Monday, March 31, 2008

Rockaway, NY

Not a single word or accompanying text introduces us to Roe Ethridge’s Rockaway, NY. The cover appears to be a sunset detail with the title and name in bubble font. A few images in and we realize that this is not a social document of a specific place. Rockaway, NY is really just a title, a system for structuring these images together. From what I understand the connection to the Rockaway's is that it’s the place where Ethridge is often found surfing. The images are no more about The Rockaway's than they are about apples or cigarettes. Perhaps one can argue that there is a coastal narrative, but even that is hard to make. Not making these arguments and not figuring out what it is about is far more satisfying for me. Ethridge is in many ways a more successful installation artist than he is a bookmaker. Walking through his shows gives one the freedom to breath between photographs and imagines the connections that are made between the dissimilar images. I had much higher expectations for his first real book. Other books of his have been produced on a much smaller scale and have the intimacy that feels lost in these pages. Apple and Cigarettes, published by Gagosian Gallery could have been one of those books that brand itself into the history of photography books. It is simple and clean and has the beautiful low-tech design of an iphoto book. The order is meticulous and the pages build on each other wonderfully. However, the book falls apart in the last pages with the spreads of photographs from an installation at Gagoisian. This ending really brings it back home for me to the fact that this is simply a really nice catalog for a show. In the end, it is this experience of walking through the show that wants to be captured. Not unlike like a book by a video artist he attempts to capture the experience in the wrong media. Roe is too good an artist to make catalogs of shows. Hopefully he can continue to work with Steidl and come back to us with his much-anticipated opus. Unfortunately, I don't think that Rockaway, NY is it.