Finding the sublime in the pedestrian

Reviewing Adam Bartos' book Boulevard
Reviewing Adam Bartos' book Boulevard

A few weeks ago I happened across Adam Bartos' book Boulevard, which was published by Steidl earlier this year. The book contains color street photography from Paris and Los Angeles from the 1970s and 80s. The work didn't reach out and grab me, but it did call for further attention -- these are quiet and subtle images. Seemingly pedestrian on the surface, they demand some work on the part of the viewer to unravel their mystery.

Do you remember the first time you saw William Eggleston's work? The first Eggleston book I got was 2 1/4, and I felt the mojo right away. With Bartos' book I wasn't sure. That's a good thing - it means I have some thinking to do. Clarifying your thoughts about other people's work will often help you learn something that will inform your own vision. We can hope.

The main thing that struck me was the prevalence of suburban neighborhood shots with cropped cars. Earlier this year before seeing Bartos' work, I created a pool of images on Flickr called Mundane Suburban Neighborhood Shots with Partially Cropped Cars, or MSNSPCC for short.

This tongue in cheek pseudo formalization of a street photography sub genre was in response to some banter on Flickr with photographer and musician Tom Djll. There are now 46 members in the group, and 184 images posted. My Frankenstein is alive. Many of the images in Bartos' book would fit well in MSNSPCC.

I should have bought the Bartos book for further study. I'll have to track it down and see what happens on the second viewing. The introduction is by Geoff Dyer, who wrote the fascinating book, The Ongoing Moment. I never would have imagined that such insightful commentary on photography would come from a guy who doesn't even own a camera, but Dyer's book is hands down the most thought provoking book I've read this year.

While I was mulling these issues over, the cartoon issue of The New Yorker arrived in the mail. Chris Ware's Thanksgiving covers are fantastic. There is also a review of Pynchon's Against the Day. But the article not to be missed is Critic At Large Adam Gopnik's look at Jerry Shore's New York street photography. The article is online here until next week. First off, the accompanying parking lot image is masterful. Secondly, I had never heard about Jerry Shore's work. His story is quite interesting, and contains the following passage, which really struck a chord:

Shore was the Atget of the parked car. He did with parked cars what the Parisian photographer did with park benches: he made them not symbolic but merely present. His photographs are filled with their simple weight and presence. Nothing is more omnipresent in New York than those silent cars in rows and rows on city streets and lots -- nothing would seem to a Martian more integral to the look of New York. Yet they are part of our landscape that we not only reject but ride right by...Shore makes their presence something precise and quietly haunting....

Mr. Gopnik hits the nail on the head about what makes a great street photograph. I'll definitely be clipping this article for the scrapbook, and calling him up as soon as someone would like to publish a book of Mundane Suburban Neighborhood Shots with Partially Cropped Cars. Stranger things have happened.