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“Two Rivers” by Carolyn Drake

Looking back at the photography books that I purchased last year, the one book that stands out above the rest is Carolyn Drake’s Two Rivers. The book was self-published through a successful crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter (see here) in 2 editions (700 copies for a standard edition and 50 copies for a special edition).

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The blurb from the book:-

“The two main rivers of Central Asia, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, originate in the mountains near China’s western border and run into the Aral Sea – or they used to, before the Soviets diverted them to irrigate cotton fields. The Greeks knew the two rivers as the Oxus and the Jaxartes. An islamic hadith holds that they are two of the four rivers that flow into Paradise. TWO RIVERS is Carolyn Drake’s photographic record of many visits to this region over five years. Drake’s Central Asia is a place where political allegiances, ethnic bonds, national borders, and even physical geography are in such flux as to seem, at times, like fictions. Following the two rivers, she traces a vast ecosystem of stories, nature, money, and history.”

A lot of thought went into the design of the book and the result is gorgeous! The design reminds me a lot of Watabe Yukichi’s A Criminal Investigation that was a favourite photo book of mine in 2012 (check out my review HERE). Two Rivers features a similar type of Japanese binding and linen wrapped hard cover.  The hard cover is shorter than the book’s pages causing the pages to seem to spill out like water. Drake says that the cover ends “abruptly, just as the rivers themselves now end before they reach the Aral Sea”.

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A green rubber band at the back of the book holds an accompanying booklet with text by writer Elif Batuman.

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The book is split into 9 sections – Animals, Sea, Glitter, Hunt, Cotton, Border, Valley and Source. Each section showcases images taken in specific areas near the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. For instance, the Glitter section has images taken in the Karakum desert and canal area in Turkmenistan. The unique layout of the book frequently has images wrapped over the edge of the next page which is at first unsettling to view; I generally do not enjoy viewing photos that falls into the gutter, let alone totally falling off the edge of a page only to be continued when the page is turned. But because of the way images flow onto the following page, it does achieve the designer’s intention of forcing the viewer to inspect each image more carefully and relate them to adjacent images.

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I personally feel that the images captured by Drake are extremely beautiful and at the same time bittersweet in flavor. There is a melancholic feeling that extends throughout the whole book which I really love.

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The first printing of Two Rivers is sold out. I have no idea if she plans for a second print run but I hope she does; so more people will be able to enjoy this wonderful book. You can check out a selection of the images from the book on Drake’s website HERE. Having been a big fan of Drake’s work since I first saw her Lubavitchers series years ago, I am looking forward to whatever her next publication will be.