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As colourful as a wonderful summer's day – this seems to be the first impression created by Philipp Keel's new photo book: a paper dust cover shimmers in a mysterious green; a lemon-yellow linen cover, with sky-blue writing; midnight blue endpapers; and inside, glossy moss-green opening pages, followed by the first text and motif. The design takes its time, and gives the images space: each photograph stands alone on one of the right-hand pages; each one sets a mood that allows room for free associations.

What was it like last summer? Benedict Wells, the author of the texts and bestselling author at Diogenes Verlag, makes a comment about this in his short introduction: “The most beautiful summers are often also the most painful. We rarely feel more alive. And at the end of those summers, we’re reminded, all the more strongly, that everything passes.” This series of pictures is, in truth, a farewell song to a summer which is now no more than a memory. Perhaps, it dreams of how summer might have been: blue seas, the shadow of a palm tree, a cocktail with a cherry in it, an open view of the sky, sun loungers at night... Only people are missing – they have already left; maybe wallowing in the memories that these images aim to evoke.  

“One of the great strengths of Keel’s works is that they stay subtle and reserved. We each find in them what we wish to find,” Wells writes, referring to the series. “In some, the melancholy is light-hearted – little more than a gentle, not unpleasant, tug at a taut string, somewhere deep inside us. In others, there is more to it. Last Summer takes us to a threshold: evening has set in; a solitary view from a veranda with a drink in hand, friends laughing in the background as the day’s last light fades. The images of a day that passed far too quickly play in our mind; some flickering, some clear. Perhaps we feel briefly wistful, or perhaps we turn around and go back to the others.”

The pictures were not, in fact, taken last summer, which was very different from previous ones. By the same token, the melancholic images – photographed between 2006 and 2019 – aptly convey the feeling of loss and uncertainty, which also defined summer during the lockdown. At the very end of the photo series, summer is definitely over: an autumn bouquet; pale blue snow; a tree dressed in winter snow. However, as Henry David Thoreau’s comforting words suggest, “One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” Maybe this elegant book can help achieve that. (Ulrich Rüter)

Philipp Keel: Last Summer
Text: Benedict Wells; book design: Kobi Benezri
72 pages , 62 colour images, English, 24 x 30 cm

All images on this page © 2021 Philipp Keel
Sea, 2017
Palm Leaves II, 2019
Cherry, 2019
Fender II, 2017
Tarifa, 2018
© Maurice Haas

Philipp Keel

Born in Zurich in 1968, Keel is a multi-talent: artist, musician, author, and filmmaker. Since 2012, he has also taken over Diogenes Verlag (publishing) from his father. He became interested in photography as a youngster; studied piano in Boston, and directing in Munich; and lived in Los Angeles to establish himself as an artist, filmmaker and author. Following Color and Splash, Last Summer is his third publication with Steidl. He lives in Zurich.

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