Jim Dow's American Studies

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday July 7, 2011

Countless photographers have taken their cue from Walker Evans, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, and hit the road to capture something ineffable, something largely missing from urban life. Vernacular architecture; a country crossroads; painted advertising signs, faded and peeling. What is the attraction, for both photographer and viewer?


Left: Coca Cola Sign, US 72, Burnsville, MS, 1978. Right: Dairy Queen, Iowa City, IA, 1988. Copyright Jim Dow, courtesy

Photographs by Jim Dow, who has been shooting rural America for over 40 years, are currently on view at Janet Borden Gallery; a larger selection can be seen in a recent release by powerHouse books. Together they present Dow’s America, a country always reinventing itself, discarding and preserving elements of its past, almost as though by accident. In a recent interview, Dow, who was born in 1942, said that he grew up without television, which decidedly shaped the way he looks at his surroundings. This notion takes form in the photos shown here.

Looking at the Coca-Cola sign planted in a dry patch of grass off a sweltering two-lane somewhere in the in the middle of nowhere, it’s easy to anticipate the taste of a Coke pulled from a cooler filled with water and a block of ice. Right. There’s no drink colder than that, and coolers of that type are pretty much extinct. But they do exist and Dow has found them. Here he memorializes an experience that he knows he is lucky to have had. There’s a kind of truth in Dow's photographs that is not photographic truth per se. And that’s why his images escape being classified as nostalgic.

American Studies continues through July 29 at Janet Borden Gallery, 560 Broadway, Suite 601, NY, NY. Signed copies of the book (powerHouse 2011) are available at the gallery.

Correction: Society of Illustrators Annual Barbeque takes place July 22nd from 7-11. $25/$35. RSVP or call 212.838.2560. 128 East 63rd Street, NY, NY.