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March 2 - March 23, 2002 at the Michael Dawson Gallery, Hollywood

by Anne Martens

"Joshua Tree, CA," digital iris
print from 35mm slide, 2000.

"Palm Desert Garden, CA," digital
iris print from 35mm slide, 2000

"Railroad Crossing near Rosamond, CA,"
digital iris print from 35mm slide, 2000
Rudy VanderLans’s Supermarket is a photographic journal that chronicles road trips taken between Los Angeles and the Southern California high desert. The exhibition is made up of color photographs, Émigré Magazine spreads and the book to which the photographs relate, Supermarket.

For anyone who has traveled along the I-10 between downtown L.A. and Palm Springs, familiar icons punctuate a slow-moving blur: Fast food joints and car dealerships, palm trees against sky and mountains, concrete dinosaurs, signage. The book shows this progression beautifully through careful conceptualization and editing. The gallery selection is by necessity far more limited, concentrating on Palm Springs and its environs.

VanderLans directs his lens to deserted downtowns and boarded up shacks on the desert towns’ outskirts. In counterpoint, he focuses on manicured lawns, the smooth hills of golf courses, and the curve of suburban sidewalks. He pays particular attention to the clusters of real estate signs that poke up, weed-like, everywhere.

The difference between the gallery-hung photographs and the published book and magazine pages is striking. The photographs, dramatic as they are in their simple compositions and saturated hues, lack something. What they are missing is found in published form: The addition of type and graphics. This is not surprising, given that VanderLans is best known as the designer and publisher of Émigré, and cofounder of Émigré’s digital type foundry along with his talented wife Zuzanna Licko.

Also designed by Vanderlans, Supermarket type offers the specifics of time and place. It also provides poetry via the artist’s rambling thoughts and selected writings by others. In the magazine, the writing of poets and art critics, plus graphical elements, add a layer of eco-political commentary. Lists and charts of desert wildlife and the chemical breakdown of the local water supply are juxtaposed with images of golf courses, in-ground sprinklers and electrical conduits. The elements of a leisure lifestyle and wastefulness of resources are thus abundantly clear.

Politics and theory aside, the magazine is so wonderfully designed that it could rival the beauty of illuminated manuscripts in its own funky, contemporary way. And the book brings to mind the careful sequencing of classic photography books such as Robert Frank’s The Americans or Walker Evans: American Photographs.