Essay

A Young Person Recommends... Ciprian Honey Cathedral

Holly Houlton reviews the photobook Ciprian Honey Catherdral by Raymond Meeks

Raymond Meeks is an American photographer, known for his visual practice revolving around memory and place; investigating and understanding how particular landscapes can affect a person. Meeks often uses the format of a book including his most recent project, Ciprian Honey Cathedral.

Acting as the first chapter of a larger ongoing body of work, Ciprian Honey Cathedral, represents the difficult procedure of moving into a new house that he and his family embraced this summer.

The photographs were taken during this relocation period, questioning the meaning and social constructs of ‘home’, by what each family member chose to carry with them from the old house. Although the photographs do not focus on such personal items, the carefully considered sequencing and pairing of imagery encased by the poetic text sitting at beginning and end of the book intimately ties together the vernacular photography and family. They extract what appears to be key moments of Meeks’ consciousness interpreting personal relationships as he interprets his new material surroundings. 

Although the photo book depicts Meeks’ personal life through both the imagery and text, the work resonates with readers through its vernacular themes. By deliberately not revealing too much, using poetic rhetoric and compositions that partially hide the subject, ensures the narrative of the book remains relatable to readers’ own life experiences. This is perhaps also highlighted by the chosen title which is in fact not related to religion at all – instead it was sourced from the bottom of an abandoned dresser, providing this indirect name, not exactly personal to Meeks nor to the reader but may be something we all remember.  

It would appear that the words in this book are marked just as important as the photographs, the poetic-like text printed in singular lines on the front cover, outline the themes of the imagery before the reader even sees the first photograph. The details of such commonplace objects ‘mattress’ and the implication of family members presence ‘child-scribbled wall’ – have been ordered in an almost randomised structure, perhaps to represent chaos and flashes of memories Meeks and his family experienced this summer when moving house.

Similar text is also printed on the back cover. Although only several words, this operates as an effective tool to seal the end of the book by circling back to how the text started. The text printed in the last few pages of the book, is of a very different style, written using first person to directly address its reader ‘If I tell you about our house’ – perhaps to form a personal relationship with them, perhaps provoking thought of their conceptions of ‘house’ and ‘home’. 

I very much admire the photographs and sequencing of this book. The considered choices; most of the imagery in black and white with a few motifs or pairings of colour and the compositions of a room or person never showing the subject in its entirety, work well to add to the idea of not giving too much away - leaving it up to readers’ imaginations.

The images have been carefully sequenced, providing white space and blank pages in, around and between photographs to suggest a meditative read. I am particularly fond of some pairings of images, often, portraits are contrasted with scenes of their surroundings which appear to be run-down or broken. This leads the reader to question if this is symbolic; to consider the difficulties we face when reading our loved ones or how the environments we find ourselves in may subconsciously match the state of our relationships.

As a photographer and writer myself, who has also combined text and image in past projects, I found this book very inspiring regarding its form. It has allowed me to think about new and innovative ways to give text as an important role in the photo book as the images themselves, such as; printing text on the front cover to initiate readers focusing on this first before an image and considering the spacing and structure of words for more contemplative reading.

I would definitely recommend this book to universities and lecturers who deal with the conceptual and theoretical aspects of photography as there is much to be discussed and interpreted in terms of themes, symbolic imagery, production and the use of text and image.

- Holly Houlton 

@holly_houlton_photography