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Over a span of forty years, photographer Jim Dow embarked on countless road trips across America, a paradigm informed by the legacy of photographer Walker Evans, to realize the series American Studies. Represented in the Haggerty Museum collection with photographs taken from 1978 to 1998, this body of work captures the spirit of our environment but also documents the impermanence of our ever-changing visual landscape.
Equipped with an 8 x 10 camera, Dow sought to document the idiosyncratic qualities of banal sites—from motels and roadside diners to barbershops and storefront windows. While it is tempting to interpret Dow’s unpeopled photographs as signifiers of loss, the work relies heavily on the stories and sensibilities of individuals standing just outside the frame. The locations he chooses as subjects are never empty; they hold the potential for social engagement and community interaction, and it is in this way that Dow’s detailed, carefully composed images evoke a shared experience of the everyday. These portraits of place serve as compelling visual records of fading regional traditions, subcultures, and rituals that comprise a particular version of our universal and uniquely “American” experience.