Artist and Cool Hunting contributor Jonah Samson collects vintage imagery—black and white relics that he refers to as his “new old photos.” Scouring eBay and beyond, Samson does more than horde these little time capsules. He frequently modifies and presents them in galleries. Or, in the case of his latest book “Yes Yes We’re Magicians,” he assembles them into a narrative. A moody, meticulous complication, Samson’s text-free book (except for a dozen words at the end announcing the origin of the title) hones in on the tragicomic human experience. As the subjects—sometimes blurred or distorted—are anonymous, the role of identity can be populated with imagination. Humor takes hold. One builds an affinity for the characters, or a curiosity over their life: who they were, what they became, where they are, why. The images do speak for themselves, and the viewer has a liberty to interpret as they wish. Samson’s strange aesthetic sensibilities bind the narrative, however. And by the end it’s clear that the emotional arc was his declaration.
“Yes Yes We’re Magicians” is a natural extension of Samson’s previous works. “In 2013 I was invited by a curator at Presentation House Gallery in Vancouver to produce a book of found images called ‘Another Happy Day.’ The book was well-received and it ended up evolving into an exhibition as well,” he explains to CH. “The experience ultimately transformed how I thought about producing art. A couple of years later, I began working with the same curator again to produce this book, which allowed me to follow-up on some of the ideas from the first book.” Further, he adds, “The timing of the book release coincides with my current show at Clint Roenisch Gallery in Toronto as part of the city’s month-long photography fair.”
Of course, the title of the book draws attention itself. The reference is an important one. “The title of the book comes from a line in ‘Waiting for Godot,’ Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play: ‘We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist? Yes yes, we’re magicians,'” Samson notes. “Beckett is my favorite writer, and his take on existence as tragicomic is a dominant inspiration in my work.” From the celebratory to the surreal, the images often speak to the idea of finding something—an emotion, a gesture, an act or performance. And indeed, there is magic present in a very non-literal way.
“With the exception of the first image on the inside front cover, the entire book is printed in the same tone of black and white,” Samson continues. “All of the images have also been resized so they take up the same vertical space on each page, so as you move through the book all of the images fall on top of one another.” He explains that these design restrictions “allow the viewer to focus the movement from page to page.” As for selecting the imagery and building the story, he shares, “Almost all of the images in the book were purchased off of eBay, and when I was sequencing the book, I would often have to got back to eBay and search for days or weeks to find the precise photo that would pull the narrative together. The photographs don’t come from any particular period. It was important to me to cast a wide net across photographic history in order to find images that speak to one another so the book didn’t feel moored in a particular moment. The images are pulled out of time, but hopefully still have something relevant to say today.”
Cover image by Cool Hunting, all other images courtesy of Presentation House Gallery