Contact Sheet 177


Essay from Contact Sheet 177, 2014

by Christine Hill

Having spent the majority of my adult life living outside of the United States, I recently stayed in a lovely Baltimore boutique hotel that curiously chose to hang the world's largest flatscreen TV in the small, sweetly decorated common breakfast area, and it was blaring a morning news program. I was overwhelmed by the (still very un-European) onslaught of crawl text, multiple image panels, statistics and numerical data, and overly coiffed blonde talking head all at once, all too early in the morning. I thought: John Freyer would know what to make of this.

I have email correspondence with John Freyer dating as early as 2003, which now feels like it should be mounted behind glass. I had previously discovered All My Life For Sale (having also recently discovered eBay) where he systematically deaccessioned a lifetime collection of carefully curated personal effects and was then inquiring about a poster purchase from the follow-up "institution,” the Institute for Adaptive Reuse. There is a painstaking attention given to these most mundane objects, and I appreciate and identify with that sort of commitment.

It is ironic-for two working styles that both revel in the spirit of Americana-that John Freyer and I first really met in 2011 in Stockholm, where he was taking his IKEA research to the next level via a Fulbright award. The idea of a multi-faceted seminar dedicated almost wholly to exploring the ubiquitous Billy Bookcase manufactured in flat-pack form by IKEA seemed in this instance not only useful, but an idea whose time had come. The unearthing and exploration of that which enters our daily lives in a seemingly unconsidered manner is one of the primary focuses of John Freyer's artistic attentions.

“Hello, friend” is a salutation often used by John Freyer. There is something intentionally approachable and folksy about this greeting; it calls back to an era of community and neighborhood that seems to be missing in Our increasingly short hand culture. His compendium website lists its function as "archival preservation.” Beyond photography parlance, there is a sense that John Freyer is holding on to a complex history of social rituals and customs and ensuring their proper documentation. He is a collector, a chronologist, an archivist, an oral historian, and a folk researcher implementing a variety of formats ranging from the kindly analog to the comprehensive digital, the tangible and the abstract.

His attentive curator's eye hits on the everyday sky high shelving units of Wal-Mart. Cherry picking the ultimate selection of quotidian objects to best represent a culture of consumption. Can we actually purchase what we need, when it comes down to it? Would we recognize it when we saw it?

Discussing via Skype the specific images produced for his Light Work residency, John mentioned that they felt like "provisions for a barbecue that was never coming.” A sort of postponed celebration. Don't the Boy Scouts advise to "Be Prepared"? These images subject inanimate objects to the typified world of the portrait session, lending them personhood or personality. They remind us what we should be commemorating and how we might best go about it.

Some of John Freyer's artistic fodder: collective memory, corporate branding, object culture, oral history, commodity evaluation, talisman investigation, value systems, the second-hand economy, mass production, technology, domesticity, the gift economy, Social anthropology, Social practice, and performative installation.

Additionally: corn on the cob, apple pie, Bob's Big Boy, gingham picnic blankets, Soda fountains, cheeseburgers deluxe, pizza pie, road trips, yard sales, tire planters, Sears Portrait Studios, fried chicken, tailgate parties, Polaroid, Celebration Florida, Waffle House, free refills, the red and yellow condiment vessels at a hot dog stand, cornbread, bacon bits, egg creams, Brillo boxes, backyard barbecue, Seersucker trousers, Ray-Bans, the American Dream, an honest dollar, a Coleman lantern, a chip off the old block, and a piece of the action.

Here are conversations had while pumping gas, standing in the check outline, sitting at the diner counter, queueing for lottery tickets, filling a prescription, in trains, on Skype, at beer gardens, in university auditoriums, and while arguing over tchotchkes at IKEA. Identifiable arenas beyond the museum realm where everyday transactions and interactions occur.

These to me are the refined talents of a photographer expanded into many other arenas. These are the things we do: bargain, shop, collect, organize, itemize, compartmentalize, barbecue, take road trips, patronize diners, inventory possessions, spring clean, raise children, prepare dinner, evaluate our accomplishments, and tally Our progress. This work is a form of civic monument to us all.

Christine Hill

Christine Hill is the Berlin-based proprietor of Volksboutique and professor and chair of Media,Trend & Public Appearance at the Bauhaus-University in Weimar.

John Freyer lives in Richmond, VA, and completed his residency at Light Work in March 2013.