VARIOUS SMALL BOOKS
Referencing Various Small Books by Ed Ruscha
Edited by Jeff Brouws, Wendy Burton and Hermann Zschiegner
with text by Phil Taylor and an essay by Mark Rawlinson
Published by MIT Press, February 2013
In the 1960s and 1970s, the artist Ed Ruscha created a series of small photo-conceptual artist's books, among them Twentysix Gas Stations, Various Small Fires, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Real Estate Opportunities, and A Few Palm Trees. Featuring mundane subjects photographed prosaically, with idiosyncratically deadpan titles, these "small books" were sought after, collected, and loved by Ruscha's fans and fellow artists. Over the past thirty years, close to 100 other small books that appropriated or paid homage to Ruscha's have appeared throughout the world. This book collects ninety-one of these projects, showcasing the cover and sample layouts from each along with a description of the work. It also includes selections from Ruscha's books and an appendix listing all known Ruscha book tributes.
These small books revisit, imitate, honor, and parody Ruscha in form, content, and title. Some rephotograph his subjects: Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Forty Years Later. Some offer a humorous variation: Various Unbaked Cookies (which concludes, as did Ruscha's Various Small Fires, with a glass of milk), Twentynine Palms (twenty-nine photographs of palm-readers' signs). Some say something different: None of the Buildings on Sunset Strip. Some reach for a connection with Ruscha himself: 17 Parked Cars in Various Parking Lots Along Pacific Coast Highway Between My House and Ed Ruscha's.
With his books, Ruscha expanded the artist's field of permissible subjects, approaches, and methods. With VARIOUS SMALL BOOKS, various artists pay tribute to Ed Ruscha and extend the legacy of his books.
About the Editors
Jeff Brouws is a photographer whose work is in many private and public collections, including Harvard's Fogg Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His homages to Ruscha include Twentysix Abandoned Gas Stations, Twentynine Palms and Various Minuteman Missile Silos.
Wendy Burton is a photographer whose work is in such collections as the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the University of Louisville Photographic Archive. Her homage to Ruscha is Real Estate Opportunities.
Hermann Zschiegner is a principal in the award-winning New York-based design agency TWO-N, a member of the ABC Artists' Book Cooperative, and the author of Thirtyfour Parking Lots on Google Earth and Every coffee I drank in January 2010..
About the Contributors
Phil Taylor is pursuing his PhD in the Department of Art
& Archaeology at Princeton University, where his research focuses on 20th century art and the history of photography. Prior to coming to Princeton he
received his BA in English Literature with a minor in Photography from the University of Southern California. In 2011 he contributed
an essay, “Specific Exposures: The Photography of Hans-Christian Schink,” to the catalogue Hans-Christian Schink (Hatje Cantz).
Previously Taylor curated the exhibition Of the Refrain (2008) at Robert Mann Gallery in New York.
Mark Rawlinson is Associate Professor in Art History at the University of Nottingham. He has published two monographs,
Charles Sheeler: Modernism, Precisionism and the Borders of Abstraction (I.B. Tauris, 2007) and American Visual Culture (Berg Press, 2009).
His current research focuses on late twentieth-century American photography, especially the influence of the New Topographics movement.
SOME VERNACULAR RAILROAD PHOTOGRAPHS
Edited by Jeff Brouws & Wendy Burton
with an essay by Jeff Brouws
Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs is a
remarkable collection of images taken by both
passionate amateurs and more accomplished
photographers. The collection is far-ranging and
includes humble snapshots, albumen prints,
stereo cards, real photo postcards, glass-plate
negatives and everything in-between. Rich with
historical value and meaning, the photographs
are often imbued with a naive artfulness and beauty.
Jeff Brouws has been collecting vernacular
railroad photographs for many years, poring
through disorganized boxes of snapshots at train
shows and swap meets. With a keen editorial eye
he has sought out the unusual, the lyrical, the
pastoral, and the urban, ultimately assembling a
collection that includes railroad landscapes,
locomotives, infrastructure, and workers, primarily
during the age of steam. This fascinating assemblage
will appeal to fans of vernacular photography and
railroad enthusiasts alike. It is accompanied by an
essay that includes a thoughtful, well-researched
discussion of the aesthetic evolution of railroad
photography in the early to mid-twentieth century
and the phenomenon of the International Engine
Picture Club, which acted as a clearing house and
swapping mechanism for rail fans.
Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations by Jeff Brouws (published in 1992) is an exact replica of Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations, first published in 1962. Mimicking Ruscha’s format, design and type treatment, the 5½” x 7” book contains 26 black and white shots of abandoned gas stations. While the images selected bear no geographic relation to Ruscha’s original photos (it is not a re-photographic project), they do share an aesthetic sensibility in the way both artists employ a deadpan, neutral gaze.
When Brouws began his project in the early 1990s many stations were being abandoned due to the implementation of new, tougher EPA requirements mandating that aging underground tanks had to be replaced, which required a huge capital outlay. Independents gas station owners were unable to bear this cost, while larger, better-funded multi-national corporations like Chevron and Shell could afford to meet these stricter regulations. Investigative reporting in the Los Angeles Times at the time suggested that major petroleum companies conspired with the EPA to drive competition out of business with these tactics.
Brouws’ series—initially begun as a simple riff on Ruscha’s original idea and a play on words—tangentially evolved into a documentary typology reflecting this changing aspect of the commercial landscape. The two books, done thirty years apart, make visual commentary on the historical ascendancy and demise of an important element of American car culture.
Like many who grew up during the spread of sprawl - with its predictable landscape of housing developments, interstate highways, and big-box construction - acclaimed photographer Jeff Brouws is intrigued by places that still show signs of the vernacular past. What began as cultural geography of Main Streets became a visual critique of the myth of upward mobility that created this car-centered, paved-over universe. Combining a minimal, bleak beauty with understated social commentary, these evocative color photographs seek a deeper meaning behind the cycle of construction, decay, decline and renewal.
Brouws bears witness to the new big-box, "superstore" construction that eradicates valuable farmland in the Midwest. He examines the once vibrant, now abandoned central business districts in rust-belt cities like Buffalo, New York, or Gary, Indiana. On Chicago's south side, high-rise towers stand in silent testimony to the failure of public housing erected during the Great Society era of the 1960s. Driving east, we encounter a franchised landscape of corporate logos that clutter the skyways off Interstate 90, indiscriminately infiltrating our horizons.
APPROACHING NOWHERE is a moving meditation on the loss of place and texture in the contemporary American landscape. Brouws' luminous images elegantly capture the complex, surprising beauty and desolation of visual life in our time, as seen from the American road. The potency of the work reflects both Brouws' perceptive vision of the country's changing face and his concern for the shifting shape of its soul.
Jeff Brouws has crisscrossed the country for two decades, documenting an America that is at once quintessential and peculiar. READYMADES is a quirky, multi-layered catalog of found art in the landscape: partially painted pickup trucks, storage units, vibrant-hued tract homes, unique signage, and abandoned drive-in movie theaters all fall under the photographer's gaze. Provocative essays by leading writers and cultural commentators such as Luc Sante, DJ Waldie, M. Mark, Diana Gaston, Bruce Caron, and Phil Patton are juxtaposed with these images that seek beauty, uniqueness and meaning in the mundane and overlooked.
HIGHWAY is a collection of one-hundred full-color images by photographer Jeff Brouws - the result of years of cross-country travel along America's secondary routes in search of disappearing roadside culture. Presented alongside thirty-seven black and white images by Depression-era photographers Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and others, Brouws' work provides a contemporary continuation of an important documentary aesthetic. Accompanying the photographs are essays by cultural historians Phil Patton and Bernd Polster.
INSIDE THE LIVE REPTILE TENT captures the half-experienced, half-remembered landscape of the American carnival midway in eighty color photographs. Temporary architecture, gravity defying amusement rides, brightly colored booths, the beseeching barkers - all are preserved by Brouws' lens in the perpetual twilight of the midway. Cultural historian Bruce Caron provides a lively text to accompany the photographs.