In September of 1967 Robert Smithson took a bus trip from New York city to Passaic, New Jersey. He disembarked, equipped solely with a Kodak Instamatic camera and a science fiction novel, with the intention of documenting the "monuments" of the Passaic landscape. The result of this excursion was the publication an essay in Art Forum Magazine entitled, A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, NJ
The essay chronicles Smithson's journey through the tumultuously developed suburb as he photographs and describes the utilitarian fixtures situated in the landscape. He goes on to epically characterize outmoded bridges, sewage pipes, car garages, children's sandboxes and used car dealerships as "monuments", embellishing their character with humorous exaggeration. By placing epic importance on this form of suburban banality, Smithson further accentuates just how unimaginative places of this nature truly are.
While discussing the aesthetic and practical functions of these "monuments", Smithson refers to them as 'Ruins in Reverse'. Unlike typical structures that fall into ruin long after they're built, Smithson purports that suburban structures rise into ruin before they are even erected. The notion of landscape determinism is one that I had not really considered before reading this essay, but have been thinking about thoroughly since. More interesting still, are how these ideas have been explored photographically.
I have selected a few contemporary photographers who's work serves as illustration to the ideas put forth by Robert Smithson. Justin James Reed, J Bennett Fitts and Steven Smith are simply a few photographers exploring these issues.
From Top to Bottom:
J Bennett Fitts, Minimal Office
Justin James Reed, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania . 2007
Steven Smith, Draper, Utah, 2004
All Images © The Artists