The PhotoBook Journal

September 27, 2017

Jack Spencer – This Land: An American Portrait

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 12:53 pm

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Photographer:  Jack Spencer (born in Kosciusko, Mississippi; resides in Nashville, Tennessee)

Publisher:  University of Texas Press, Austin, TX; © 2017

Essays:  Jon Meacham (foreword); Jack Spencer (introduction)

Text:  English

Cloth-bound sewn hardcover with dust jacket; 284 numbered pages; 148 captioned color or sepia images; 13×11 inches, printed in China

Notes:

“Spencer has found a mythical world, except it is real, and it is now, and it is ours.”         — Jon Meacham (Foreword)

It is a real pleasure to contemplate this volume by Jack Spencer. I must admit that my old cliché considering landscapes a predictable genre has had to be revised. Here is a multi-layered set of images full of surprises at every turn, a testament to the land that once was, is still here, and is ready to be considered anew. Parallel to all the strife there is the underlying beauty that marks the land, from coast to coast, in all its contemporary vibrancy, against a background of a fading past tinged with the nostalgia that some attach to it.

Over a period of thirteen years, Jack Spencer undertook trips covering 80,000 miles and 48 states, to come up with what I consider the consummate artistic observation of a country and its potential. Fueled originally by anger, the project took him to a point of mellowness, resulting in a project that represents a counterpoint to what he calls the “narcissistic, consumer-driven neurosis” so prevalent in our society, toward a symphony that constitutes a beauty marked by simplicity; “the simplest of lives are often the happiest as well.” Images of the Amish are used to frame this viewpoint visually.

Indeed, this is a book about land and nature, and the more modest role that people and their structures will play in it. The images of ghostly, fading town elements are desaturated, the forces of nature are presented in vibrant tones. Images of well-known and previously stereotyped landmarks, such as Niagara Falls or Yellowstone, are seen with a refreshingly different view so as to generate astonishment in the viewer, as well as reconsideration. Animals are seen roaming about, blending in, and people occasionally occupy a smidgeon of the image, or are captured in motion blurs as a representation of what comes and goes. The images are full of vigor and emotion; they are not meant to be viewed as records of what is customarily seen, as may have been the case in the past. There is a soothing yet exciting painterly quality to many of the images; I am happy to report that pictorialism, thus revived, is making a strong comeback, shown here through all the mystery and joy that an expressive approach affords.

This Land is destined to become a classic. I recommend it not only for every collector of art books, but also for every coffee table!

Gerhard Clausing

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