Illustrated People by Thomas Mailaender, recommended by Erik Kessels

Thomas Mailaender’s new book was made in collaboration with the Archive Of Modern Conflict in London, a gigantic image collection and occasional playground for photographers. Mailaender’s hunt through the archive took him to the strangest places – photos that caught his eye for the unusual.

“Illustrated People” collects these striking pictures and intersperses them with imagery of Mailaender’s own creation. These original photos comprise body parts on display, the skin burned with a sun lamp in such a way that it makes an image. Mailaender achieved this effect by taking negatives from the archive and applying them with Vaseline to his subject’s bodies… then turning up the heat. The resulting burns reveal naked men on hairy legs, a pensive portrait on a chest, and an odd landscape etched into a shoulder blade. Often, the images and bodies work together: the expansive back of an obese man is covered with pictures, and a defiant fist carries an equally defiant soldier.

Mailaender creates a rhythm in this book by interspersing his original images with the found pieces. We see ridiculous naked group pictures, dental and medical images. They work so well together because they often have nothing in common with each other. These archive images that compliment Mailaender’s book are printed in black and white and have a light grey treat on them, to balance them with the colorful skin pictures.

The edit of the book is fantastic and the final book leaves you truly disturbed and puzzled — my criteria for a great photo book. “Illustrated People” has burned its way into my brain.

Illustrated People is available to purchase here, along with many other excellent books from the Archive of Modern Conflict.

Erik Kessels (1966) is a founding partner and Creative Director of KesselsKramer, an independent international communications agency located in Amsterdam, London and LA. Kessels works for national and international clients and has won numerous awards. He published several books of vernacular photography through KesselsKramer Publishing –including the in almost every picture series. Since 2000, he has been one of the editors of the alternative photography magazine Useful Photography.

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