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Book Reviews: Joe's Junk Yard

Joe's Junk Yard. Photographs by Lisa Kereszi.
Published by Damiani, 2012.
Joe's Junk Yard
Reviewed by Tom Leininger

Joe's Junk Yard
Photographs by Lisa Kereszi
Damiani, 2012. Hardbound. 150 pp., illustrated throughout, 12x9-3/4".


Joe's Junk Yard is more than a photographic recollection of a family business. Lisa Kereszi presents a rich portrait of her heritage along with a narrative about the shifting economics of car culture. There are a number of themes in this book. Those of family and place become clear and overarching. They are expressed through Kereszi's lens and the scrapbooks of her grandfather Joe.

In the essay Scrap with Joe, Kereszi takes us through her family history and that of the junk yard founded by Joe Kereszi Sr. in the blue collar suburbs of Philadelphia. Family photographs and pages from the scrapbooks paint a fuller picture of the man and family. Her writing is focused and unsentimental, like the pictures. Kereszi also connects her family to the path Walker Evans traveled through Pennsylvania. She is firmly rooted in this place and the tradition of American photography as practiced by Evans and those after him.

Joe's Junk Yard, by Lisa Kereszi. Published by Damiani, 2012.

Kereszi's essay along with the forward by Larry Fink and the essay by Ginger Strand create a richer book experience. Still photographs, at best, hint at the struggle, joys and heartbreak this family has endured since the 1949. It is the necessary text that finishes this robust documentary experience of paper and ink.

Joe's Junk Yard, by Lisa Kereszi. Published by Damiani, 2012.
Joe's Junk Yard, by Lisa Kereszi. Published by Damiani, 2012.

The idea of place and the role it plays is a central theme in Kereszi's work. It is clear Kereszi spent a number of years making the images. Stylistic attempts are visible in places. Over time, the pictures become more refined and voice clearer. When the pictures are about the place, they are the strongest. The office, 2002 is an abundant scene of signs, notes, a hint of an over piled desk and a TV with blank white screen. The portraits of the workers and her family are not maudlin. There is a physical closeness to the people, but a photographic detachedness, which allows the viewer in.

Joe's Junk Yard, by Lisa Kereszi. Published by Damiani, 2012.

Cars and how car culture changed is difficult to explicitly photograph, even though it is the backbone of the story. Large metal American cars populate the pictures. This is a story of a business based on cars. It changed when Detroit changed the car business model and this book illustrates that many similar stories could be told.

The tale told in this book is the American dream, a dream complicated by family, money and land. Lisa Kereszi pulls back the curtain and finds richness in the dream that was, and still could be.—TOM LEININGER

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TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in North Texas. More of his work can be found on his website.

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