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Classic Americana
Jim Dow
American Studies
 by Jim Dow. Source: janetbordeninc.com
Jim Dow

It’s hard to get tired of looking at the 22 photographs in Jim Dow’s American Studies. What’s not to like? These images, which were selected from Dow’s book with the same name, are big—some as large as 30 x 40 inches. Most are enormously colorful (just a few are black and white). Carefully composed, some are more complicated than they first appear and invite closer study. They often have a nostalgic pull that make these turbulent decades of the late twentieth century seem like a far simpler time.

As a young man Dow worked with the legendary photographer Walker Evans, printing Evans’ photographs for his 1972 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s clear in this show how strongly Evans’ photographs of life in small town America influenced him. Dow’s photographs don’t pretend to be anything else than what they are. There’s no mystery to a roadside Coke sign from 1978 or a giant sign for GAS you can see for miles.

Dow’s images also have no people in them, but he reminds us they exist, sometimes with a sly wit. I liked the sign in “BBQ Pit with Rusty Car and the Creemee Dairy” that says, “We Bar-B-Que for the public.” In the two images of empty barbershops, one in Texas has a personality because its walls are literally covered with snapshots–we can imagine it crowded with friendly barbers and customers. The shop in Kentucky has bare walls; it seems lifeless. In the 1980 image entitled “Pat’s Drive-In,” nostalgia is everywhere. There’s a 1950s era Ford in the parking lot and a sign with “Pat’s Family Special” advertising “4 burgers and fries, $3.60.“ I also liked the 1976 black and white image of the “Grady County Courthouse, Jury Box” in Cairo, Georgia. Two rows of six empty wooden seats face the camera. It’s easy to picture twelve grim-faced jurors filling them up.

Grady County Courthouse, Jury Box by Jim Dow. Source: amica.davidrumsey.com
Jim Dow, "Grady County Courthouse, Jury Box" 1976

In American Studies, Dow shows in detail some of the things about America that we take for granted and never think about giving them a second look — the ice cream stands, the truck stops, the ballparks, the signage and the train stations and other slices of Americana from the past forty years. Through Dow’s eyes, they become larger than life and harder to forget.

Jim Dow
American Studies


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