PhotoEye Review: of SKIP
Skip: Photographs and text by David Newsom.
ICP's email newsletter contains a “Photo Tip of the Month, which this past October was all about collecting photobooks. Daniel Thiem (web coordinator and senior sales manager of the ICP Store) suggested that with so many books on the market it basically comes down to taste, collectibility and price. True enough. And for me, this little gem of a book fits the criteria. I could get lost in the photographs of snowcovered thistles that blanket the endpapers, the warm sunlight and blue skies. But the heart of this book is the story of Skip, a 50-something-year-old child who has finally found his place in Idaho, and of a family who has finally found a sense of peace. SKIP, in many ways, is a personal letter with photos from actor and photographer David Newsom to us, his audience. He describes the book as a kind of poem in images and words, about [his] oldest brother, [his] family, and the pursuit of home. It is also a flat out love letter to the Teton Valley in Idaho. The vibrant color photographs taken over a span of ten years portray a world of reverie that the lens of his plastic Holga camera enhances. Skip, a man with mental disabilities, probably never knew the beauty that would await him in Idaho. There is such a stark difference between the walls of institutions and group homes of New Jersey and the majestic landscape of the West, and clearly the influence of the expansiveness of the landscape has done wonders for him. David and Skip— brothers who grew up divided by fourteen years of age, geography and understanding—exist in the exact same world of the eternal moment of the photograph. With a print run of only 1000, Perceval Press has indeed made this personal and visual narrative a collectible.
Book Review: Skip by David Newsom
Written by Richard Marcus
Published April 10, 2007
The man standing in the foreground, successfully cuts off the distant horizon line we can see to either side of his stooped shouldered, lanky frame. He is either chewing on a fingernail or picking his teeth with it in an attempt to clear a particularly stubborn piece of food.
While his body is in profile his head is turned slightly away from us, and what he is looking at is unclear. Truth be told there doesn't appear to be anything to look at aside from stubble poking through fields of snow that surround the frozen dirt road his sneakers are perched on. Moreover, you feel like something isn't quite right. Has he survived some horrible shock? Is he the veteran of one of America's wars, one of the forgotten who have come home damaged more by what they've seen or had to do than any physical scars can bear out?
The sky is as white as the road he stands on, but endless. In one of those weird tricks of light or perspective it looks like it might end at the mountain range in the background. For a moment it makes it look like the man on the road is girded in by walls and a ceiling. But that thought is ridiculous, so it can be dismissed easily, although the next time you look at the image it comes back to you again just as strong.
The picture I've done my best to describe is the cover of a book by David Newsom simply called Skip. Perceval Press has published this loving collection of images of Newsom's brother living a life freed from the confines of the institutions. He tells of how when his mother died, his older brother and sister had taken Skip to Idaho where they had land and settled him in a group home.
Skip had never lived outside of New Jersey, never outside of an urban area, and now he was in the wide-open spaces of the Teton Valley in Idaho. On his first visit in 1994 when he and his mom came out he seemed to fall in love with it. In 2005, after Skip had lived there four years, David Newsom reports that his sister wrote to say that at first she had been scared of him wandering town on his own – but now, she jokes, he's "mayor".
It's like when they were kids again because she is known once more as Skip's little sister. She ends it on a note both funny and touching. "Skip can be trusted to take the (4) dogs around the thirteen acres without any of them disappearing. Now if he could just learn to brush his own teeth before he turns sixty…"
This isn't a book filled with words about living with an adult with the mind of a child and what heroics the brothers and sister have performed for their brother. Or of how Skip is something more then what he is - an almost 60-year old man living with that mind.
There is no romance in the images Mr. Newsom has shot of their lives in the Teton Valley. The sky is huge and full of beauty, and part of that beauty comes from the wildness that is also a threat. Black storm clouds shot with colour as the sun breaks through in one last feeble attempt to stave off whatever danger is building. This is world of stark realities where there is no place for illusions.
If Skip were at risk because of his health, or put anyone else at risk, you know it would be a different story. But he has managed to make a place in this world for himself. The author makes the comment while observing a thistle — a plant considered such a threat and a pest in the valley that orders exist to exterminate it on sight — that like the thistle his family are strangers here, but some of them have found a home.
The dogs respond to Skip when he calls them to heel, Skip knows when it's time to return to his sister's yellow house for supper time, and Skip isn't behind the walls that at 23 he never wanted to return to. The picture on the front cover makes sense now when you go back and look at it again, but for reasons different then what I had first assumed.
This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever had the privilege to hold in my hands. It breaks your heart with its honesty while making you laugh at the bittersweet nature of life. The author in his acknowledgment states that these images prove that his brothers and sister were and remain his heroes.
Without any cheap sentimentality or "heart-warming" bullshit, he has indeed created a beautiful homage to three remarkable people and an equally beautiful landscape. In this day and age of fake emotion and false idols, this book should be required reading for every person in North America.
Playback:Stl Magazine Review
Images of Disquiet- Perceval Press.
David Newsom, who has graced many a television screen as an actor on popular network shows, has turned inward and crafted an expressive family album in Skip, the effusively colorful photographic story of his developmentally disabled brother Lloyd (Skip) Curtis Newsom Jr. In the concise snippets of essays accompanying the images, Newsome relays his brother’s struggles, giving readers a narrative to fill in the vast spaces of landscape in southeast Idaho that fulcrum the book. Skip’s troubles began early, as Newsom writes, “Excitable and prone to grab or push, Skip more than once placed his baby sister in the doctor’s office, so he was moved to a state facility in south Jersey.” Like it does to so many, such confinement left Skip with irreparable fears and a sense of distrust. “He still keeps nearly all he owns in his pockets—a Bible, the broken flashlight, his flashcards, some breath spray, an old bottle of cologne, his ball cap—the nervous habit of a boy protecting what’s his.”
The photographs in Skip succeed in presenting the vision of a damaged being without any of the fetishized voyeurism sometimes celebrated in documenting broken lives. Newsom, as maybe only a brother could have done, enraptures the images around his brother, so that Skip is perfectly at home in each frame, an organic part of the environment that gives Newsom’s images a distinctive otherworldly feel, like 2004’s “Untitled,”which is colored with hope, rays of sunlight filling the backdrop, as Skip stands with his hands on his hips looking off into the distance. Others, like 2003’s “Untitled,” are brewed with paranoia, as Skip looks off to his right, seemingly ensnared by his own shadow. Skip is a perfect marriage of narrative and picture, a family tale sketched in melancholy hopefulness.
- shandy casteel.
Skip Photographs by David Newsom
David Newsom's Skip is a photographic essay that tells the story of the photographer's brother, who is his elder by fourteen years. Through images that work conspiratorially and in conjunction with text, we gradually perceive that there is something strangely unique about Skip; our suspicion is confirmed with page 11's revelation, "He was born with a learning disability that made him 'The Skipper' of his own ship." Newsom goes on to describe Skip's 17 years of living in an institution, a stay that would taint him with fearfulness and distrust, as institutions do so well. By the time he's released and eventually moves to Idaho to live with his sister, he's capable of walking the dogs, but still hasn't learned to brush his teeth.
Looking at some of Newsom's images, one strains to determine whether the structures presented are truly houses and not plastic models photographed in such a way as to look as though they were real landscapes. "Little Shack" is one such image, and Newsom's perfect focus on the foreground's dried and brittle plant life creates an almost supernatural contrast with the hue of blue sky in the image's background. Page 4's "Picnic in the New World" reads like a photo-realistic painting, and shows Skip in profile, sitting by the water as he looks at a map.
Newsom succeeds in creating a moving, thoughtful, and provocative collection of images that cooperate with words to form a unique object in the format of a book. After its last page, one has an experience similar to that felt after finishing a great novel, in that somehow, we've divined more substance than what words alone are capable of conveying.
For more information on Perceval Press, visit the publisher's website at www.percevalpress.com.