What Remains in a Childhood Home

After 17 years of photographing in the town in which he grew up in, London-based photographer John Spinks released his project “The New Village”. As so many photographers are unable to escape the influences of peers and predecessors, Mr. Spinks’ landscapes fall under Jem Southam’s sphere of influence. Unsurprisingly, Southam is a supervisor of Mr. Spinks’ current doctoral studies, and as a former assistant to Stephen Shore, Spinks uses color film in an 8x10 view camera loaded with color film.

What is evident in this beautiful edit of work is the stillness of both the landscape and it’s citizens. Perhaps this stillness is a direct result of using such a large and cumbersome camera, but I believe that the vast amount of work that was created for this project gives us exquisitely composed and thoughtful images. Directly sighting inspiration from Herbert Read’s The Green Child, Mr. Spinks gives the viewer an intimate account of returning to a landscape that is conflicted with nostalgia and disdain. Despite the lack of diversity in these frames, I’d imagine that most of us can identity with the feeling of going back to where we were raised and finding warm memories and frustrating realizations. The grace in these images is in both their sequencing but also in the realness of the subjects.

Something feels off about this place, and the switch from portraits to landscapes, makes me wonder what exactly happened here. Some of the shots of the wooded areas make me think of crime scene photographs, documenting the unspeakable horrors that have just taken place. With that, I view these portraits as people who have witnessed a crime. “The New Village” is very clearly a personal project and while the viewer is able to pick up on a tone, we are not able to see what happened in this place which makes a man, who feels like both an outsider and local, return to this place for nearly two decades.

Bemojake published The New Village in June 2017. 

A Diary of Love and Place

Having parents from Hong Kong and Taiwan, Nelson Chan has grown up on two continents. In his ongoing “my Da Lu” Mr. Chan gives us a glimpse inside of his family, focusing his lens on his parents, showing their life and the physical and emotional bonds between them. Displayed in what feels like a visual diary, these images give us small glimpses inside of his family, both in the United States and in Hong Kong. Focusing on overlooked moments such as shirts hanging in a bedroom, medical equipment on a table, and a cushion with a blazer on an office chair, we see moments of universal experiences.

For a project ostensibly about his parents’ relationship, we only see Chan’s mother and father in the same frame only twice. However, both are tender moments; the first as the couple hugs surrounded by love-themed stuffed animals and the second as his father lightly touches his wife’s cheek while watching television. As much as this project aims to show their relationship, our focus is drawn to his father’s solitary experiences of marriage. In an intimate moment that was surely lost seconds later, we see his father on a red leather chair seemingly oblivious to his son’s presence. Whether these images of his father are staged or not, they give the impression that they are quick snapshots of moments soon lost.

Also captured in this diary is the families’ travel between distant places marked by overstuffed luggage on a windowsill and two shots of planes going in different directions in the frame. These are supplemented with home scenes such as the one of his mother asleep on the living room floor surrounded by pillows and blankets. In what is perhaps the most sublime image Chan has in this series, we see a staircase flooded with golden light, with many small beams of dispersed light directly under the school portraits on the wall.  

Before the Gold Began

California, a Southwestern town in Pennsylvania, was named as such during its founding in 1849, which also coincided with the Gold Rush. Those who founded the town were prospectors on their way to California, but ended their journey in a place they named to symbolize their town’s future. As many photographers do, Ross Mantle set his camera upon a town that has a very long history of coal production and subsequently deindustrialization. While examining Mr. Mantle’s “Can you spare an umbrella?” I drew instant ties to Robert Adam’s The New West. The square aspect ratio is an obvious parallel, but what I saw as a direct homage to Robert Adams’ famed image “Colorado Springs, Colorado”, is Mr. Mantle’s image of a one floor ranch house with an enormous pillar holding two billboards directly in front of the window. The mixture of American capitalism, with the image’s faint advertisement for Jeep and Chrysler cars with a mid-century, middle class house, produces a bizarre scene.

What makes these images depart from The New West is the uncanny quality of nearly every frame. In one image there is a highway off ramp that is cut off by a concrete divider that has another lane going nowhere. The view of a streetlight illuminating insect trails makes the viewer question what is going on in this neighborhood. So many of Mr. Mantle’s images make me uneasy, such as the one with tires stacked up on a phone pole and a swing set under a towering overpass. Within these images is a legacy of the failed journey to the American West with the adaptation to new surroundings. It is appropriate that throughout the series, Mr. Mantle does not show views that uplift or inspire, only what remains. Such sentiments can be seen in the image of an electronic claw game with “Treasure Chest” written in a dated font with three bowling pins and a ball as the only prizes left while another shows broken glass on the sidewalk that could be seen as scattered marbles or even coins in a fountain with unanswered wishes. 

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