Being Alive & To the Birds
be blind to their meanings’. Though this statement might be made about almost any meaningful artwork (and Hustvedt does rather preemptively blame any reader who does not ‘get’ Cole’s book), her point is that absence is here treated as a kind of profound presence.
From shaded eyes to the ubiquitous coverings and canopies of Cole’s photographs, what is not visible takes on a greater importance than what can be seen. It is thus that Cole’s book, for this reader, comes to be about online culture even as it eschews it. A sole reference to Instagram serves to highlight the unnerving difference between an online ‘follower’ and one in real life: two of Cole’s images reveal him following an unknown woman in New York. In a very real sense, the book is a return to experience ‘away from keyboard’, as the writer and artist Legacy Russell puts it towards the end of The Digital Critic. Though the individual photographs in the book do not always hold strong appeal on their own (and might sometimes prompt you to question the book’s overall merits, or even its price tag), they do, silently, add up to a remarkable social comment. Here is a series of snapshots of the world, our world, as it exists and continues to exists outside of, and in spite of, culture online. It stands apart from the new sphere of consumerism diagnosed by Barry’s essay, and instead faces the old realm of faded billboards and signs that simply read ‘CARS’. In a peculiar sense, therefore, it is hard to imagine a more potent act of ‘digital criticism’ than this book.