At a square five inches, Negative Space certainly doesn't look like your traditional tome, the kind that would slot neatly in between two standard books on the standard shelves of your local bookstore. Your eyes might pass over it seeing as it's not much to look at from a size perspective, but it's certainly visually enthralling, with a photograph of a crimson horizon splitting up the raised silver text announcing the title and author's name.
It's kind of the odd one out of the book world, which is fitting when you consider it was written by Chris Colohan, a man who has, by and large, lived much of his life avoiding the kind of pigeonholing his foray into print has also dodged. As the singer of Burning Love, Cursed (RIP), the recently-reborn Left For Dead and countless others, the Toronto-based (and Hamilton-born) musician has lived half of his life as a nomad, or as he puts it, in "…the bohemian glory of waking up in your clothes on a car's bench seat with half a boner and your eyes stuck together…" This is, in a nutshell, what the book is about.
The majority of Negative Space's, well, space is filled with grainy, sometimes blurry or out-of-focus pictures documenting a trek that brought Burning Love across Canada and the USA. This is preceded by a foreword making clear Colohan's disdain for photography, along with the happenstance and reasoning that dropped a film camera in his lap and caused him to use it to document the more mundane moments of life on the road.
The resultant images come at the reader as quickly and sporadically as the random occurrences that might come about when one rarely lays their head down in the same place that they woke up that morning, geographically speaking (it's probably still the same van). Sure, they aren't technically "good" photographs, with the proper framing and lighting that entails — Colohan never said he was a photographer, and in fact, flat out denies it — but they capture the essence of that which they aim to. The subject matter is not always enthralling (a bench here, a blurred neon sign there), nor its context obvious, but that becomes part of the fun as the images serve as visual bookends for the book's centerpiece, a 15-page story called "Going Under."
The true story, told through the eyes of Colohan and based in a Dallas, Texas hotel and its swimming pool, waxes poetic on problems in society, both present and pending. And poetry it is. Using the muse of a perpetually almost drowning girl and her absent-minded mother, Colohan draws parallels (almost as if a gun) between her struggle to stay afloat in the pool and her looming struggles in the world beyond the hotel's walls. He takes well-aimed shots at capitalism, media, technology, nutritional negligence and absenteeism, the latter of which is embodied in the mother's failure to complete even the most basic of her maternal duties. The recounting offers plenty of reward for the repeat reader, with new nuances popping out of the woodwork to enhance a message that was already plenty enthralling. Although the rant is fueled by sleep or a lack thereof, it is never less than coherent or clever in its delivery, making observations that, as Colohan states, might only be seen by an outsider such as he.
Altogether, Negative Space makes you feel something, and it's written very fluidly so to slide the message home. The phrase is colloquially known as "hammer it home," which really should rarely be the goal; wouldn't it be preferential to slip into the consciousness, unnoticed and permanently altering, than to bash it in with force sure to damage?
This little 5" x 5" book has the power to alter perspectives, to enable change. In 15 pages, "Going Under" shows disillusionment through another's eyes (a metaphor only furthered by the photographs) and makes you feel it. And isn't satisfaction the death of desire? Reading this makes you want more in life. (Permanent Sleep Press)