The 50’s are closed, Seligman, Arizona, 2006
Even though the town was crowded with busloads of tourists from as far away as Japan, Seligman's "Return to the 50's" museum was closed the day we were there. One can only wonder if this place really exists or is, like so much of Seligman, a nostalgic fantasy. Although the museum itself was shut down, its façade offered a fascinating mélange of messages. The big red sign is designed very much in the graphic style of that era. It offers time travel, while the museum itself is downplayed, appearing as an after thought (along with the gift shop), in almost invisible brick red letters to the right of the door. We see two signs of closure, a random poster showing a large bottle of Coca Cola, and a smaller add for Power-Lube Motor Oil. And in very small white letters, as another afterthought, the important words “Route 66” appear. Experiencing the historic road would be the whole point of being in Seligman in the first place.
Trading Dome, Meteor City, Arizona, 2006
Native American decorations and chunks of petrified wood once drew tourists and their dollars to this old trading post along old Route 66. After being closed, it has reopened once again and sells souvenirs of the old west to tourists passing through. The iconic stereotypical profile painted on he side of the old dome speaks the loudest here. It portrays the Native American as a generic ceremonial figure. He looks like that because that is what tourists expect to see. A cliché. The image on this wall may raise questions in the minds of those who look at it. It is appropriate to decorate a commercial enterprise with an ethnic stereotype? Even if we are in what once was known as “Indian Country?” However we may choose to answer such questions, this wall is speaking to us.
Tattoo Parlor, Winslow, Arizona, 2006
If ever a wall spoke of the business within, this one does. An artist has vividly tattooed the façade of the building itself, plunging an anchor into a red heart surmounted by the wings of an angel, and buried in billowing waves. Staffers taking a break are so used to seeing it, they take the incongruity of a tattooed building for granted. But I didn’t.
Snow Cap Drive-in, Selgiman, Arizona, 2006
The Snow Cap is a Seligman institution. It is surrounded by outbuildings, decorated with paintings of snow cones, its windows filled with advertisements. This wall speaks of the implied pleasures of a Northern Arizona summer -- refreshment and entertainment. Yet the paint incongruously flakes on the window frame, and the faded people in the pictures are constrained under glass. This dream might be beyond our grasp.
Warehouse, Phoenix, Arizona, 2006
I was drawn to this wall by a strikingly incongruous gouge symbolizing the life and times of the structure itself. This building dates back to the arrival of railroad service in Phoenix in the early 20th century. Time has opened a wound in it that reveals its history. The bricks may be part of its original wall. Succeeding layers of stucco suggest modernizations leading up to its present glowing green surface. This wall seems to be painfully speaking to us, telling us of its past. My image, made up primarily of the currently green surface, suggests that this building may be living on borrowed time as it approaches its second century of service.
Dumpster, Phoenix, Arizona, 2006
The wall of a Phoenix warehouse is plastered with a grimly graphic set of posters warning of the dangers of Hepatitis C. It can be a horrific sickness, one that leads to disfigurement and worse. The wall of posters urges the viewer to fight back. I make this wall of posters speak more boldly by layering it with the forceful lines of a dumpster, symbolizing a wasted life. The dumpster’s bar thrusts deeply into the image, directly at the posters, while a vertical post connects the edge of the dumpster with the top of the image. I use the outer frame of the dumpster to create a diagonal which abstracts nearly a quarter of the poster wall, intensifying the power of those posters that remain visible.
Billboard, Beijng, China, 2006
Passers by seem oblivious to the seductive blandishments of this billboard on Beijing's Wangfujing Avenue. The advertisement is for a club in a local hotel. I waited for someone to pass between the golden words and the red lips, and photographed about ten different pedestrians, among them this pair of men dressed identically. The face in the ad is abstract and incongruously large compared to the men walking towards it with unseeing eyes. Their minds are on other things.
Listening, Plazuela del Baratillo, Guanajuato, Mexico, 2005
This woman was sitting on the steps of a house, listing to a sad song from a nearby guitar. I was attracted by the contrast created by the vivid color of the house and her monochromatic clothing. She occupies steps surrounded by walls, alone with her thoughts. With one hand held to her face, she limply holds a bag in the other. Her body language and expression may be relaxed, but the reddish walls that flank her seem heavy and unforgiving. None of us can know what may be on her mind, but those walls, working as context here, give us a melancholic view of this moment in time.
Inscriptions, The Sacred Way, Ancient Delphi, Greece, 2005
This wall has long since fallen. It was part of the Sanctuary of Apollo, the center of the universe to the ancient Greeks, more than 2,500 years ago. It stood along side of the Sacred Way – the marble road leading to the dwelling place of the god Apollo – a street once lined with 3,000 statues and huge treasuries holding the offerings of the people who came to consult the god through his priestess, the Oracle of Delphi. The statues and most of the treasuries are gone now – all that’s left are ruins. Yet these ruined walls still speak to us, and we can listen to them. I singled out a single stone to express this idea. The afternoon sun was low in sky, illuminating the ancient Greek lettering on one side, and shadowing the mysterious, crudely scratched words on another, words that have stood the test of wind, rain and sun for twenty five centuries. I don’t know what the writing says – or if it was even part of a wall. It may have just as well been a column. Yet someone is still trying to say something to us after all of this time, and on this fall evening centuries later, their words can still be seen, revealed in light and hidden in shadow. I tilted the camera to allow the primary inscription to move along a diagonal plane, ending abruptly in the shadows where the other words seem to have left by succeeding generations. And that is the dynamic at work here – a war of words.
Street Sign, Athens, Greece, 2005
The street signs in Athens hang on the sides of buildings and homes. They tell us where we are in both the Greek alphabet and the modern Greek language in the Roman alphabet. I devote much of the image to the wall bearing the sign, yet also include the tightly closed shutters set within the wall. The sign speaks – it tells us where we are. The shutters speak as well. They keep us from seeing what lies beyond the wall. Dappled light grazes both sign and shutter, cloaking both in gold and shadow.
Restaurant, Samobor, Croatia, 2005
The small Zagreb suburb of Samobor has become of one the capitals of Croatian gastronomy. It has many restaurants in the center of town, specializing in everything from custard slices to its famous mustard and inevitable pizza. One of them advertises its specialties on a huge sign following the geometric flow of the restaurant building’s outside wall. Signs are often part of walls. They may blend with the wall or not. I found this sign to be an incongruous match – the quaint architecture of Samobor speaks of another time, when “grill” and “pizza” were not yet invented. The bold color of the sign is also incongruous. The walls of the surrounding houses are decidedly less vivid in color than the big sign, which makes it all the more out of place and time, but emphatically visible.
Garage, Zagreb, Croatia, 2005
Two conflicting layers of expression are layered on top of this ornate metal garage door in downtown Zagreb. A larger-than-life graffiti signature embraces a small “no parking sign”. One is a command. The other is a defiant answer to that command, in eight feet high and 15 feet wide screaming red letters! (Inspired, no doubt, by the red “X” in the no parking sign.) I thought it an incongruous match-up, and eventually was able to ensnare a pair of passers-by within the huge logo. They are oblivious to the clash of ideas going on just behind them. Yet the red shoes worn by one of them extends the effect of the graffiti into the foreground, making her a graphic accomplice.