren’t limited to the young: how simple and powerful it is to recognize that a triangle and a shark are the same shape, that everything we can see is somehow connected to each other?