Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Obvious & Ordinary : America 2006

Figuring out who the two photographers are in the new book Obvious and Ordinary: America 2006 is not hard to do. Both of these artists have such distinct style that if one has trouble figuring their identities then one has apparently been sleeping a lot lately. What is more interesting is trying to figure who is who among the two. I figure that MP is Obvious and JG is Ordinary.

The book has no text with the exception of the title, requisite Printed in China credit, and small notices informing us that there are 750 copies for America and 750 copies for Europe. In regard to China, I should mention that they did a fine job and the design looks suspiciously in character with the extraordinary aesthetics of Ordinary.

The back story that I have been told is that it is a road trip made by O & O to go visit WE in Memphis. What we get as a result, are photographs from two soloists singing from different song sheets that somehow form a coherent duet. The reason that it works is that it is all sung in perfect pitch for a piece called America 2006.

They are apparently on the same trip, but only on rare occasion do the two seem to be in the same car. In a couple of instances they perform an impromptu form of photographic dueling banjoes when they aim their cameras at the same subject, but mostly they are looking out different windows and at different scenery. While Obvious concentrates on America’s colorful offense to the senses and preoccupation with all forms of gluttony (my own vices included), Ordinary concentrates on what could amount to be the un-noticed ultra-violet spectrum of crumbling infrastructure. Ordinary’s contribution is painted in sinister tonalities of gloom and heavy grey while Obvious’ saturated neon tries to mask that gloom and distract us from our inner unhappiness.

To me this is a tag team description of a failing, or possibly fallen, empire. Its citizens are blinded to its state of disrepair by celebrity and oversized bags of cheese puffs toned with mind-numbing, market-researched colors. I hate the truth that can be found in these pictures. It does not seem post-apocalyptic but wishing for the apocalypse, in order to wipe the slate clean. But, then again, I’ve stopped taking my bright green and white meds.

With a portrait like Obvious and Ordinary: America 2006, it makes it hard for me to look in the mirror. Even the title can be read as an affront to the inflated impression we have of ourselves. We are not special. I am obvious and ordinary (and so can you!).

Buy online at Dashwood Books

Buy online at Photoeye


Anonymous said...

I really think that most of the work in this book is...pardon the terrible pun...sub-par.

For the past few years, Parr has been doing much better work as a writer and curator than as a photographer. His style has become...obvious, and boring.

Gossage manages to kick a little ass in this book.

Unfortunately, all of the photographs suffer from a horrendous, collage-like presentation. It's all very high-school yearbook. It feels amateur, as though the layout is meant to distract from the boring imagery.

Oh, and did you know that when Parr and Gossage visited Memphis, Eggleston had no idea who they were?! That is classic.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I put my copy of Ordinary and Obvious: America 2006 on top of An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar by Taryn Simon and they both disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep them well separated on my bookshelf then.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mind the layout so much. I thought it tried some interesting and risky stuff with the overlayed photos. Parr's photos are moving further from identifiable 'art' in their appearance but the content of what he is pointing at, here in America, is so depressingly strong as my review states. Is it that his photographs are dull or is it simply that this aspect of American culture (which does not show up much in images as plainly described as he shows) is so despairingly dull and vapid. I think he is letting it be as it is.
As for WE...it doesn't surprise me. He seems to exist in a world of his own creation.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure if I had done this book I would find it to be fun.



I've known Bill since 1973, and he is one of my best friends.

Anonymous said...

Well that's a damn impressive imitation. Students?

Anonymous said...

I suspect the Chinese, since they are the only ones taking any written credit.


Anonymous said...

Well...they do a good job at being able to manufacture everything else, so I guess I might believe you...but I'm still going to check for fingerprints.

Unknown said...

please write the name of the photographers other wise it sound like gossip, and I haven´t been sleepy, just far away in Santiago de Chile

Anonymous said...


There are no names actually printed anywhere on the book so the identities of Obvious and Ordinary are technically unnamed. The style of the photos seems to be attributable to Martin Parr and John Gossage. BUT Mr. Gossage is now denying his playing any role in this book.

So...who really are Obvious and Ordinary? I think there is a conspiracy afoot but I am too wrapped up with finding the true killers of Kennedy to spend the time to unravel it.

Matt Weber said...

Assuming the whole book is done with
color by Parr and B&W by Gossage, then it's an avenue I really want to try myself one day. I'd love to work on a book with a color photographer and be the monochrome half of the book. It's been on my mind for awhile.

If I photograph fat people, I'm not documenting their fat, I'm photographing America. We produce less and less, and consume more each day. We've become an easy target for Parr or anyone else. I'm not saying that it's hopeless, but it's pretty sad...

Anonymous said...

I found your blog through Amy Stein's Blog. Have you seen the self published book of photographs by Lori Nix, called "Small Dangers". Or "Spiderchest" by Sarah Wilmer? We have both at the Randall Scott Gallery in NW Washington, DC. Check them out!

Anonymous said...

Also, for a extraordinary ordinary roadtrip by MP, see his recent flickr entry. Entertaining.

Anonymous said...

A $30 or $40 "book" with staples? The joke is on us.
This is a bad book, which is not sub Parr, but alas quite up to Parr. Judging by his recent efforts (as a photographer), this is in the high handicapped double bogey part of the scoresheet. Enough words on this.