Over a period of years Kendall Messick employed a documentary style to photograph the life of a retired movie projectionist; Gordon Brinckle (1915 – 2007). This is also an investigation into personal identity, when one becomes so consumed with their profession work, that they re-create a similar workplace at home. In this case Brinckle has built in fastidious detail a grand mini-movie palace (theater) in the basement of his home. Oddly it was a home-theater of which very few were aware of or visited, as Brinckle was a social recluse.
In his project Messick has incorporated a wonderful cinematic metaphor to narrate this, which when it finally dawned on my, I found to be absolutely delightful. Messick has mashed up Black & White with Color photographs to reveal the two aspects of Brinckle’s life while paying homage to the classic film, The Wizard of Oz.
Just as Dorothy was revealed in Black & White living in her Kansas home before the tornado struck, Gordon Brinckle and his wife Dot are documented in Black & White while living upstairs in their very ordinary appearing lifestyle. Messick switches to a vibrant Technicolor to document Brinckle in his basement fantasy theater, same as this movie transformed from Black & White to Color film when shifting to Dorothy’s dreamlike fantasy episode.
The black and white world of the Brinckle’s reality appears plain, simple and very middle gray if not bordering on sad. Their modest home is symbolic of the retired working class, one that appears to be very ordinary if not stuck in a time-warp. Similar to “Dorothy” at home, the Brinckles deal with all the normal tasks needed to survive, where things are not perfect or ideal, may be difficult or not very exciting, a variable monotone, day-to-day existence, and the antithesis of the dreamlike Oz awaiting downstairs. The relatively flat photographs seems to add an external context that the Brinckles are not that joyful or living a life of one’s dreams.
Where as Dorothy ran away from the awful Miss Almira Gulch, Gordon Brinckle descends down the basement stairs to find his santuary. We do not know if Brinckle is attempting to escape from his wife Dot or the plain world of his upstairs existence to a place of colorful place of fantasy. Like Dorothy, Gordon takes his shelter in his home, and specifically in this case, his home basement, an even better environment to avoid the destruction of a tornado.
As there was a sudden transformation for Dorothy when she found herself in Oz, there appears to be equally fascinating transformation of Brinckle. It as though what also lurks in the basement is Brinckle’s Alter Ego, the Great and Powerful Oz. He is now the amazing, sparkling and colorfully costumed man behind the walls and curtains, projecting the images of his choosing, pulling the various curtains back to reveal what images he wishes to. He is now in total command of all that is before him, a truly Great and Powerful Oz. Which similar to the movie is also a sham and a fantasy, but of Brinckle’s careful and deliberate choosing.
I find that this is a poignant narrative, bittersweet as the final ending is revealed for Gordon Brinckle. But like Toto before him, Messick opens a metaphoric curtain, revealing his subject to be an ordinary man.
The book is hardcover with dust jack, and the essays are by Brooke Davis Anderson and Mark Sloan with a biography of Gordon Brinckle by Kendall Messick. The photographs are captioned and the book contains numerous drawings, layout and theater artwork created by Gordon Brinckle.
Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook