Friday, November 23, 2007

yet another thanksgiving rediscovery

While one of the things that I cherish about other blogs are the reviews and insights about new books and projects that I don't know about or can't afford, one way I plan on filling the grey Portland winter is rediscovering the books on my own shelves. For starters, in the afterglow of yesterday's meal, I flipped through some of my all time favorite books, The New Color series, by Sally Eauclaire. Published in conjunction with a traveling exhibition that originated at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY, the exhibition & books, The New Color Photography (1981), New Color/New Work (1984), and American Independents (1987), focused on many photographers who are considered the grand masters today (Shore, Sternfeld, Eggleston, Pfahl, Epstein...) and analyses the strategies that they, and others, were (and still are) using. One of the most satisfying parts of these books is seeing the early, and less touted images by some of the masters… Sternfeld's flashlit street work, for example, or Stephen Shore's "Montana Suite," a series of quiet (of course) landscapes of, more often than not, blue sky, green hills, and maybe a few patches of scrubby trees, sometimes set against the ironic hint of a more traditionally scenic snowy peak in the background. There is the majestic, and there is the everyday… these photos recognize both, yet seem to praise the latter.

Of course, the other unique pleasure of these books is seeing the work of some other photographers whose work is great, but hasn't achieved that same level of recognition and/or distribution. For example, for my money, a couple of the big highlights in the whole series of books are the projects in American Independents by Roger Mertin and Stephen Scheer, both accomplished photographers who, in these projects, direct their attention to distinctly American themes. With clear 8"x10" deadpan clarity, Mertin photographs window displays, school decorations, monuments, etc. that highlight Rochester, New York's Sesquicentennial and draw attention to the small, but significant ways that history is mythologized & commercialized in our culture. In his "Texas Tourney," Stephen Scheer takes on the big American dream, while contrasting it with the banality of reality. In one image, a father and his two daughters escape the heat by having a snack of "Thirstbusters" and "Mega" animal crackers under the shade of their truck trailer. In another, we see the edge of a suburban parking lot on parade day, a float and car, decorated with LP's and books (Ricky Nelson,"Angelica", "Alive", "The Bermuda Triangle" and others) fill the foreground, while in the background a prom queen of sorts in full finery waits patiently at the edge of a sprawling backlot of concrete and trailers, the line between fantasy and reality made clear. Good, good stuff here. I can't help but wonder if these projects were inspirational for someone like say, Greta Pratt, who's sense of fascination, humor, absurdity, and timing, are incredibly well developed (just check out "Using History.") Greta?

Roger Mertin, Great Canal Caper, Genesee Valley Park, Rochester, New York, July 8, 1984

Stephen Scheer, Supermarket Parking Lot, Beeville, Texas, 1984

note… of course, I couldn't find images from either series that I'm mentioning so I'm going to go ahead and scan them just to put more pictures from each out into the world. Again. Was anyone as disappointed as I was to realize Sally Eauclaire's interests later turned to cats?

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