The title Road Ends in Water comes from an image of a road sign Eliot Dudik encountered while traveling along U.S. Route 17 across the low country of South Carolina to make the images for his first book. Water, land, and the people who inhabit this particular place make up the 38 large format color images of Dudik's monograph.
Dudik is adept at handling the space of this area. It feels accessible and secluded at the same time. I can feel the trees hanging over me. Open spaces are rare because of the dense vegetation. The land is clearly Dudik's main subject since it overrides people and architecture in his framing. He is able to suss out the beauty that is not always apparent.
This cycle was made while Dudik was a graduate student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In places you can feel the rawness of the photographer finding his path. At times, possible influences like Eliot Porter, Frank Gohlke or Joel Sternfeld, are evident. With interiors, portraits and landscapes all present, Alec Soth and Walker Evans also come to mind. Dudik's vision is able to rise out of the past. He is clearly in charge of the space. Occasionally, an image feels out of place, like a small experiment that did not fully work out. His voice is clear, but wavers in places.
The big misstep for me is the back cover image. In an effort to mirror the front cover the same image was flipped to appear as a reflection. I am a bit surprised that someone who takes the time to explore this area in the manner he has, allowed for an image to be treated this way. It is clear that Dudik believes in the power of the still image and the majesty that it holds. Why then treat this photograph as an illustration?
Overall, Dudik presents an area of the United States that is still relatively untouched. It is easy to see that he has connected with this place and these people. I feel like I am seeing this place through the eyes of someone who respects this land and those that live there.
Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net.