Sandy Sorlien, Fifty Houses: Images From the American Road

This is nifty little book that I like for many reasons. Not the least being that I am drawn to a premise behind it — that from an architectural standpoint, America has become a pretty uninteresting, homogenized and characterless looking place.

I’ve noticed in many of my travels that as our great country becomes more and more suburbanized, much of it looks pretty much the same. It really doesn’t matter where you are. Rockville Pike in suburban Maryland outside Washington, DC looks the same as stretches of Rt. 611 past Doylestown in Bucks County PA. Same as it looks in many other places you might be driving through. Truth is I live in a semi custom track house development right at the edge of town. I couldn’t find a house I could afford in the Borough that had a basement big enough for a darkroom! It’s a compromise and thankfully there are a lot of beautiful trees, but I wish I could live in house that’s more architecturally distinctive.

Perhaps all of this is symptomatic of where American culture is headed in general. But I am standing firm. I’m listening to my vinyl — using tube electronics of course — and making silver gelatin prints from my black and white film negatives. So there!

Ok, let me catch my breath and get back to this book. Sorlien spent eight years traveling over 90,000 miles across America to make wonderful “house portraits” in all 50 states. Fascinating houses of all types, sizes and shapes, each with stories to go along with them. She eventually made over 1,000 portraits and chose one for each state. What’s interesting is that she used a 35mm camera with a 28mm or 35mm perspective control lens and black and white infrared film. That’s right black and white infrared film!  Not what I would have selected, but you can’t argue with the outcome! The results are different and somewhat unique. Somehow it all works in the context of what is being done. The houses seem a little otherworldly and perhaps that is as it should be given how unlike they are from what is taking over. The compositions are simple, yet beautiful. Different, but with the accompanying texts … somehow right.

In short, I like it and I think you might too!

4 thoughts on “Sandy Sorlien, Fifty Houses: Images From the American Road

  1. Dave Thomas

    Hi Michael,

    That sounds like a neat book. I think your observations on a trend to uniformity are correct. I see a sort of descent toward the uniformly ordinary — even mediocre. I suppose some of that is driven by economics (and management by spreadsheet jockeys), but when one looks back to the late 19th and early 20th century, it seems there was more interest in investing in the aesthetic of a building, as well as the function.

    Reply
    1. Michael Marks Post author

      Dave,

      It really is a nice little book and the use of infrared film works in this application… almost like a dreamy effect in some cases. I think everything you said is unfortunately right. Perhaps that is why I am increasingly drawn to what remains. David Plowden is a wonderful photographer that has made a career out of capturing much of America’s old and great dwellings, bridges, barns, steam locomotives, etc. I have a number of his books and will eventually mention them here, but you might want to check him out!

      Best,

      Michael

      Reply
    1. Michael Marks Post author

      Geoffrey,

      Nice to hear from you again. I am sure he is. We all have our views and perceptions what we want our country to be or look like. Deep down we know there are imperfections. We just don’t want to see them or be told about them. Check out Robert Frank’s The Americans. I have a write up about it that can be found here “On My Bookshelf”. I must have book in my opinion!

      Best,

      Michael

      Reply

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