In: Jeff Brouws
Jeff Brouws | Night Window, Los Angeles, California, 2000December 29, 2023
Jeff Brouws | Night Window, Los Angeles, California, 2000
In the Far West, where Brigham Young ended up and I started from, they tell stories about hoop snakes.
When a hoop snake wants to get somewhere—whether because the hoop snake is after something, or because something is after the hoop snake—it takes its tail (which may or may not have rattles on it) into its mouth, thus forming itself into a hoop, and rolls.
Jehovah enjoined snakes to crawl on their belly in the dust, but Jehovah was an Easterner. Rolling along, bowling along, is a lot quicker and more satisfying than crawling. But, for the hoop snakes with rattles, there is a drawback. They are venomous snakes, and when they bite their own tail they die, in awful agony, of snakebite. All progress has these hitches. I don’t know what the moral is. It may be in the end safest to lie perfectly still without even crawling. Indeed it’s certain that we shall all do so in the end, which has nothing else after it. But then no tracks are left in the dust, no lines drawn; the dark and stormy nights are all one with the sweet bright days, this moment of June—and you might as well never have lived at all.
(Ursula K. Le Guin, from her essay It was a dark and stormy nigh ; or, why are we huddling about the campfire?, 1979)
A number of the images that I share in the main page for this post are also from Brouws’ American West series (1990 – 1993) and the Highway | Approaching Nowhere series. Many of Brouws’ series seem to bleed into each other, or one body of work grows into the next in a manner that does not so much interrupt his ideas as expand them.
I have a certain affinity for abandoned and derelict spaces. I do live in the rust belt wonderland of Niagara, and before that a similar zone in Windsor and Detroit (hence my appreciation of Dave Jordano‘s fine photographs), and my time on the Canadian prairies (with ghost towns in ‘next year’s country’, as captured eerily and evocatively by Danny Singer, for example) fed that interest in an overlapping manner. Brouws’ aesthetic is akin to some past Curator’s Picks I’ve featured : The Great Texas Road Story perhaps being the most immediately similar. But Brouws’ works are less despairing, with the frequency of the neon inviting glow amidst the wastelands, but like many other artists whose work I’ve featured, historical and social themes and concerns are informed by, and informing, his scenes.
“Feelings of isolation colour my photographs – that’s what you’re sensing. It’s fascinating: what’s in your mind, heart and soul gets telegraphed onto the film plane and embedded in the photograph. It can’t be avoided.”
From the Robert Koch Gallery :
“Jeff Brouws photographically explores the American cultural landscape in its myriad of facets. A self-described “visual anthropologist” with a camera, Jeff Brouws utilizes a constructed narrative and typological approach in the making of his work. Over a span of thirty plus years, Brouws has employed a diversity of themes in his work: the American highway, the franchised landscape, deindustrialized inner city zones, as well as riffing on and re-examining bodies of work by luminary artists such as Ed Ruscha, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Brouws captures the unique cultural experience of Americana and its iconography, visually documenting a vibrant travelogue through the half-experienced, half-remembered landscape of America’s fading culture. Directing his lens toward these temporary obsolete and abandoned sites of American consciousness, he powerfully transforms images of history and dereliction into contemplative and at times humorous commentary on the collective and expressive experience of the American landscape.”
An insightful conversation with the artist can be enjoyed here. When I first encountered Brouws’ work – the primary image in this essay Night Window, Los Angeles, California, 2000 – the quote from Le Guin that opens this meditation on his work came immediately to mind. It’s all about telling stories, some of which are quieter than others, some of which are on the verge of being forgotten and some that we may never have considered. The term ‘into the west’ has connotations both positive and negative, but that is just life, and history, and Brouws’ images encapsulate all these contradictions with an eye for beauty in what might be banal, but definitely resonates with the viewer on multiple levels.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More