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.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,
don't forget to mention his best book so far in my opinion, which is "Boulevard". Published by Steidl, with street photographs from Paris and LA.

Jeff Ladd said...

Thanks for that reminder.

The LA photographs in Boulevard are really great. Some of my favorites of his. I didn't however like to mix of Paris and LA. I felt like I was just passing-by the Paris images to get to the next LA photo.

Anonymous said...

i know what you mean. the mix of both is problably not the best decision. two seperate series could have create more depth. But nevertheless an underrated book.
However, the Yard sale stuff i don't really get. I guess sometimes you have to accept that it is not your cup of tea. But maybe it is different the next time i take a look into this book ...

Anonymous said...

Boring is the word you're looking for.

Anonymisismousnessless said...

Perhaps for some...or maybe the photos demand patience which is something few are willing to allow.

sebastian said...

I instantly fell in love with Yard Sale.

Anonymous said...

Where are the photographers with ANYTHING TO SAY - those visual agitators, revolutionary souls spilling out their hearts, capturing zeitgeist-busting now-ness, prowling the howling wow-kindling wonder-underlands to give us a fix of photo?? Is that too much to ask? Where are the photographers who pawn their shirts for film? As we keep waiting for sustenance must we endure stoically those pictures of silly trinkets or boring widepan empty streets or remnants of a meal (for god's sake), reassuring ourselves that if we're patient enough we'll see the divine and cryptic message? Oh, I can't go on....(but I must go on, and therefore I will)

awkward moment said...

The kind of photographers that you speak of are around. In fact if you get up early enough you can see them running through the negro streets at dawn. Perhaps some of them have been hit by milk delivery vehicles?

karl baden said...

jeff-
not to stray off-subject, but Famous Monsters of Filmland was one of THE formative texts from my youth. who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men...
kb

Anonymous said...

Awkward moment (of many), thank you for restoring faith (as certainly one of the best minds of your generation).