Monday, October 26, 2009

The In Sight From Way Out: Abe's Penny [Review]

Conelia Hediger, photograph for Abe's Penny Volume 1.8 (Issue 1 of 4)

The image above arrived in my mailbox as a postcard earlier this month with a message that begins as follows: "I told Chesikha before my last stunt that if I died, I'd come back a fish. Not thinking she'd remember I said that." A week later, another postcard arrived. Nine fish were flying through the air in this new photograph, as a woman — Chesikha? — looked on with great concern. The postcards are Abe's Penny, a "micro-magazine" that combines single images (New York-based photographer Cornelia Hediger here) with short texts (Adam Wade) in weekly supplements.

Part of the appeal here is the means of distribution. Some issues arrive with the U.S. Postal Service's faint orange bar code along the bottom of the cover photo, others are branded with a black code on the side with the message. There may be a little scrape along the front from a sorting machine or a creased corner from its long journey, but these tiny imperfections add to the fun. The scuffs — and the gorgeously hand written addresses — underscore the fugitive and personal nature of the notes. There is no web address, and no way to way to forward the message. On the magazine's Twitter page, the staffers document the mailing of each issue in a move that would have pleased On Kawara. An entry from Oct. 5 reads as follows: "1.8.1 mailed today at 4:40pm from Atlantic Street Station."

Ultimately, though, the quality of the material creates the lasting charm of the magazine. Abe's Penny is run by sisters Anna and Tess Knoebel out of Brooklyn, and they have recruited a list of contributors that have included formidable figures like Tod Seelie, Melanie Flood, and Skye Parrott to craft stories and photographs that range from the bizarre (the stunt man's monologue above) to the elegiac (the four issues of volume 1.7 were devoted to anonymous recollections of memories of parents). Given the cast and the quality involved, this seems likely to be one of those projects that will be spoken of reverentially and collected carefully in the future. It also may be one of the rare products that will deserve that treatment. (Subscribe now.)

On Kawara, Untitled, 1977. From the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: 16 Miles

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