Review by Douglas Stockdale •
The rural region of Green Bank, West Virginia is a modern paradox; a mash-up of ultra-high technology in the midst of an almost non-tech community, confounded by the fact that this situation is by careful design. Green Bank is the home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory built in the 1950’s. This high technology site with the astrophysicist who work there, is a series of highly sensitive radio telescopes that are searching the edges of the universe looking for signs of life. Operating this highly sensitive equipment requires the surrounding area is not disturbed by any form of radio activity, such as Wi-Fi, radio stations, cell towers and all forms of electro-magnetic energy, a region classified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a “radio-free” zone. This has become a region that uses dial-up land line phones, correspondence by letters and requires individuals to actually talk to each other.
Photographers Paul Kranzler and Andrew Phelps co-photographed this project, working together in such a manner that the identity of who actually activated the shutter for a specific image is inconsequential. Both photographers hail from Austria, while Phelps was born in Arizona and has resided in Austria since the early 1990’s and as I have noted in Phelps other photobook looking at the Arizona landscape that over time it appears he has acquired an outsider’s view point. The photographs capture a mash-up of high technology nestled within a community of non-technology, capturing both sides of the Drake Equation. The giant domes are observed facing outward looking into the furthest edges of existence while Kranzler and Phelps photograph those individuals who choose the simple basics of a lifestyle that might be considered the near side of existence.
The visual attributes of the high technology are stunning; the huge organic sculptural shapes of the radio telescopes situated in the sparse rural landscape; massive contradictions of size, shape and mass. These round shapes appear similar to what we think of what alien spacecraft should look like, lurking eerily in this desolate landscape.
In contrast are the intimate studies of those individuals who make this region their home; although there are hard to miss hints, such as the young woman with an off-the-chart iridescent blue hair, that their collective understanding extends beyond this rural community. Nevertheless they create a portrait of a white rural community; a young person cradling a chicken, another young man firing his rifle at something, ball caps, pizza, big belt buckles, camouflage fashion-wear and taxidermy trophies lining the walls.
The writer Alard von Kittlitz’s essay delves into this photographic study of a small region of America as a surrogate for the greater whole. So might Green Bank be a micro-cosmos, a representation of the greater America as postulated by von Kittlitz; I think not. I speculate that Green Bank might have more in common with a David Lynch story that is an odd mix of the surreal with the common, thus it appears like a very mysterious place. Perhaps an interesting place that I would really like to visit if given the opportunity.
Other photobooks by Andrew Phelps previously featured on TPBJ; Not Niigata, and Haboob.
Paul Kranzler & Andrew Phelps – The Drake Equation, 2018 (book miss-printed 2017)
Photographers: Paul Kranzler, (born Austria, resides Linz,Austria and Leipzig, Germany) & Andrew Phelps (born Mesa, Arizona, resides in Salzburg, Austria)
Publisher: Fountain Books (Verlag), Berlin
Essay: Alard Von Kittlitz
Without pagination or captions
Hardcover book, bronze embossed linen over boards, tipped-in image on back cover, sewn binding, bronzed page edges, one double gate-fold, four-color lithography, printed by Optimal Media, GmbH (Germany)
Book Designer: Isabel Latza
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