Here is a review I wrote for the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center published electronically for their winter news letter.
Book Reviews: Recent Additions to PPAC's Library
Andrew Phelps: Higley
Kehrer Verlag 2007
A restaging of the New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape exhibition is now making its way around Europe for the first time ever. Over three decades have passed since the original showing at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography in Rochester, NY. The exhibit was a landmark for photography within the contemporary art world. New Topographics brought together the work of 10 photographers, each with their own take on the evolving landscape. POC member Andrew Phelps has an exhibition of his work from Higley (2007) accompanying the New Topographics' European tour. The inclusion of Phelps's recent work emphasizes the long lasting impact of the 1975 exhibit and the relevance of this particular subject within the contemporary art world.
Neither sentimental nor brooding, Andrew Phelps seems clear-eyed and inquisitive in his approach to photographing the changing landscape. The land itself seems to be a starting point for the photographer throughout most of his work. It is used as a backdrop for a deeper and more expansive personal musing on man's place within nature. In publications such as Not Niigata (2008) and Nature Deluxe (2004), Phelps examines the relationship different cultures have with both the natural and constructed environments.
In Higley (2007) Phelps photographs the transformation of the town of Higley, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. Taken over a period of three years, Phelps uses Higley and the surrounding towns to examine globalization on a micro-level. Through photographs of immigrant construction workers, interiors of middle class houses with picturesque landscape paintings, young Caucasian families and senior citizens; Phelps wants his project to "bear witness to this brief three year period... when the American dream either collapses or blooms". It's hard, however, to tell exactly what the "American Dream" is supposed to look like or who it belongs to. Between the construction of new housing developments and the demolition of the old, the landscape takes on the appearance of a war zone. Phelps captures a town caught in transition. What is lost along the way may be the things that make this place unique. Whether progress leads to the loss of a personal connection to the land for its citizens, a loss of communal history, or to a rebirth is yet to be seen. Phelps succeeds in showing Higley with both the sober clarity of a social document and the kind of familiarity found in the snapshots of a family photo album.
Higley is produced as a hardcover, 11.3 x 9.8in. with 81 color photographs, and an essay by Tamarra Kaida. A short note on vellum written by photographer Alec Soth wraps the back cover acting as a lovely postscript to the book. Higley is published by Kehrer Verlag of Heidelberg, Germany. Working collaboratively with international artists and designers, Kehrer is dedicated to producing finely crafted art and photography books with emphasis on the design of its publications supporting the intentions of the content.
Review by Victor Rivera