Comments/Context: The solitary road trip is a romantic fixture of human cultural history, its roots in the itinerant wanderings of Odysseus and its recent manifestations transformed by the automobile and our vast network of highways into something uniquely American. Often this journey is a search: a search for adventure and challenge, or home, or self, or just something authentic and new to experience. Artistic documents of legendary road trips, like those of Kerouac and Frank, have become touchstones for how we see ourselves.
Timothy Briner's photographic project Boonville isn't a road trip of world hot spots; there are no scenes of Shanghai, or Baghdad, or Bangalore, or wherever you might think the "action" is going on or history is in the making. Instead, Briner traveled to six small towns across America, all called Boonville; his unusual itinerary took him to New York, North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, and California. Most importantly, Briner did his best not to be an anonymous traveler just passing through, inspecting these towns with the critical eye of an outsider. On the contrary, he grounded himself in the communities for weeks or months at a time, becoming familiar with the locals in a non-threatening way and getting to know the rhythms of everyday life in each place. When the images from the far flung Boonvilles are brought together and juxtaposed, they form a unique portrait of the commonalities of small towns in contemporary America, as seen from the inside. Regardless of the specific zip code, the emotional terrain seems remarkably similar.
Like many emerging photographers of this generation, Briner's artistic approach seems descended from the school of Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, and more recently Alec Soth, where environmental portraits, still lifes, architectural views, and documentary scenes are combined into more nuanced and personal narratives. These images also show fleeting glimpses of Walker Evans, Robert Adams, and George Tice, all of whom were/are interested in the routines of daily life in American towns and cities.
What I like about this body of work is that Briner has captured the slow pace and sense of restless ennui that pervades many shrinking small towns; there just isn't a lot to do. The high school wrestlers and cheerleaders are earnest but bored, hunting is a prime hobby, and abandoned houses/cars, dreary roadside bars, and lingering teenagers tell the story of squelched optimism. We've landed in present day Anytown, USA, and the reality isn't very promising; folks are gritting their teeth and scraping out a life, but on the whole, it's a pretty gloomy scene.
My favorite image in the show is of a front yard in Boonville, MO, where two deer skins are slung across the hood of a dated car, with a second vehicle with huge sport tires up on blocks in the background; it's a classic scene of rural America. While there are other memorable images in this small show, I think the work will be more powerful and effective in book form, where a larger number of pictures can be carefully sequenced to get at the subtleties of the overall small town story. All in, this is a solid show, and a good reminder that a road trip back into the real world can be just the thing for an emerging artist looking for his or her entry point into photography; it's a move away from self-conscious art for art's sake and a step back into the realm of the genuine.
Collector's POV: The images in this exhibit are reasonably priced at $1000 or $1500 each, depending on size. Since Briner's work has effectively no secondary market history, gallery retail is really the only option for interested collectors at this point.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
- Artist site (here)
- Interviews: Too Much Chocolate (here), We Can't Paint (here), Exposure Compensation (here)
Through February 27th
Daniel Cooney Fine Art
511 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001