There has always been a standoff between those who want to control our perception of reality. I don’t know off the top of my head who originally said this, but the idea of winners controlling history isn’t old, although it may be an inadvertent admission of the slippery nature of reality – power wins, every time, proof to be damned. Nestled in the core of this idea is that just might mean and trampling on others is okay when it contributes to “winning”.
Photographer Alan Chin’s new book, “Infinity goes on trial(Jet Age Books, 2022), seems to me an attempt to provide an antidote to this kind of thinking. In fact, many documentary or photojournalistic works exist for this specific purpose: to shed light, even a glimmer, on facts. There’s a reason this newspaper’s motto is “Democracy dies in darkness.” It really is.
Propelled by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the rage it sparked across the country, ‘Infinity Goes Up on Trial’ is a collection of images surrounding the powder keg the United States has become as a result of a multiplicity of astonishing events that have brought the most despicable aspects of the country to light: white supremacism, misogyny and the growing gap between haves and have-nots.
Ordinarily, with a book like this, one hopes that there is at least a tinge of hope. And I think so, but maybe not in the way you might expect. As Chin throws himself into the country’s tumult, there are small reminders that ground us in things other than the breakdown of civility that has become so pervasive.
These respites come in the form of personal photos that Chin includes of his family, loved ones, and wider community, namely New York’s Chinatown. And though they too are caught up in all this turmoil, family, friends and community are anchors and harbors in rough waters.
One of my favorite things about the book is that the cover is from an artwork done by Chin’s daughter, Hannah. It’s a tacit recognition that there is a future, there is hope, maybe it just depends on future generations. It is also an acknowledgment, or a punctuation mark, which reminds us that all the turbulence around us directly affects our personal lives, including those of our loved ones.
When I first encountered “Infinity Goes Up on Trial” I was immediately struck by its thickness and somewhat chaotic feel. The weight and choice of paper of the book are reminiscent of a novel. I wasn’t sure if it really worked, but as I flipped through, my opinion morphed. That works.
There’s nothing neat and tidy about the myriad problems plaguing this country – you just have to dive in and try to tread water, clinging to whatever hope you can muster. “Infinity Goes Up on Trial” is a collection of disturbing issues and its form reflects that.
Ultimately, this book is one man’s testimony as a witness to events that many people seem to want to forget or paint in a very different light. Right now, and in the years to come, there will be a settling of scores. We will have to fight our way, but which direction will we take? This seems to be the biggest question of all.
One last thing about the book. Its title is a reference to a Bob Dylan song called “Visions of Johanna”, which has been variously described as a song about how a man is pushed to the brink and about to burst emotionally. I’m not a Bob Dylan fan, but that strikes me as a powerful metaphor for what this country is going through.
You can read more about the book and buy it here.
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