Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yard Sale Photographs by Adam Bartos

Once in 1979 my parents dragged me to a huge outdoor flea market in downtown Phoenix called Park and Swap. Bored and probably slightly disgusted I didn't see the point of why they would be interested in looking through other people's junk. I do remember being amused momentarily with an offering by some enterprising soul who had printed the Ayatollah Khomeini's face on rolls of toilet paper. His sign read 'Buy-a-rolla Ayatollah.'

My boredom that day vanished when I discovered a man selling dozens of issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine off the back of a pickup truck. I cherished those magazines so greatly that the second issue I owned was gotten by way of a lapse in ethics when I stole it literally out of the hands of a mildly retarded kid at my school named David. I was practically hyperventilating when I discovered those boxes of issues that day sitting in bright early morning light. I wanted all of them but showing restraint my parents bought me around ten issues. I would beg them to go back each weekend for more - panicked that they would be gone.

Looking through the recent book by Adam Bartos brought those memories flooding back, Yard Sale Photographs is published by Damaini.

During the summers from 2004 until 2008, Bartos sought out yard sales in New Mexico and on Long Island, New York and made still-lifes of the offerings. Color and 35mm, his photos describe the odd connections and juxtapositions created when disparate objects are laid out for sale. Tennis rackets and handbags intertwine into looping patterns while a flower wall decoration made of metal and a chrome sink stopper seem like distant cousins.

Bartos gets close and singles out objects, exposing their 'photographic' selling points. Where as we may not be sold on the objects themselves, the photographs are a different matter. Much like how Keld Helmer-Petersen back in the 1940s found interesting ways to explore shape and color, Bartos finds his perspectives and fills the frame with complexity.

Yard Sale Photographs
could have been ruined by filling it with the usual kitsch that photographers seem so drawn to include in such still-lifes. Bad paintings or decor from the 70s would be too easy, the strength here is the common-ness of the sale objects and the certain sadness that permeates the offerings that have little chance of a new home. The yellow teddy bear with its open arms is just a bit too old and ratty as are the unmarked cassette and video tapes on page 91. It is always a bit odd to see items like these spread out on driveways or lawns, exposed to the outside world.

Larger in format than his other books, Yard Sale Photographs is cleverly designed to resemble a well read and worn book complete with a blue $1.00 sale sticker. Damaini isn't always a publisher where the choice of materials seems of quality, but Yard Sale Photographs, I am sure by Bartos's doing, is made up of better choices with very nice interior paper which has a matte finish appropriate for the photographs. The printing is very well done as is the design which allows for large plates. There are three fold-outs that expose trios of images and I wish this happened more. The introduction is by way of a Raymond Carver story which will change how you look at yard sales forever.

Bartos's other books Kosmos and International Territory explored the Russian Space programs and the United Nations respectively through interior still-lifes that informed us about unfamiliar worlds. Yard Sale Photographs is an extension of that previous work but he is now turning his lens towards a more familiar interior with these 'portraits' - one of taste and utility, the desired and the discarded.