review originally published in Phroom Magazine
Two train tracks diverge in a misty woods, the grey of the sky hanging downward into the tree branches. This is the opening image of Mark Power’s Good Morning, America featuring photographs made between 2014-2018 in about 20 states. In many of these images, the photographic frame is full of the built things of America’s manufactured presence – skyscrapers, power lines, the infrastructure of bridges and overpasses – but this is America as shot from behind. Power photographs the backs of buildings, the alleys behind the houses and under the overpass, places that are rundown and decayed, where signage is old and windows are papered over. They are wide, expansive scenes that fill both pages of the book, at times spilling further outwards in gate-folds. This America feels big, but not vital. The photographs were shot during fall, winter and spring and nearly universally capture grey skies, saturating the color palette of browns and ochers with an occasional prick of painted green. The natural world sags in the background and rarely interrupts. People are small things moving among these places creating strange tableaux.
The wide ranging images are punctuated by photographs of smaller focus, a number of them looking downward. Perhaps because of their limited subject matter, these images are more memorable to me, like the barn full of golden light and orange ping-pong balls or the lifeless cat in the plastic shopping bag in a flooded ditch. They also give the book the feeling of thematic focus. There are times when whimsical pathos jumps out at me – a Byzantine wheelchair ramp or the massive nest of tumbleweeds. Other times I find symbolism that distracts from the photographs. In the context of a book that opens with two diverging tracks and ends with an image of a house fire, the sign over a door that states “liberalism as a mental disorder” reads with a sense of panic. The beauty of each image does not override wear of viewing all this deterioration.
I can’t move past perspective when thinking about this book. Good Morning, America is part of a mighty lineage of photobooks picturing this country; I think particularly of those photographers who came to America as outsiders, arriving with a lifetime of gathered impressions. Power comments on his own faraway experience with America in his statement at the end of the book, how it shaped him and his long standing desire to explore the country. I recognize his view. I see features of this America daily, though my eyes don’t often linger in the same way because for me, it’s simply part of the fabric of this place. But it’s clear that these scenes are often missing from the way America is typically presented, which might be why Power’s images feel obvious but also unexpected; an assemblage of hidden moments and scenes that catch the eye of someone seeing beyond the vision of every polished iteration.
Good Morning, America is slow and thoughtful, but feels unbalanced and unresolved. Of course, it is also just the first volume of a planned five volume series that Power expects to continue through 2022. Mark Power invests time and patience into his projects, and he will do the same here. I make note of the title, borrowed from a long-running ABC morning show, and also a greeting for a new day.