Where We Find Ourselves.
Photographs by Justin Kimball. Introduction by Richard C. Woodward.
Center for American Places, Chicago, 2006. 104 pp., 53 color illustrations, 11¼x9¾".
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Imagine a mythical forest: dappled with smoky light, granite outcrops hosting majestic stands of trees, a brook cascading nearby. Then you stumble across a colony of doughy, often shirtless urban refugees, snapping you back to a specific and much more humdrum time and place. Though the sites are numerous, the setting is the typical North American outdoor leisure way station, where weekend warriors play out their yearnings for the idyllic. Visitors in these semipreserved, semirural milieu are ripe for a patronizing photographic treatment, and one can engage in a tremulous discussion of intentionality and whether a photographer need be sympathetic to a subject. But Kimball captures these modest outings without editorializing them into the abject; teenage dramas play out away from the family zones, while individualistic types ford their own streams, limbo under ledges, contemplate a river dive from a bridge, or seemingly pray in an environmental reverie. These aren’t all flawless compositions, the kind of stagy tableaux where everyone is doing something amazing and spaced around the frame ‘just so.’Even when the constructions are obvious—who can make a bad picture with a huge stuffed bear?—the humanistic approach is pervasive. Some of the photographs strikingly marry the noble geometries of nature to the trivial scale of humans, yet as with the winking but charitable parking lot pictures Robert Adams made in No Small Journeys, these small missions for leisure speak to the heroicism of the everyday. ALAN RAPP
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