For the Love of the Garish

Recently I was contacted by a Robert Jones, a photographer who had published a book called Garish: Roadside Color Polaroids, after seeing my interest in roadside and photography on my blog. I am always eager to look at photos featuring roadside attractions, dilapidated buildings and long forgotten signage, and the fact that this book was shot entirely with a Polaroid Colorpack III made it all the more interesting.

I honestly couldn’t help smiling when going through Jones’ book. It was full of exactly what I love. Signs, both of the hand painted and neon variety, bizarre statues, buildings, and much more. Plus, he did it with a vintage camera, and if you’re a long-time reader, you may recall that Patrick has a love for shooting a vintage Kodak Dual Flex II, especially with color film, for all the same reasons Jones does. Vintage, middle-class consumer level cameras, of the Polaroid and Kodak variety, have relatively poor lenses, ones that create soft focuses, and natural vignetting. These effects, combined with the rich colors that are ever more saturated with the film, create an almost dream like effect, like you are looking at an image from a memory of something long since past. It personally made me feel good knowing someone else is out there doing what I love to do, and finding these delightful bits of history and taking a snapshot to share with the rest of the world.

John DeFore accompanies Jones’ photographs with an essay on the topic of color film. From the beginning, color film was shunned by the photography world’s elite. Black and white was the only way to go in order to be taken seriously as an artist working in the photographic medium. I found DeFore’s essay very interesting, and in many ways could relate. When I was in high school I took what was one of the last black and white film photography classes at our school. The year after I graduated our school replaced it with digital photography. (I guess I should be thankful that they kept a photography program.) However the subject matter I always wanted to capture involved color! The lush blonde hair of my friend set against red bricks, when we had to do a portrait, the red of a rose in our still-life assignment, and the brightly colored 99W Drive-In when we were able to shoot whatever we wanted for our final project. And the items I enjoyed shooting outside of the classroom also involved color, especially when I would attend car shows with my dad. Candy apple red, aqua, and plum crazy (yes, an actual factory color from Dodge). Yes, the dynamic lines of vintage automobiles, the curve of a friend’s face, could all be captured in stark black and white, but for so long what man has created has never been the subject matter of “real artists” when it comes to photography. For me, and it seems for Jones as well, photographing the man made is not just one of artistic endeavor, but also one of preservation, to capture something that someone else put time and love into, before it is lost to time. Jones, as DeFore discusses, does not appear to look at his subject matter with “ironic juxtapositions, or framed them in ways that suggest a new layer of meaning is being created, Jones is happy to simply celebrate what he has found.” That isn’t to say that Jones just takes a picture without giving it thought. Much of his framing is glorious, and I would love to have nearly any one of these pieces featured in this book hanging on my wall.

I utterly appreciate what Jones has done here. He lets his images speak for themselves, with their vibrate colors, and the use of the Colorpack III film size. It is books like Garish that continue to inspire me, to seek out the unique, bizarre and manmade attractions that dot our landscape here in America.

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