william eckersley alexander shields – u.s.80

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William Eckersley and Alexander Shields

U.S.80

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These photographs are from a recently completed body of work, titled U.S.80.

U.S.80 was the first coast-to-coast highway in America, pre-dating even the fabled Route 66. It spans nearly 3,000 miles between Savannah, Georgia and San Diego, California, covering an enormous diversity of the American landscape and culture.

This includes the rural south, scarred by civil war and civil rights, boom towns of Texas enriched with oil surplus, and creeping scarcity as scrubland gives way to the western deserts along the Mexican border. Having been superseded by interstates, this once thriving road now lies neglected through parts of America that are also frequently overlooked.

During three visits between 2008 and 2009, we travelled U.S.80 several times, building a collection of large and medium format photographs that document the road and its environs. We’ve always had a fascination with America and particularly with the travelogue genre of American film and literature. Through this prism, we wanted to explore our interests in forgotten worlds and slightly wild, inhospitable landscapes, as well as the often transient nature of America’s built environment – something that reflects the history of migration in U.S. culture.

The project was recently published as a book with a foreword by the renowned journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow, and exhibited at Cole Contemporary on Little Portland Street during London’s Frieze Art Fair.


Bio

Eckersley and Shields have been photographing for the better part of a decade, after initially studying at LCC and St.Martin’s. In that time, Eckersley spent a number of years working as an architecture and interiors photographer for a London design agency, whilst Shields worked as a graphic designer for a news channel in Washington DC. However, it is their collaborations that have produced their most arresting work.

Their first project, Left London, was an historic study of derelict sites and buildings around their home city. It reflected their interest in abandoned spaces and garnered wide critical acclaim. After setting up Stucco Press to publish the work as a 176 page book, Sarah Kent (Time Out’s influential Art Editor) was among consenting voices when she asserted that “never before has vanity publishing led to such a splendid publication”.

The success of the book prompted involvement in two high-profile exhibitions- London Stories at Shoreditch Town Hall and the Photo London 2007 exhibition in Old Billingsgate Market. Work from this project is held by various collectors, including the sportswear company Nike, and Sir Elton John.

U.S.80 was published as a book in September 2010, with a foreword by the renowned journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow, and complimented by an exhibition at Cole Contemporary on Little Portland Street during London’s Frieze Art Fair. Eckersley has a further project, with the working title of Dark City, due for publication in 2011.

Related links

Eckersley and Shields

US 80 The Book


64 Responses to “william eckersley alexander shields – u.s.80”


  • I don’t get it, I guess. They are just photos of stuff and folks along a highway. It sure isn’t Soth. Nice photos, though.

  • I agree with Jim Powers… he’s got it! It’s an essay about folks and the way of life along a highway with very nice photos…it’s called LIFE!! Nothing else, simply a brilliant essay!
    A very nice roadtrip! I miss more information about the people I’m sure some of them are quite some characters, I suppose the book may go into more detail. With 3000 miles of road of course this is the kind of essay which a photographer could spend their whole life working on. One day when my kids are grown up or at least when they can begin to take care of themselves reasonably well, I’m going to head back to the USA with my wife and we’re going to do the quintessential American roadtrip! Anyway this seems to be a work of love, impressive images and the kind of essay which anyone who dislikes the American way of life will surely choke to death on.

  • i enjoyed that.. the majority of the “views” are strong..
    the portraits seem a little weak though.. lacking depth and character.. intimacy which has been lost to fairly ordinary expressions and posses.

    i love the idea of the journey and think that, as projects go, the road trip is a classic.. congratulations on your book and being in burn..

    (nb – as a completed book, is the essay meant to be under works-in-progress?)

  • David Bowen…
    “the portraits seem a little weak though.. lacking depth and character.. intimacy which has been lost to fairly ordinary expressions and posses.”
    Maybe that has something to do with using large format IF the portraits weren’t shot with medium format…

  • DAVID B.

    my slip up…this should be and is now an Essay and not a work in progress…

    thanks for catching this

    cheers, david

  • Don’t about anywhere else but down here on this island we reached 29 degrees Celsius/84.2 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday and we’ve only just begun autumn!

    http://adesirecalledcamera.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/autumn/

  • Admin!!! soooory meant to be posted on dialogue sorry!!

  • Does the n. 36 really exist???? Sorry to be disappeared also as a silent reader.

  • Nice sense of place.. nr. 14 made me go “WHAT?”.. less than an hour from here we have the twinsister of that house.. not an usual construction for here.. looking forward to see the book.. and in the meantime I’ve stumbled over this, similar project to be:

    http://postcardsfromamerica.tumblr.com/

  • I think the stance and angles on whatever happend to be along US80 are a bit lazy and somehow trivialized as style of shooting goes from so many predecessors, and it’s too bad because you seem to be able to estbalish contact with people. A few points just off my head, why this constant distance/space between the camera and the subjects in the frame? Why no action shots, everyone is posing. A “tell it like it is” element is missing to reproduce a/your sense of the route/road. IMO

    For me, great subject, very apt photographer but too much distance, and weak realization (to be honest, that sums up what I do myself with a camera! ahahaha)

  • Remembers me the Richard Avedon book: In the American West.

    I think It was a nice trip. I particularly love pictures with abandoned trucks in the middle of nowhere.

    Spring is coming!
    Patricio

  • Really like the project, considering that I’m not a fun of the “deadpan” aestethics. As I reallize, it has been discussed here already. I mean the distance between the camera and the subjects, subjects without expression, lack of loseness, and so own. Probably it would be a winner at JM Colberg’s site.

    I just hope photographers could get rid of this deadpan aestethics. It’s true it really worked for some, like Alec Soth or Richard Renaldi, but it has been imitated to exhaust. Anyway, in this case it works at least in the landscapes and house pictures. Portraits should be more personal. Large format should not be a barrier. Just remember Nixon’s 8×10 portraits.

    cheers
    Jorge

  • I like this essay a lot.

    It is close to be perfect art piece, but this “almost” is enough to see the differens between William Eckersley and Alexander Shields and Thomas struth or Alec Soth or Stephen Shore etc.

    For me for sure pictures nr. 2, 6, 15, 16, 24 should be immediately removed from this series.

    and pictures 36(!) I’ve seen this photo many times before. The same frame, the same position and angle.

    but I like this series.

  • Masterly. I’m in heaven. Concerning the distance in portraits: I do not feel any emotional distance at all here. There is a strong connection at the heart level for me in each and every one. I stare. Congratulations.

  • Unfortunately,for me, there isn’t really much to grasp on to in this series.
    The large and medium format choice adds absolutely nothing as a creative tool and the
    lack of sensitivity to lighting,in most images, leaves me cold.

    The whole essay is like a set of grab shots only using a larger capture format.
    Maybe that makes it appealing to some but,certainly, not me.

    If Tommy in #29 pulled the trigger then you’d have something……

  • The backlash is here, it seems all the rage at the moment that anything shot on film or using large format cameras (8×10 or 4×5) has some mythical status. Just a few years ago these were stock in trade working tools used by all and sundry commercial photographers. Now as film stocks dwindle and photographic technical skills tumble (due to the advancement capture resolutions, sensor sensitivity, camera wizardry), remember the days of having to hit exposure bang on with velvia or kodachrome…… anyway I digress. There seems to be a trend cursing through art photography for all things film. I love film, I spent many years in darkrooms, in fact I have recently just shot a new series on film which I will be drum scanning soonish. But just because you shoot on film doesn’t make it good.

    This series leaves me unmoved, first reaction is it’s been done before and it has been done to ad nausium, as Jorge said “deadpan aesthetics” sure is deadpan.

    Also you will note, the book is published, who is it published by……themselves.

  • No 36 does exist, I’ve seen it used in a Range Rover ad.

  • Concerning #36, I can attest that, indeed, in does exist. I know this for a fact as I myself was born in that very structure on a cold and snowy day in mid-July nearly a full century ago.

    The first 83 years of my life were spent growing up in that tiny structure, along with my 14 brothers and 39 sisters. Oh, the memories!

    I am shocked that anyone would cast even the slightest doubt on the existence of this place that was so dear to my childhood. I am certain that I would be living there still, were it not for the evil, multi-national corporation Prada, which launched a hostile takeover of our family business, Pet Scorpions and Horny Toads, forcing us onto the streets, which I then wandered aimlessly for decades until I eventually reached Alaska.

    I thank you, William Eckersley and Alexander Shields, for including this shot in your wonderful, evocative, mesmerizing essay. I sit here weeping, as tears of gratitude flow down my face.

  • hmmmm… at least one typo, maybe more:

    indeed, {it} does exist…

  • I was speaking to one of my talented students (a sculptress) yesterday about her first real foray into photography. There is a choice you can take good photographs or go beyond the obvious……….

  • …this is the safe obvious.

  • This is neil sedaka.
    this is polite conversation.
    this is keeping to the speed limit in a sensible car
    this IS a sensible car.

    This is practical shoes
    this is stretch waist cargo pants from the sunday supplement
    this is the collection of porcelain dogs on the mantlepiece
    this is the colour brown.

  • But here’s the thing: it’s also very much the U.S., and not by accident or lack of vision.

  • Wow!!, I like this essay a lot! nice photography…..it looks familiar though….have I seen it before?….mmmhhhh, where have I seen it before?…..can’t remember…….mmhhhh, ok, let’s watch it again…..mmhhh, yeah, it’s good….although those portraits are a bit too alike to Renaldi’s….. but with less punch….mmhhhhhh….yeah it’s still good, but…..that deadpan look….mmhhh….hasn’t it been used a bit too much….mmhh….ok, let me watch it again……mmmhh….not it’s not Soth, or Shore, or Ruff, or Struth…..but I still think I like it…..or maybe not so much?

  • Imants,

    what is that good photography nowadays??… while, in fact, everyone visually educated enough and honest with himself person knows what is very good and excellent photography… to take very good photography is very very difficult… to take excellent photos is almost impossible… Ha ha:))…this “going beyond the obvious” could be a wide meaning… but many guys already use and misuse this “approach” and think, or even say, they produce “art”… it’s the easiest approach… with good marketing and connections it “works” for that particular show or presentation party:))… it has no value whatsoever tomorrow though…

  • I can’t get past #29……
    i don’t like that image…
    at all……

    US 80 seems to get to the same place….
    in only a few states?
    don’t know if this would make a difference,
    but I would like to see some ‘cohesive’ part of the story with certain states……
    It was confusing to me, to see which state the image was taken…
    don’t know if this really matters…
    but it did to me for some reason……..
    don’t know why?!?!?!?!?

    I did like the imagery….
    its just the ‘story’ was scattered to me…..

    ***

  • Anthony asks me a quetion………. Anthony answers it on my behalf ……….Imants says thanks

  • Imants…
    Who is the perfect example of going beyond the obvious in photography you would use to teach your talented sculptress student?

  • Photographers……. Sam Leiter, Li Zhensheng (Red Color News Soldier), Weng Fen( Wish for Patriotism,2000) Jan Dibbets, Robert Bergman (portraits), David Harvey (about thinking), Hong Lei (dead bird shots), Mug shots taken by the Sydney Police in the 1920′s, Memories of a Dog Moriyama, non photographers like Shaun Tan (narratives and multi-layered responses), the Futurists as photographers …………………

  • Imants…
    Thanks! Start searching this afternoon…
    I see oriental artists seem to be a strong influence in your favourites.
    Yes and I agree on DAH thoughts/writing…wish he could one day find time to publish a book on his views/musings/experience in ART in general (Not necceserily photography) I’m sure it would be extremely enlightning… a very underrated writer.

  • The Orient they are our neighbors and our citizens artists like Lindy Lee are somewhat strangers in the Orient …. Lindy Lee Born Brisbane ” The trademarks of Lindy Lee’s work include block colour, anonymous Renaissance faces and abstract minimalist markings which dabble in elementary forms of expressionism and contextualism. Colour is symbolic: Red: representative of corporality, substance and life; Black: underlying mystery, invisible, unseen and silent. The viewer is engulfed by the large scale compilations of rectangular panels that evoke intense feelings. The surface is lush and complex with areas of pure colour and repeated photocopies of a Renaissance face that are unified by expressive splashes of encaustic echoing Chinese calligraphy.”

  • There are hints of strangeness — #1 (woman and taxidermy, no caption), #19 (gas station and second coming), #37 (front half of pickup in gas station) — but most of this is unremarkable. There’s little to suggest that the Deep South, the Southwest, and San Diego are different from anywhere else in the world. There are hotels and highways, some people posing. But there is nothing in this essay that is suggestive of the distinctive cultures we all know lie along Route 80. I don’t see any “enormous diversity of the American landscape and culture” in these pictures.

  • Congrats on the book and showing on Burn!

    #1 and #19 are show stoppers for me. I found some really nice shots here, but I would have like to see more intimate images. Lots of surface skimming.

  • “You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday don’t count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else.”-cormac mccarthy

    “Be careful going in search of adventure — it’s ridiculously easy to find.” -William Least Heat Moon

    I too have traveled along US 80, actually. One fever-drawn late july week in the summer of ’95. I’d rented a uhaul van and drove clean across the southern gut of the US, beginning on Marco Island, Florida all the way to L.A., in 2 1/2 days, with little sleep, a carton of cigarettes, and a heart a pulpy mess for the love of a married woman who hadn’t the strength to leave a marriage but had the power to whisper perfumed hunger into my 29 year old head……i stayed for nearly 4 years….i returned on a more wayward crawl….

    The summer of ’95 saw no cameras, nor companions, sitting beside me in that uhaul van, though its back was weighted down with 20 boxes of books, 2 suitcases of clothes, a box of oil paints, art supplies and an unpublished novel. I spent most of those fever 2 1/2 days listening to the radio or the conversations I have having with my folks, brothers and the woman i was driving toward, even her husband slipped in a freakish question or two. Other than the voices in my head, the only other folk I spoke with were those I’d met in the places i ate or parking lots i’d slept in (both nights, texas and arizona, were truck stops, as i slept in the cabin). 4 years earlier, i’d driven Rte 66 with my brother sean, and both trips reminded me of both our childhood road trips (from PA and NY to Florida every year) and the wisdom my daddy used to impart to us in the back of the station wagon:

    a trip is about the voices you hear and the scent the land gives off.

    There is so much here that i want to love, frankly. There are glimpses, for sure. In fact, what continually startles me about photographer, even as a practicing one and one who writes about the work of others, is that there comes those moments, those places, when seen i just bolt up and say, ‘damn, without a camera, i wouldn’t have seen that.known that.’ in a sense, that is still photography’s greatest gift: a gesture of awareness that resonates viscerally and spirals up along the belly and curls back to the spine and up to the tip of the skull: i want to see that, i want to go there, i want to hear that story. in a word: DAMN!

    The first picture does that for me, as did the Prada shot, and i’ve been to Marfa before (knew Judd’s daughter), so does the arched-like-a-crocodile pickup left in the abandoned gas station, same with the room in Alabama (eddie’s teddies)…all these pitch against us, call us….the need for stories, for these stories…

    and yet…

    for me, much of the work seems (intently or not) too much like other work…too much, in a sense, like the ‘typical’ bluehighways story that i’ve seen before….the bounce between portrait and landscape, the very thing that Alec does so remarkably well, or what Renaldi does’ well (especially in his rhyming of landscape/urbanscape with the faces of those he photographs), and yet, what seems to me missing here is something quintessential about America…especially about the American south….it isn’t it’s poverty or abandoned splendor or he kudzo or the gun-to-the-head frightening soul, or the pitbulls or the abandoned hillbilly’s…what is missing here is the venacular…the venacular and it’s brilliant poetry and humor…how does one capture that…there are hints of that here in the landscape (as preston has mentioned)…but it seems strained…i don’t know what to offer, but that after Shore’s trek across american, and before him Winogrand and before him Frank, it seems to me there must be something more to work that tackles this than to just offer us the brilliantly odd and brilliantly kitschy american landscape people by simpletons and quirky folk….

    Eggleston found not only poetry and humor in the oddity of the world around him but humanity in the oddity, the pathos and the laughter…Soth’s rich and knowing conceptual intelligence comes from his genuinely connected and humor-filled love of place and people, a true mid-westerner in his sincerity and honesty (i know, i’ve sat in a drunk bar over drinks) and love of the odd….

    here it feels schematic…a list making (juxtapose dilapidation with incongruity, southern gothic with wester-desert eternity, kitsch hotel with odd-american simpleton, homeless person with antedelluvian grandeur gone, kudzu with palm tree and rusting skeletons of the american automotive beats, etc)….

    pictures well made, but some how feel empty…or rather, passe….

    it may look like america, but it doesn’t at all feel like a story about america or americans….

    that’s the problem with road trips….

    depending on what happens, they may reveal what we hadn’t expected or what we looked for and found what we’d expected….

    i’ve walked through Cypress Swamps, both in Florida and Louisiana and i’ll tell you they do not feel the way that picture looks…maybe that is the problem…

    i think a journey, road trip should tell us about the author’s experience (see: Americans, or Winogrand 61 or Shore) in order to provide us insight into not only the experience but the place itself…

    i see pictures here, and some very well made pictures, but little after that….

    maybe i’ve crossed the US too many times…who knows…

    anyway, congrats on being published here and on turning this into a book!….

    cheers
    bob

  • Some good stuff here, but you guys put me on US 80. I want to experience the trip. It’s tough going from one side of the country to the other then back again. Not that I’m against a contrasting visual trip. The sequence doesn’t jive.

    It’s like Preston notes, some of the missing caption info doesn’t make me more informed. I like what this does, it’s just got some info holes in it. I can’t leave it feeling satisfied. I was offered a big lobster and all I got lobster roll. Man, I’m hungry.

  • I’m with Erica on this one; a very enjoyable essay with plenty of associations. Again, there are the complaints of “been there, done it, seen it…next” above, but what this essay offers is the uniqueness of a photographic duet. This is the sort of work I’ve never seen published here (I’d be happily corrected); in fact except for the Water Towers of the Bechers, and the collaboration of Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris, I cannot think of photographic work done in a pairing.

    Two photographers, foreigners, drive several times down this highway over a span of years. Editing one another in situ, it seems to me that their story just on that footing would bring to it a greater complexity. I love Jorge’s term “deadpan aesthetic” (never heard that one before) and agree with that, but in a positive way.

    The stillness of many of the images requires equally quiet contemplation; images 6 & 7 makes me think of Ralph Gibson’s efforts to rework the planes of composition, bringing the rear plane to the front as E&S do with the facade of a chapel on the hill, or by moving the mid plane to jut out from the whole image plane, as they do in “Old Roadside Buildings”.

    How about “Dale” (#25) and the way Alex Webb’s work with multiple planes is evoked? Perhaps a titch more brilliantly, as E&S do it with just two figures – something I’ve not seen done by Webb. Yeah, let’s think of Soth in #4 – but let’s also ask why E&S chose to photograph the two women in front of garbage cans, aside what appears to be a house trailer. Does the diagonal stick in the window, used as a primitive lock, denote a desire to protect? Doesn’t that add to the self-respect and self-esteem we see in the faces of “Lakeisha and friend”?

    There is plenty to view here, and for those who don’t see it remember a certain project from a few decades ago, where a foreigner drove the roads across America, and how his work was criticized. Good thing Eckersley and Shields have two pairs of shoulders!

  • hey jeff:

    the difference, however, was that Frank’s book was both about that America most hadn’t seen/understood/experienced but also about his personal and existential journey as well…although this essay is composed of smart and well done pics, it is, at this point in time, completely predictable, with a few exceptions….maybe, personally, i’ve just been inundated with trans-continental dead-pan (love that too) landscape/portraiture, by young photographers (american or other)….for example compare with William Christenberry, whose photographs of buildings and places in alabama are not only formally as gorgeous as paintings (oh, his light and color) but also mix Evans with ‘dead pan’, yet imbued with a rich sense of both humor and love of his Alabama…

    the work is visually smart and composed, but, at least for me, i hunger to see a different approach to america and the american south….one example, forget his name, the young photographer who photographed all the spaces (forests, kudzu, parking lots) he’d had random sexual encounters, literally ‘cruising’….vacant pictures supercharged…..Soth spoke about his work last year, brilliant…

    i just want more :))) (maybe asking for too much?, maybe)

  • ‘Morning Bob:

    Do you remember how, at the Magenta talk, Alec Soth described the fun of staring at his subjects whilst underneath his dark cloth, examining his subject’s face; how he amused himself, thinking that his subject thought Soth had to spend so much time adjusting, focusing, etc.? Eventually he’d release the shutter, but only after a good examination of his target. I look at these images in that context, maybe as a summation of a roadtrip, with a shot created to describe an endpoint of a packet of the travel experience.

    Or, in a similar manner these photographs could be a summation of either – or both simultaneously – of the photographic and photographeric influences that feed Eckersley and Shields. Like a wine tasting that can be explored vertically or horizontally, I’m enjoying reading these images, knowing full well that I’m not bored having yet again a glass of cab-sauv, or whatever.

  • hi jeff :))

    yes, i do (i was the quiet photog with the hot wife sitting next to my friend don weber, maybe the only photog there without a cell phone and/or camera) :))>….though, i think alec’s notion was different…anyway….i think Eckersley and Shield’s work is good, intelligent photography….but it also very much (to me, for me, as both a photographer and one who has spent a great deal of time in the places they’ve shot) is what seems to get churned out again and again…just at this stage, i want something that challenges my notion of these places and/or challenges the notion of what a photographic essay on the exploration of a place should look like/feel like, be…:))…

    but that may be more about my own boredom with photograhic exploration in the guise of de tocqueville….anyway…i get why folk enjoy the work, there are some pics here that made me smile….

    time to put my money where my mouth is…:)))) (soon)

  • This is the type of work that I just don’t get so it is impossible for me to make any intelligent kind of comment about it. The only thing that would possibly be the least bit insightful is my near certainty that this is a case where dumbing down the information to a relatively tiny jpeg file discards a great part of what’s interesting in the photo as well as so many anonymous megabytes. But I don’t get work like this when I see it in museums or galleries in all its rich informational glory either, so what’s to say? I trust the problem is me. I just can’t like everything, nor would I want to.

    But I think I get the appeal of road trips. I mean, sure, it would be great to criss-cross the country, just about any country, taking photos of roadside attractions. An RV, a cold beer or six, and off we go. But although it would be great fun, I have trouble imagining how anything very interesting could come out of a 3000 mile jaunt. Well, maybe interesting, but nothing that would tell anyone very much about a country. I know Frank did it, but he had a socio-political vision of some sort. Maybe not a vision, but he saw things that other people didn’t see. And he recognized patterns that other people didn’t recognize. And he presented his information visually in ways subtly different than how others had presented it before. He didn’t take a road trip. He went on an expedition. As did Kerouac. In contrast, most of these cross country jaunts are more akin to Americans spending the summer on Eurorail and hitting London, Paris, Rome and other European capitals but instead of dilapidated houses, gas stations, poor blacks, and assorted oddballs, you get fountains, museums, photogenic old style townsfolk, and skinny women in dark sunglasses. Don’t entirely mean to paste that broad generalization on this essay, just ranting a bit.

    The first photo, btw, is from the Dead Animal Museum in Tucson (aka the International Wildlife Museum). That sure brought back memories. I used to go there all the time with my daughter when she was very young. Great place, though a lot of people make fun of it.

  • This is the type of work that I just don’t get so it is impossible for me to make any intelligent kind of comment about it. I guess by “work like this” I mean something akin to the deadpan genre. The only thing that would possibly be the least bit insightful is my near certainty that this is a case where dumbing down the information to a relatively tiny jpeg file discards a great part of what’s interesting in the photo, along with so many anonymous megabytes. But I don’t get work like this when I see it in museums or galleries in all its rich informational glory, so what’s to say? I trust the problem is me. I just can’t like everything, nor would I want to.

    But I think I get the appeal of road trips. I mean, sure, it would be great to criss-cross the country, just about any country, taking photos of roadside attractions. An RV, a cold beer or six, and off we go. But although it would be great fun, I have trouble imagining how anything very interesting could come out of a 3000 mile jaunt. Well, maybe interesting, but nothing that would tell anyone very much about a country. I know Frank did it, but he had a socio-political vision of some sort. Maybe not a vision, but he saw things that other people didn’t see. And he recognized patterns that other people didn’t recognize. And he presented his information visually in ways subtly different than how others had presented it before. He didn’t take a road trip. He went on an expedition. As did Kerouac. In contrast, most of these cross country jaunts are more akin to Americans spending the summer on Eurorail and hitting London, Paris, Rome and other European capitals but instead of dilapidated houses, gas stations, poor blacks, and assorted oddballs, you get fountains, museums, photogenic old style townsfolk, and skinny women in dark sunglasses. Don’t entirely mean to paste that broad generalization on this essay, just ranting a bit.

    The first photo, btw, is from the Dead Animal Museum in Tucson (aka the International Wildlife Museum). That sure brought back memories. I used to go there all the time with my daughter when she was very young. Great place, though a lot of people make fun of it.

  • Admin, please delete my topmost comment if you don’t mind. Seems there was some kind of glitch with the Burn website this morning.

  • BOB:

    “Transcontinental deadpan” is a great name for the genre.

  • “But see, I think that stuff’s overstated in Robert Frank. Let’s just talk Frank for a little bit in relation to this bigger topic of America. First of all, when I first saw Robert Frank, it wasn’t this transformational thing for me the way it is for everyone else. I came to admire him much later. But I think I’m doing very similar things to what he’s doing in a way that’s quite different from, say, Joel Sternfeld. And this is where I’m able to distinguish these things, because Sternfeld is actually more of a social documentarian. He really is interested in the social issues of the day, looking at them and thinking about changes.

    I don’t think that’s what Robert Frank was about. I think he was this Swiss guy coming to America, driving around, feeling enchanted and lonely simultaneously, and it just so happens that he encounters America and aspects of it and documents some of that. And then the work is read as a commentary on America. But the work is so much about the tortured soul of Robert Frank. And that becomes super evident in later work.”
    Glad to see I’m not the only one who didn’t initially warm to this classic. Same with this essay it shouldn’t be seen as more than a very light casual commentary on this part of America. Having lived in three countries for a more than a couple of years one cannot expect to show anything more than a very superficial perspective of a place until you eat, live breath a place and still it will be highly subjective of your cultural background.

    Probably like MW I’ve never understood Stephen Shaw’s “Uncommon Places”, so if anyone is in a teaching or writing mood I’d loved to be enlightened.

  • BTW that quote is from an Alec Soth interview…

  • It’s been awhile since I saw it at the Met, but I’d be very surprised if Frank was just some Swiss guy driving around, incognizant of what was going on in front of his lens. He had pretty much infinite choices of what to shoot and it’s very unlikely he just happened to capture so much of what was really going on. And that seemed even more clear from looking at his contact sheets. Dude knew what he was after.

  • PRESTON :))))))))))))))))….

    PAUL

    on the idea of frank and alec…yes, the journey was about Frank, as all journeys are, essentially (the journey taker)…and that is my biggest frustration with this essay….and yes, Sternfeld is a social documentarian but his books add insight into, or seems, to be his own very own authorial relationship to the expanse of the lives burning/moving/falling/sleeping/swimming/running/lazying across america….

    but it is retrospective evaluation of Americans that everyone speaks of….when asked recently to participate in the big project that Jason E is putting together on the reflection of Americans, i choose and wrote about the picture that means the most to me in that book…and it is less about ‘americans’ than it is about a journey…which is what Americans is about for me….but, you’ll have to wait until that eventually gets published, as no time to re-write, and it’s been promised away ;))….

    no time to write, alas….maybe in a couple of weeks…

    bb

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