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So this is it, what so many of us misread in the Presidential election: the tattered and desperate lives of Americans who feel unacknowledged. The ones who just hijacked the status quo to command our attention and respect. Photographer Justin Kimball has eloquently captured their tenuous circumstances in “Elegy”, an exhibit and accompanying monograph at Carroll and Sons in Boston’s South End through December 21, 2016.
Kimball’s photographs are quiet and disquieting. In factory and mining towns that once thrived, he registers the dilapidation of neglect and abandonment alongside signs of perseverance and hope. His subdued, complex images capture mundane vignettes of daily life with empathy. An old man is on his knees, tending to something on the curb we can’t see, but Kimball’s low camera angle on the man going about his task is a touching declaration of dignity. The images of youth are even more affecting. The unyielding stare of a baby on his mother’s lap fairly insists on an accounting for his future as they sit on their front porch behind a row of freshly washed and ironed old clothes hanging up for sale.
In “Mohawk Street”, four boys of varying ages are scattered across a lawn during a game of touch football, caught in a moment of bright stillness that is echoed by a decorated stone memorial that simultaneously recalls a proud past and portends an uncertain future in the small park hemmed by aged city buildings with looming shadows. The neglected belongings of a patriotic family in “Oak Street” engender the same feelings of desertion present in Kimball’s portraits. The way he has titled his images by their all-too-familiar street names heightens a sense of ubiquity. And yet, there is sustaining breath in these photographs.
Kimball creates elegant abstractions with his selection of muted palettes, attentiveness to luscious textures, and employment of square, frontal camera angles to construct neatly juxtaposed compositions. Collages embodying past vitality and modern fatigue, they hint at the sense of order once present in these communities. Kimball’s articulate view of our struggling fellow Americans is as generous as it is enlightening. Beneath the harsh surfaces, “Elegy” emanates grace.
For more information about the “Elegy” exhibit and monograph (Radius Books, 2016), go to: http://www.carrollandsons.net/exhibitions/index.php
Feature image: “Woodland Street, 2015” by Justin Kimball (courtesy of Carroll and Sons, Boston).