Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Mostly using the off-ramp to see the country

 The road trip is a staple of the photobook business and this title does a decent job in giving an overview of the genre. David Campany, in his illustrated front of book essay, traces photo trips way back to the early years of the last century. Page nine reproduces a spread from a fascinating Rand McNally photo-auto guide published in 1910 which used images of every significant corner and building to show the route from New York to Chicago. An oddity of the theme was a series of articles in the Moscow based Ogonek magazine in 1935 by Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, two Russians who used a ten week countrywide tour of America to take photos and write the copy (reprinted in 2006 by the Princeton Architectural Press). Campany makes an interesting point that...'American culture still finds it difficult to shake the idea that its big cities embody the present and its small towns the past'...the open road (certainly not the freeway) leads back to a nostalgic past.

The book looks, historically, at the work of nineteen photographers though actually in eighteen chapters because the last one is a combined effort from Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. Each gets a series of one to a page photos from between five (Victor Burgin) and seventeen (Stephen Shore). I think it's worth say that if you have books from Frank, Winogrand, Eggleston, Meyerowitz, Shore, Sternfeld and Soth you might well have seen their contributions in these pages. This book can be a useful introduction to lesser well known photographers who also have books in print.

I can understand using Robert Frank's The Americans as the starting point for the book though unfortunately it means that Berenice Abbott's remarkable photo study of US1 in 1954 doesn't get a look in and I wonder why Jacob Holdt is included, he did travel around the Nation but to me his work is more a collection of interior reportage. I would have included Joachim Brohm or Benjamin Swett. Victor Burgin is an odd choice too, mainly because he includes text in his photos and therefore has no control over the size of his published photos so that the text can end up as unreadable, as it is in two of his photos on page 215. The book's most intriguing images come in the last chapter with fourteen photos by Onorato and Krebs from their 2009 'Great unreal' book. Difficult to describe their work so Google them.

I enjoyed the 'Open road' as a worthwhile wrap-up of the highway photo genre. A handsomely produced book using a 200 screen for the photos on a quality matt art paper, a bibliography and index would have been useful though.

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