Ben Brain reviews one of 2016’s finest photo books, ZZYZX, in which Gregory Halpern explores random California landscapes with his subtle eye ZZYZX (pronounced zye-zix) is widely recognised by the cognoscenti as one of 2016’s finest photo books. And with good reason. American-born and Rochesterbased photographer Gregory Halpern (1977) spent five years working on this body of work. Titled after a village in the Mojave desert, Saint Bernardino County, Halpern’s photographs explore the Californian landscape in a non-specific but poignant representation of the area, accentuated by his sensitive sense of colour and subtle vision. Part landscape and part documentary, Halpern’s Californian topographies, urban scenes and portraits have an ambiguity and visceral mysteriousness. Often picking his Californian locations at random using Google Maps, Halpern shot around a thousand rolls of film to create this body of work. It was a chance encounter that ZZYZX landed on my desk the same day I visited the Paul Nash exhibition at Tate Britain. Despite Nash (1889-1947) having been a British painter working in the early 20th century, I couldn’t help but make loose connections between ZZYZX and some of Nash’s works and sentiment. With a mix of surrealist sympathies, abstraction and mysterious narratives, there’s an ambiguous sense of place that both artists suggest in their work. While nonspecific to place, they both capture its essence while leaving room for the viewer to create their own fictions. “There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment which cannot be analysed,” as Paul Nash once wrote. Halpern’s powerful image of burnt and blackened Joshua trees in the desert carries a similar resonance and semihumanesque presence to some of Nash’s early tree studies such as ‘The Three’, 1911. As usual, the publisher MACK has done a sterling job of designing and producing Halpern’s work. The simple unobtrusive design, sequencing and artful juxtapositions allow the viewer’s mind to wander through Halpern’s semi-fictional landscape. The production values, printing and paper stock all ensure the work is beautifully rendered.