The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

On The Road, Again
Peter Kayafas
The Way West
Ed Barnas
Photo by Peter Kayafas . Source: sashawolf.com
Peter Kayafas, "Crow Agency, Montana, " 2009

The road trip has held an attraction for writers and artists for decades: Agee and Evans, Kerouac, Frank, and many others have roamed the byways of the United States in search of … whatever was to be found. Peter Kayafas is no exception. An accomplished documentary and street photographer, the New York based publisher, curator, and teacher has spent his recent summers travelling in the South and the West with a traditional street photographer’s small kit – rangefinder camera, wide lens, and black & white film.

His current exhibit at the Sasha Wolf Gallery, “The Way West,” is a distillation of the last five years’ work. Six of the images are unpeopled, pure documents that seem to stand outside of time. A storefront, a hexagonal silo, a damaged sign, an empty cabin are reminiscent of Evans and Strand. However, a billboard in the shape of an old-style brick building feels somewhat ironic out in an empty field and the image of a slide at the rodeo seems to reflect on Bill Owens’ tricycle from Suburbia.

Photo by Peter Kayafas . Source: sashawolf.com
Peter Kayafas, "Grand Island, Neb" 2010

People dominate the rest of the images and Kayafas’ street shooter skills are evident, as the majority of these images are made fairly close. No one meets the photographer’s eye, except for two young boys in Ogallala: one smiles at the photographer while the boy in another images casts a quizzical glance back at him. The subjects are white, Native American and Hispanic, each individual seemingly separate even when they are all together in the frame. Four young boys on horseback ride bareback, two seeming to merge with their mounts. The young men of Cripple Creek, Colorado, stand in a group with thumbs hooked in their jeans, all wearing cowboy hats, each looking in a different direction. A couple at the Crow Agency looks in opposite directions. This sense of individual separation, evident in the solo images of young women in uncrowded fairgrounds in Billings and Douglas, is most apparent in the isolation of a solitary patron watching Family Feud in a Nebraska bar.

Photo by Peter Kayafas . Source: sashawolf.com
Peter Kayafas, "Crow Agency, Montana" 2011

Yet there is also a sense of continuity, community and quiet pride in the people pictured in these images, a sense that these children and adolescents will grow to assume their parents’ places in the local community. Will they, too, practice the quiet virtues of a life rooted in the heartland, perfectly comfortable in placing a hand over the heart for the anthem?

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Kayafas has noted that the enforced time gap between film exposure and seeing the resultant images makes him “less vulnerable to the emotion of the moment when choosing which are the best photographs.” The result in this case is twenty smooth-toned silver gelatin prints of a moderate image size (12x17) with little caption information given other than a location and year.

Peter Kayafas
The Way West


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Wednesday, April 23 to
Sunday, June 8, 2014
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