Spanish Architect Ignasi de Solà-Morales coined the term terrain vague to describe the abandoned, ambiguous, or marginalized pieces of land within an urban landscape that stand in contrast to the otherwise cohesive, definable organization of the city. These kinds of spaces – abandoned lots, post-industrial sites, bridge underpasses, for example – define the character of a cityscape through these pauses and stutters of visual dissonance.
My intention with this work is to expand on Morales’s notion to use it with a bit of poetic license in order to describe a sense of longing I find so prevalent in these Central Maine landscapes. The empty storefronts, the spaces between modest homes, and vacant lots are for me filled with the beauty, despair, yearning, and disappointment that define this time in history in many places throughout the world.
In a sense these photographs are anti-scenic; they do not present us with beautiful or idyllic spaces. The images are filled with a sense of passage, decline as well as the ordinariness of utility pared down to the basics: the piling of soil, the scraping of the earth, the fencing in of property. Some of them are layered so that trees and brambles hide a home, a human story. These are the spaces we barely bother to attend to visually, all the more reason to give them further attention.
— Gary Green, Waterville, Maine, USA
The central focus of the photographs in Billboards is a specific variety of mechanical billboard which, utilizing a prismatic design and timed motors, scrolls through three different advertisements sequentially and continually. By photographing these signs with an exposure long enough to record all three ads on one single negative, an in-camera intervention of sorts takes place. The necessary clarity of the original images is obliterated by the combination of time and mechanical movement – effectively robbed of their intent, they become layers of and contributors to a new, incidental image. If the Bechers were looking for “anonymous sculpture” in the industrial forms of their subjects, then I have stumbled upon a form of “anonymous collage,” one that cannot be perceived with the naked eye in real time.
While the billboards in the photographs themselves contain photographic elements of a commercial nature, they could hardly be described as rephotography; nor are they descendants of Pop Art or a guerrilla-type of anti-marketing. The sign in the real world remains unchanged — the intervention happens only in the camera and on the exposed film. I later recalled the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto and his Theaters, and it could be argued that the two series share visual similarities; however, where Sugimoto’s exposures left no trace of the original image on the screens of his theaters, elements of the original billboard advertisements remain in the new composite image – logos, images and copy overlapping – the visual equivalent of a corporate “mash-up.”
— Gary Warren Hubbs, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada