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John C.H. Grabill was a commercial photographer who set up a studio in Sturgis, South Dakota, in 1866. From 1887 to 1892, he documented the Western Frontier Life; here some of the pictures he made from the Native Americans, depicting their contact with U.S. military and government agents:

Red Cloud and American Horses 1891

Sources: John C. H. Grabill Collection, Library of Congress

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Bill Owens, which made his reputation shooting in suburbias, took part from July of 1979 to June of 1980 to one of biggest survey ever made about Los Angeles.

Bill Owens - Pool, from the Los Angeles Documentary Project, Ektachrome print on paper image, 1980
Bill Owens – Pool, from the Los Angeles Documentary Project, Ektachrome print on paper image, 1980

The Los Angeles Documentary Project was an ambitious one. Organised by the federal agency for culture (the National Endowment for the Arts – the NEA), it was announced as “a visual examination of the sociological and topographical diversity of one of the most dynamic and unusual cities in the world”. The survey was made to study the social impact of growth and change on the city and also its significance in postmodernist urban theory.
It included 8 photographers familiar with L.A and known for works already accomplished in California : Bill Owen, Gusmano Cesaretti, Joe Deal, Robbert Flick, Douglas Hill, John Humble, Susan Ressler, and Max Yavno.

While other photographers chose to document L.A with black&white films, Owens took pictures in color. He also obviously chose to focus on clichés: as he did for his “Suburbia” portfolios from 1972, his L.A photos stress on common stereotypes, which can include, for example, a swimming pool, pretty ladies snorting drugs, a sushi bar, huge free ways or else artists in their loft. All those scenes, which look like having been set up, call attention to the artificiality of the city. Critics pointed out that those pictures look eventually closer to magazines portfolios than to survey material, having a level of artifice that doesn’t match with the mission the photographers were given. But they nevertheless give an account of the visual diversity that the city presented and balance the approaches of the 7 others photographers. Showing all the city facets, the survey included different approaches and styles; thus Owens’ vision and appropriation of media images completes the tableau with an aspect that definitely belongs to L.A’s identity: artificiality.
The complete survey was presented in 1981 with the exhibition “Year 200: New Views of Los Angeles,” first shown at Mount St. Mary’s College and then at Grossmont College.

Here some the grand-format camera photographs ownd by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, of Owen’s portfolio:


Credits: Bill Owens / Smithsonian American Art Museum, all rights reserved.

D. Rickard - #39.177833, Baltimore, MD. 2008, 2011

D. Rickard - #39.177833, Baltimore, MD. 2008, 2011

When you first look at those photos come diretly in mind the works of two of the most important american photographers: Robert Frank and Stephen Shore. Frank, for the documentary part, the vacuity of an American dream, and Shore for the aesthetic, with the same cars, buildings and colors we see in his series from the 70s. But with a closer look you’ll notice that we are confronted with an other kind of photographs, a bit out of focus or even “pixelised”. There are indeed digitale and made with an unconventional camera: the one from googlemaps.

Namely: google street view. For his serie called “New American Pictures”, the american Doug Rickard navigated the most destitute areas of the country with the 360°street-level imagery tool from google. Chicago’s ghettos, Detroit’s neglected neighborhoods, untended streets in the Bronx… when Robert Frank’s pictures communicated the segregation and aggression in the american society in the 50s, Rickard’s work depicte a contemporary version of this dissolution of the American Dream throught images saved in the search engine.

As a result of Rickard’s selection, those pictures appear at the same time incredibly modern and very close to the classical iconography of color photography from the 70s, mixing today street scenes with timeless elements of the american culture, as old Pontiacs, wood houses or painted advertisments. With the low resolution and blurred faces, those photographs manage in the end to symbolize our capacity to ignore the reality of racial inequality issues, of America’s abandoned, “invisible” communities, until presented in a beautiful and familiar way.

The work of Doug Rickard has been featured as part of the “New Photography 2011” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) last september. It will be presented at the Yossi Milo Gallery in Spring 2012.

Doug Rickard was born in 1968 in San Jose, California. He is the founder and chief editor of the American Suburb X website. He currently lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Credits: Yossi Milo Gallery, all rights reserved.

Untill september, the Atlas Gallery in London presents the color photographs of the Austrian born Ernst Haas, coinciding with the Steidl publication ‘Color Correction’.

Ernst Haas - New York City, USA, 1952
Ernst Haas – New York City, USA, 1952

Here some of color photographs from the 1950s to the 1980s, revealing his affinity for light reflections.

Ernst Haas (1921 – 1986), born in Vienna, moved to New York City in 1953. Photographer at the Magnum agency and known for his innovations, he was the very first artist to exhibit color photographs at the Museum of Modern Art in 1962. He died in the City at the age of 65.

Credits: Ernst Haas Estate / Steidl – All rights reserved.

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