Paul Kranzler's “snapshot” images presented in Land of Milk and Honey display an intimacy borne of his familiarity with his elderly subjects, next door neighbours Toni and Aloisia. Documented over a two-year period from 2001-2003 in Linz, Austria, the 100 or so b/w and colour photographs pay homage to the Richard Billingham school of photography as evidenced in his debut work Ray's A Laugh.
Kranzler's images are unguarded, intrusive: we are presented with the decrepit Toni mid-spit, gob hanging from his mouth; later, expressionless Aloisia, in a snatched shot, is caught swigging from a beer bottle in her darkened bedroom. The effect rendered leaves one feeling like a voyeur to another’s misery; a witness to the shooting of fish in a barrel.
I am troubled by what I see. Unlike Billingham, who photographs his family, Kranzler’s subjects are simply happenstance neighbours. I wonder does he have the moral right to photograph their cluttered, disordered and seemingly dysfunctional lives, how ever honest he may believe he is being in representing their daily existence? To what end is he doing it? Ultimately, is he exploiting his subjects? I think not, in conclusion. The project has integrity. In context, the images are never gratuitous, or abusive of the subjects; raw and at times nauseating and shocking, but never, finally, manipulative.
In no way is Land of Milk and Honey an easy read in form or subject matter. Its subjects’ lives are seemingly light on everything that makes life truly worth living – love, humour, purpose – but despite this it is a life-affirming work, never more so than in its last image. Toni – the book’s repellently charismatic central character – having cheated death (a fact of which he himself is all too aware) appears like Old Nick himself, standing, half his body in the frame, the shade of a tree’s branches fingering his face, his eyes narrowed and with a cigarette in his hand masking his mouth. If only we could see, I swear there’s a smile as wide as the Danube on his lips – and isn’t that a snake coiled around the tree branch? If this old codger, with the life he’s led, is still going strong, one feels, well, anything’s possible …