For a child, a car wash is the equivalent of an amusement park ride without the fear. It makes sense that your parents take you to both. In each, the vehicle moves passively forward, a splash of soap as fragile, white, and entertaining as a ghost. For Mark Lyon, the ghosts are real, but not the ride. For him a car wash is a window onto a wider world. It holds deep vistas onto a greener nature and holds a refuge from the ice and cold. That wider world is the greater New York area, but one would hardly know it. Lyon's camera never leaves a succession of plain white rooms, mostly bare of evidence. These are not the kind that serve as a treat for a child. Employees do the dirty work without automated assistance. While one interior has hoses on facing walls, others lie empty of anything. Who knew that a car wash has such affinities with Modernism's white cube?
Who knew, too, that it holds such sudden vistas? In each, the back wall frames the open garage door, with a distant vision in green or white. Confining walls converge rapidly onto depth. Some look out on post-industrial trappings covered in snow, another on an additional pump in bright sunshine, like a doubling or displacement. Others offer a lusher view, beyond the promise of suburbia. Lyon insists on symmetry, with no others in sight. Where would they belong? The camera, needless to say, has a long love affair with perspective, going back at least to Soviet photography, and with America by car. Yet nothing links these photos to a past generation more than their deliberate banality. The subject resembles gas stations in paintings by Ed Ruscha, while the photographs in series recall Ruscha's Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Robert Smithson was just as breathless about New Jersey with his Monuments to Passaic. The view down interiors with stories to tell has affinities with subway cars for Duane Michals as well. These photos differ in the opening, but also in their lack of narrative. One cannot imagine adding text.
One knows the confining geometry from Minimalism and the doubling from René Magritte. What, Lyon seems to say, could be more minimal or surreal than suburbia? Suburbia appears in photography these days more as theater, as for Gregory Crewdson. Lyon turns down the volume once again. An amusement park ride is out of the question. Still, his vision of everyone's backyard as a greater nature connects to Crewdson and to a related tradition in American art as well, what Frederic Edwin Church called "the promised land."
Lyon brings that vision to the ordinary without quite debunking it. In one photo, it becomes intimate enough to evoke a Chinese landscape as much as New York and New Jersey. Trees encroach on the interior, making it another green world. The right wall holds the silhouettes of more, overflowing obvious boundaries. Are they the far side of a glass wall or shadows cast from the open door? Enjoy the ride.