“Instead, we are given room to ponder the possibility of the magnificent rurality that exists in wide acreage across America unfettered by the charms of free-range, gluten free, soulless vegan cafes and their elite black metal-listening clientele who wander through their doors to write tracts on their apple laptops about metaphysical post-Internet garbage for their PHD colluding with the empire of property developers and poverty to Make Harlem Great Again- Incel, Duracell, creatine cookies and a very nasty reputation for not saying hello”
There is a pushback in process. Encumbered by the weight and formal negligence and perhaps the imagined divination of indignant capital, the observer marches towards the hinterlands. Tired of the constant consumption of city life, its vexing and towering steel, the inexplicable behaviours of the market to cause unjust cruelty, Americans are beginning to look at their country with a new bias. This bias is no longer aimed at the stereotyped and vaunted “backwoods” nomenclature, but rather against the imposing grid of the forlorn city-plex. Realizing that the numbers game has run its course and become illusory along with the pretense of hope, the observer and many other citizens are slowly starting to reclaim their origins-the “flyover” states and the now useless (by capitalist standards) post-industrial wastelands that so welcomed and fed the Twentieth Century and its abhorrent ideology of greed and the paucity of its self-correcting market. This is the new rurality. Americans are coming home.
We are/were of a generation that is subsumed with the gravity of cities. We look at their keep like fabled lands now run amok. This confusion, this hyper-portal to imagination locks in its children and disavows escape, promising urbanity at a price accepted and ultimately unattainable. Its doors locked to external reason, its children are pulled into the dark recesses of its inhospitable tracts to be execrated as pebbles on the long shore of an unnamed and unwatched black beach of disparate ends. We are told in a hypnotic manner that progress and the future lie in wait for the daring enough to strain and exist under the major capitals of the world and yet we are given very little in return-rewards are befit unto those already from a tender birth whom are given sanctuary in the folds of innumerable transactions, trust funds and a constructed beehive of a multi-floored home in which the bath water is warmed by the melted lipid deposits of those unmoored by promise and led to false hope by the coils of the city’s mirage. It is a complex manner in which the birthright of capital is licensed to the very few, but promised to the multitude which support its elitism and tyranny.
Matthew Genitempo is an exemplary image-maker. His book Jasper with Twin Palms could be misconstrued as a fetish that is reaching a momentary vogue to document and to “explain” the story of the decline of America. When I first picked his book up, I was struck by the handling of the subject matter, namely the Ozark Mountains and some of its off-grid inhabitants. Due to the monochrome nature of the book and its imagery, it becomes more akin to art practice rather than the vaunted documentary category. Genitempo exceeds in a contemplative and severe (kind words) manner in which the subjects within are not pitiable, but rather exist in a pursuit simply different to the dogma of the urban environment. They are not backwoods in the wrong sense. We do not need to spin out some quotes from “Deliverance” to masquerade our condescending attitude to the people portrayed. Instead, we are given room to ponder the possibility of the magnificent new rurality that exists in wide acreage across America unfettered by the charms of free-range, gluten free, soulless vegan cafes and their elite black metal-listening clientele who wander through their doors to write tracts on their apple laptops about metaphysical post-Internet garbage for their PhD colluding with the empire of property developers and poverty to Make Harlem Great Again- Incel, Duracell, creatine cookies and a very nasty reputation for not saying hello (he laments writing from his Apple laptop listening to Pissgrave).
Throughout the book, Genitempo wanders through this environment and is given access to the interiors of homes and pick-up trucks and VHS research tape centers where one can observe an Ode to Robert Frank’s The Americans on the screen of a TV. A particular image of a home of solitude in a morass of pine is particularly reminiscent of Gordon Park’s (and later Jeff Wall’s) ode to Ellison’s Invisible Man. The difference of course is that one man desires his invisibility and his ordained isolation from humanity and the other relates to how race conjures his invisibility some sixty years or so beforehand. It is an interesting flip of narrative. In Genitempo’s image, we are confronted with a sequestered hand-built and purpose-hidden piecemeal cabin of sorts. Genitempo is given access to the interior and photographs a scene very similar to that of Parks for his famous series.
“Thinking of Roger Van der Weyden, Robert Campin or perhaps the Isenheim altar piece by Matthias Grunewald, the man’s outstretched arm, dirty fingernails and the smooth grain of the stock of his rifle remind one of the canonical art historical references to Jesus being deposited in the burial shroud before being sealed into a cave for the days before resurrection and held captive until the Easter Bunny set him free, his suffering undone for the exception of humanity’s bovine grace.”
There are also histories within the book that relate to God and country-not all is so desolate as to be ungovernable by the grace of a creator. The image of a man, arm-outstretched in the confines of his pick-up truck is a truly magnificent piece of deposition-bearing art history. Thinking of Roger Van der Weyden, Robert Campin or perhaps the Isenheim altar piece by Matthias Grunewald, the man’s outstretched arm, dirty fingernails and the smooth grain of the stock of his rifle remind one of the canonical art historical references to Jesus being deposited in the burial shroud before being sealed into a cave for the days before resurrection and held captive until the Easter Bunny set him free, his suffering undone for the exception of humanity’s bovine grace. There is also a very apt and conscious spin on this image- the man’s arm and its lithe weight in proximity to the rifle butt add to the misinformation of suicidal reproach that would be a projection unfair and unsuited to Genitempo’s fairly even temperament of work and handling of subject, but it does persist in the mind’s of those held accountable to morbid rancor such as mine own.
When I mentioned the word rurality above, I wanted to address that a number of people/artists are making work based on rural environments. The majority are white men and this presents a larger and looming question, but what I am at first interested in is the return to the examination of place off grid, or non-specific to city center and urbanity. I have noticed the trend happening globally and not just America, but America seems to have the majority of these image-makers. I have noticed this in the work of Ed Panar, Nathan Pearce, Tim Carpenter, Bryan Schutmaat and a few others abroad. Several of these observers have come out of the Hartford, Connecticut program, and have some ties to reading New Topographics literature, but also the extended international family thereof such as John Gossage, Michael Schmidt and a few others. There is a correlation to be examined between the volley of influence between the German and American exchange during the second half of the Twentieth Century in which one could construe a plausible relatability in post-war or post-economic decline economies for which Genitempo is (still possibly) operating within. It is to suggest the role of empire, but also hinterland and a re-grouping of national identity as seen through photographic practice is looking at the ungovernable and undesired topography that has not been in vogue. If I had my suspicions confirmed, they would allude to the price of living and operating in a capital city versus the price of living in say Iowa, Illinois, Missouri etc. I am positive there is a refutation of the city and perhaps more fairly a refutation of capitalism and implausible mortgages involved.
Jasper is one of the most accomplished first books that I have ever seen. Twin Palms has made a masterpiece along with Genitempo from pacing to printing. The use of repetitive Stieglitz-like fog rolling in sharpens the mood and takes a chance with the use of a slower mediation of atmosphere. The images of the subjects themselves are tendered with sincerity and though they may seem exceptional-looking to city folk, theirs is a Brughelian presence that is not to be misconstrued as “other”. What they do represent is an alternative for those prepared to listen or observe, which Genitempo has done with a soft and poetic gesture. I hope that Genitempo takes his time with his next project and does not repeat himself. It would be easy to repeat this formula due to success, but to repeat would be to diminish those in the book and the labor of the artist himself…This book and the revival of important works by Twin Palms comes with my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Matthew Genitempo.)