Slow Train Comin’
By Colin Herd.
Tuleyome, Lawrence Rinder & Colter Jacobsen, Jank Editions/ Publication Studio 2011
Publication Studio is an innovative publisher based in Portland, Oregon set up by book designer and binder Patricia No and the writer Matthew Stadler. They print and bind the books on demand from a shop in Portland and have developed a network of ‘sibling publication studios’ in Berkeley, Chicago and Vancouver. Their innovative approach has allowed them to establish a solid local base for readings and events to help support and nurture an audience for the books they produce. They combine this with international reach through their online-store, which all four sibling studios share. Publication Studio books are available in print format and download format, as well as available to read online for free in ‘free reading commons’. Their wide-ranging catalogue covers fiction, poetry, art and quite a bit more besides. One of their most recent publications is Tuleyome, a collaboration between artist Colter Jacobsen and writer Lawrence Rinder.
It’s neither quite an illustrated novel, nor really a photography book complimented by a story text. At the centre of the book (from page 43 to 76) is a story by Rinder about two men walking (and sleeping) on the railroad tracks that run from San Rafael, CA to Ukiah, CA. This story is bookended generously either side by three dozen full-colour photographs of the same stretch of railway track, by both Rinder and Jacobsen. The two artistic processes – text and photograph – blend and merge into an interdependent, collaborative narrative. The photographs – page after page of which unfold without any caption or explanation – often make use of language. For example, there are absorbing images of rail-track-side graffiti. Sometimes legible and sometimes illegible, the thick layers of graffiti scrawls and ciphers compel interpretation and examination, but resist and withhold semantic gratification: “Rob Gut Mac Dank”, “elbo elbo”, “fuck kipto cerfis”. Sometimes the graffiti communicates more baldly and suggestively, as in one of the photographs: a tree onto which the word “ALONE” is written in black paint that hasn’t dried fast enough, so that each letter has bled down the greyish trunk. Because the photographs are taken along the route of the tracks, they form a kind of travelogue narrative. For example, the image after the lonely tree is a long, unpopulated, barren stretch of track, the ground a rich orange colour dominated by the sheer scope of the sky; it says “ALONE” as eloquently as the preceding one. Another photograph shows an arm reaching out as if from behind the camera to stroke the muzzle of a horse. There’s something touching and compelling about someone photographing himself in the middle of nowhere, reaching out to an animal. About ten pages after the graffiti pictures, there’s a pile of (must be) at least forty spray-cans. Oddly sculptural in form, the heap of cans tangles and overlaps, looking like a relic of used-up artistic expression, and ‘outsider’ antagonism towards society. It’s hard to separate the tangle of ideas that these rich images throw together: conservation, destruction and artistic expression. Snapped in the light of the California sun and lying in a dusty bed of dried-out wild grass, the flammable cans signify a bonfire waiting to happen.
Rinder’s text picks up many of the thematic and narrative strands that the photographs establish, and throws them into a kind of anti-didactic, not-very-clear-cut moral tale about the preservation of the wilderness setting of the book. It’s the story of two young men who walk the tracks – Quincy a wanderer with dread-locks and Frodo, a young man recently run away from a Mormon mission. It’s a charming, bittersweet short story about love, possessions, frailty, change and conservation. The two meet on the railway and decide to make their way together to a place called Tuleyome:
It’s a real desolate place, but he was drawn to it. Actually, he was drawn to it because it is desolate. Tuleyome means ‘deep home place’. There was what he called a ‘riparian restoration’ going on, from cows damaging the streams. So he was going up there to help.
Quincy and Frodo’s friendship is charged with sexual tension, with uncertainty and with the natural enthusiasm of finding a soul-mate after having been isolated. Their relationship is sweet, but decidedly imperfect and described in simple, honest and unclichéd prose:
“They didn’t talk much but they liked being together. In each one there were things that hadn’t come out so well, and they could see in the other what that part could be if it was done right. For instance, Quincy had issues with material things. That was something he struggled with. Their meaning and what you gave up to have them. He tried to get by with as little as he could, and that wasn’t the best for him, truly. Frodo, for his part, loved things. He really cherished them, but not in a possessive way. His heart was open to the things of the world in more ways than I can even imagine.”
In this way, their relationship feels temporary and fragile from the start. The fragility of their relationship runs in counterpoint to the sense of the fragility of the landscape. Quincy and Frodo’s friendship is dependent on their being fellow-travellers on the tracks. Quincy is not committed enough in his relationship towards Frodo, is unsure of his affections. In an image that perfectly accentuates Quincy’s blowing-hot-and-cold, Rinder has him alternately allowing Frodo to sleep in his tent and forcing him to sleep outside it, on the ground. Getting cold feet about being alone with Frodo, Quincy suggests they detour to visit friends of his mother, Penny and Rita. Penny and Rita are flavoured with more than a dash of Gertrude and Alice, a fact that Rinder comically acknowledges by giving those names to their pet dogs –
“Quince, for heaven’s sake,” she said, “It’s been so many years!” She opened the gate. “Down Gertrude! Alice! How the hell are you?”
The liveliness of the scene is elegantly captured here in a way that photographs can’t match – Rinder’s prose focuses on sound and movement and leaves the stunning landscape images to Jacobsen’s photographs. Comic and melancholy in equal measure, Tuleyome is the most fully realised example of a text-photo-novel I can think of, where the text and the photos are equal players in the advance of a complex and fascinating narrative, and where the formal properties of both text and photograph are interrogated and laid bare.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colin Herd lives and writes in Edinburgh. He is co-editor of Anything Anymore Anywhere. Poems have recently appeared in Shampoo, Streetcake, Velvet Mafia, Gutter and Pop Serial, and reviews in the blog of Chroma journal. His chapbook, Like, is published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, February 1st, 2011.