PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Waiting Out the Latter Days


Book Review Waiting Out the Latter Days Photographs by Steven B. Smith Reviewed by Karen Jenkins The Steven B. Smith who some twenty-five years ago made these photographs was given little reason to expect an opportunity for looking back and taking stock. Raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, young Smith was taught to heed the ominous signs and live in righteous expectation of the end of days.
Waiting Out the Latter DaysBy Steven B. Smith
TIS Books, 2015.
 
Waiting Out the Latter Days
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

Waiting Out the Latter Days
Photographs by Steven B. Smith.
TIS books, Brooklyn, NY, 2015. In English. 116 pp., 59 quadtone illustrations, 8x10".  


The Steven B. Smith who some twenty-five years ago made these photographs was given little reason to expect an opportunity for looking back and taking stock. Raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, young Smith was taught to heed the ominous signs and live in righteous expectation of the end of days. The two short paragraphs that accompany Smith’s black and white images in Waiting Out the Latter Days wryly detail his childhood experience with bomb shelters and restrained aspirations. He writes: “The Cold War was escalating, the Russians were going to attack soon, and we had better stop touching ourselves. I didn’t really have any hopes or dreams then, I just wanted to live long enough to get married and have sex before God called us home.” Smith moved on from such a bleak prognosis but as a young college student taking up photography, remained fascinated by this collective condition. He photographed throughout Utah during the 1980’s with a loosely social documentarian sensibility and interest in the spectator as spectacle. For Smith, watching and waiting are particularly loaded triggers and a quarter century later, these photographs are full of anticipations held in suspended animation; deferred and sometimes deflated in our rear view.

Waiting Out the Latter DaysBy Steven B. SmithTIS Books, 2015.
Waiting Out the Latter DaysBy Steven B. SmithTIS Books, 2015.

Best known for his unpopulated photographs of suburban sprawl’s inelegant collisions with the Western landscape from his first book, The Weather and a Place to Live, Smith echoes that series’ subtle emotional modulations and humor in Waiting Out the Latter Days. These photographs owe an enormous debt to Garry Winogrand’s big-hearted blend of wry comedy and a sympathetic appetite for the human condition. Smith wears a lot of hats here; in the span of time and life experience that separates the creation of these photographs and their present selection, he is both an insider and outsider, fellow disciple and removed observer. His parade and rodeo spectators are classic players in so many scenes that divert our attention from the unknowable spectacle (story’s end?) outside of the frame to the act of waiting and watching itself. Given the gravity of their expectations, Smith’s subjects are on the whole remarkably placid, with a range of tempered emotions from cheerful camaraderie to individual introspection or uncertainty. Big themes are cut down to size, such as in the photograph of an “Exodus” parade float. Its biblical pillar of smoke (or mushroom cloud), as rendered in cotton pouf mounted on a kiddie wagon, is scarcely beacon or bellwether for its distracted attendants, who are all looking elsewhere.

Waiting Out the Latter DaysBy Steven B. SmithTIS Books, 2015.
Waiting Out the Latter DaysBy Steven B. SmithTIS Books, 2015.

The black and white 35 mm format, and modest scale and design of Smith’s book establish a conservative restraint, while also serving as a foil for its quiet revelations. There are moments here that flirt with a verboten hedonism. A young woman faces a row of cops on a bench who react to her with facial expressions on a sliding scale from stern censure to carnal appreciation. A young boy leans back on a car hood, in private moment of rapturous repose, guzzling a soda under a billboard describing “the peak of perfection.” In fact, the car and its hood is a recurring platform in Waiting Out the Latter Days. What in another context denotes the movement and freedom of the open road is in Smith’s vision a static observation deck and waiting room of relaxed expectation where a willingness to wait does not preclude striving for a better view. The end hasn’t come, and Smith’s photographs also waited for a better view — for his return decades later to choose those that held up and resonated with the passing of time and experience. The result is much more than a prospector’s dig through the archive; these photographs are latent gems whose time has come.—KAREN JENKINS

KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.


Read More Book Reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment