Behind Union City – Amos Chan, Deborah Harry, Marcus Reichert and neo-noir accompaniments
One of my favourite photography books is Behind Union City: it is a collection of photographs that accompany the Marcus Reichert directed film Union City, which starred amongst others a then rather famous Ms Deborah Harry and and a just becoming famous Pat Benatar.
I call it a photography book because it seems like more than a companion to a film – there’s an artistry, beauty and atmosphere to the photographs.
The world of Union City, as in the film, is presented here as one that belongs unto itself, that existed alongside the “real” 1950s era in which it is set but which had an aesthetic and palette of its own; neo-noir I think would be an appropriate phrase to use about now. A period reimagining rather than a recreation, to borrow from myself and photographer Nick Clements (see here at Afterhours).
Some of the photographs are taken as the film was being shot but equally a fair number of them appear to have been created separately, sometimes candid behind the scenes images, sometimes posed images that reflect the world, story and style of the film but which also have a sense of being self-contained works – a film on paper, to borrow from photographer Lou Stoumen.
Amos Chan, the photographer, had previously been a fine art photographer and teacher – numbering Nan Goldin and Phillip Lorca diCorcia amongst his students. The photographs in Behind Union City were taken at a point when Mr Chan was just about to become a commercial photographer and the images in the book seem like a fine synthesis of both commercial commission and creative expression.
There is a sense of the photographer’s own personal mindset/creative impulse being expressed within the book’s imagery, channelling, combining and collaborating with that of the vision of the film’s director Marcus Reichert and the work of actress/performer Deborah Harrry.
Which may well be another reason that I think of it as a photography book in it’s own right rather than pure film accompaniment, as such expression of personal, inner narratives could be seen to have become one of the defining characteristics of fine art photography.
(That sense of collaboration is carried through into the crediting of the book, where Deborah Harry, Marcus Reichert and Amos Chan are given equal billing on the cover.)
Behind Union City was published in 2012 by Ziggurat Books International. It seems like a quite rare or not so widely known book in the world. Hopefully this particular piece of writing will in some small way help to change that.