What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mike Brodie's Railcar Reality

Mike Brodie, #5060, 2006-2009

Two young men in an empty silver-gray hopper railcar under a pale blue-white sky, wheat-colored grass to the left and the right, a line of hoppers and telephone poles trailing into the distance, a flat body of blue-gray water in the background, the hopper’s aqua-and-black sign (first line: “BSPX 1858”), sunlight slanting in from the left, illuminating the youths’ faces, casting the cars’ angular shadows on the yellow grass. Such are the particulars of Mike Brodie’s arresting photograph #5060 from his brilliant series A Period of Juvenile Prosperity (2006-2009). The image gives you plenty to contemplate and, at the same time, it makes you want to know more. Who are these guys? Where are they going? Why are they travelling this way? Are they on the run? Are they travelling together? What’s their future? It makes you want to know more about Brodie, too. Where was he located when he took this shot? How did he happen to be there? Was he travelling with these youths? Did he know them? The picture’s tilted perspective gives it a fresh, unstudied, snagged-on-the-wing look, a quick capture of railcar reality. Geoff Dyer, in his excellent "Artist in Training" (Bookforum, Summer 2013), a review of Brodie’s A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, says, “The pictures have the day-to-day intimacy and immediacy of a journal.” That’s the way Brodie’s great #5060 strikes me - the photographic equivalent of an inspired journal entry, a fragment of “the real thing,” nimbly caught with the tang, the freshness, still on it.

Postscript: See also Jessie Wender, "Mike Brodie's 'A Period of Juvenile Prosperity' " (“Photo Booth,”, January 29, 2013)

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