“Lost in America” found in New York: Photographer Thomas Ando’s “Lost in America”

The American Southwest is one mad straight road that stretches on so far it stands still. Photographer Thomas Ando manages to stretch that road even further up through the sky and all the way across the country.

In Main Article 3 Reviews by Rena Silverman 2010-02-25 print

Thomas Ando, 'Amboy Cottage' (1999)
The American Southwest is one mad straight road that stretches on so far it stands still. Photographer Thomas Ando manages to stretch that road even further up through the sky and all the way across the country. In his exhibition “Lost in America” Ando’s photographs have taken over Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village, February 01-28, 2010.

An article about flying in the Mojave Desert prompted Ando to take drive across country. And so, in November of 1999, he left for Amboy, California, cameras in hand. He has returned over 20 times in the past decade, photographing everything from sunrise to sunset, and all of the golden shadows in between.

Road of Mind (2006) is one of the first photographs you see as you enter the exhibition. This image is what you would get if you put Robert Franks negatives under Jerry Uelsmann’s twelve enlargers. Black, white, and middle grey, a long road falls and rises, sweeping softly through the center of a car mirror, fading upward into the whiteness of cloud. Framed by the diffusion of something leather-like and round, the car mirror both reflects itself and projects the road on which it sits. Smaller clouds surround a smaller mirror within and disappear outwards into vertical windows that seem to come from a kitchen or home.

Thomas Ando, 'Road of Mind' (2006)
Ando’s use of both the car mirror and the kitchen windows is not only for the achieved aesthetic; it also acts as a bridge between both ends of the infamous dichotomy that the late curator John Szarkowski defines in Mirrors & Windows, American Photograph since 1960. Szarkowski divides photography (as a medium and as an art) into two categories: “mirrors”—reflections of the photographer’s own sense of self—and “windows”— the photographer’s view of fact and documentation, including that of photography itself. Szarkowski files the photographs of Robert Frank as “windows”, or the Realist view, and the photographs of Jerry Uelsmann as “mirrors” or the Romantic view. Thomas Ando’s Road of Mind is both an introspective narrative (window) and personal observation (mirror)—summed up into one profound question: How Far?

Across the tiny room from Road of Mind is Ando’s colorful photograph of a lemon, mango, blueberry sky cast against and draped behind two small cottage windows. In Amboy Cottage (1999), Thomas Ando’s composition captures the architecture of angles and color. Using negative space, Ando creates another story, a pastel parallelogram of pure sky framed by the sloping of the two roofs. This photograph could stand without mat or frame.

But it isn’t easy to confine the entire Southwest to the close quarters of the Cornelia Street Cafe, a place that has been attracting a local and creative crowd since it opened in 1977. Every night draws a unique cast of characters: downstairs, musicians, poets and other artists perform to a group of standing spectators while upstairs, locals and visitors dine in the presence of poetic panoramas that hang from the white palms of deep red brick. Although the space is small, Mr. Ando made effectively utilizes its vertical height. Why not add some Southwestern spice to the Big Apple every now and then?

Rena Silverman

Rena Silverman. Rena Silverman is a freelance writer and non-fiction author. A native of New York, Ms. Silverman is the ghostwriter behind dozens of articles, speeches, and online content. In 2007 Silverman was featured in Marie Claire magazine’s “I Can’t Get Through July Without My…” In 2009 her essay was selected as the introduction to the At Issues Series book, “Does the US Two Party System Still Work?” She is currently putting together a collection of poetry. » See other writings


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