James Casebere is a Michigan born Fort Greene Brooklyn based artist, graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with a BFA. Casebere’s pioneering work has established him at the forefront of artists working with constructed photography. Based solidly on an understanding of architecture as well as art historical and cinematic sources, Casebere’s abandoned spaces are hauntingly evocative. His table-sized constructions are made of simple materials, pared down to essential forms. Early bodies of work include images of the American suburban home. This was followed by both photographs and sculptural installations addressing and sometimes poking fun at a mythical American West. In the early 1990s, Casebere turned his attention to the development of different cultural institutions during The Enlightenment, and their representation as architectural types, particularly prisons.
This guy was a big inspiration for my “Absent City” shoot. His works is composed of amazing miniatures, he uses light and sometimes water to flood the environment almost giving the feeling that these elements are the subject of the photograph. He also has a superb sense of color. Check out his work!
James Casebere (American, born 1953), Subdivision with Spotlight, 1982, Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20”, Collection of the artist.
I’ve been reading lately about subdivisions. I read a while ago about Sunburnt Cities, a new book by Justin B. Hollander, an Urban Planning prof at Tufts, who takes on the assumption that sunbelt cities will simply grow their way out of this economic crisis. (He’s not buying it. And no one else is buying either.) Unfortunately, because Hollander’s book is an academic printing, it’s $35+ for just the Kindle version—too steep for me to justify. So I’m casting about for alternatives.
I’d like to pinpoint, as close as possible, maybe within a few years, the moment in time when subdivisions went from mostly desirable communities to being labeled and mapped as the address of the crushed soul. At some point the hissing of urban dwellers began to drown out the hissing of sprinklered summer lawns. Or the hissing one heard out in the sprawl was not the lawn but the sound of air as it went out of dreams.
If that moment in time proves hard to pin down, it’s probably because past and present haters of subdivisions had first to come to terms with an irrefutable fact of subdivisions: their functionality. Even today, when many sunbelt subdivisions come complete (or incomplete) with tumbleweeds and an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, decades after the first satires of life in subdivisions (Cheever’s The Swimmerwas published in 1964), the argument for subdivisions will go something like this: Yes, they’re soulless and bereft of personality, but they are also without traffic snarls and all the associated travails of urban life. (If “travails” or some other similarly anodyne word was substituted with “evils”—the evils of urban life—a racial subtext was usually lurking beneath, like the ravenous bugs in the opening scene of Lynch’s Blue Velvet.)
It now seems that the only remaining defenders of subdivisions are those sunburnt sunbelt cities. But not all of them. A few are trying to change their focus from growth at all costs to sustainability, including making banks, not just the developers they financed, responsible for picking up the mess when a subdivision goes…south.