I found some slides in a drawer. They were mixed in with ones of old artwork, but I’d never seen them before. From God’s Own Graveyard: The Planned Deterioration of America’s Landscape was typed on labels affixed to the plastic mounts.
No attribution, aside from Anon. American. 20th c and plate numbers. Judging by the cars, the pictures are from the 50s or 60s. My guess is they were part of an art school lecture. The overkill title of the series screams art school. But I don’t know that for sure.
I don’t even know how they ended up in my drawer. All the other slides in there were of my own work, plus a few early 90s photos of me with classmates or my girlfriend. I threw away most of them, but kept these anonymous ones.
They tell a kind of story, even without the burdensome title. They show a place all about selling rather than living. If the photographer had stood at a different corner of the commercial strip, the glut of billboards might look less concentrated, less pervasive.
But this is what every writer, artist, or self-styled myth-monger does. They point their gaze, their attention this way rather than that. Inevitably, every choice jettisons countless others.
Slides themselves are as obsolete as much of the world in these pictures. Yet they show the roots and precedents of our everyday. We still throw trash on the ground, still erect giant roadside signs to market products, still rely on gas-burning automobiles.
I know this long-ago black-and-white world. I’m of it. It’s not a pretty place, but it looks like home.
—I illustrated another essay for The Rumpus.