Martin Buday – Prophetic Kingdom

Review by Wayne Swanson •

The everyday landscape is filled with the banal, the kitschy, and the mundane. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be artful and engaging. Philadelphia-based photographer Martin Buday spent two decades traveling around the United States, collecting images that capture the wonder in the ordinary. The result is Prophetic Kingdom, which shows that there are surprises all around us, if we just know where to look.

Buday makes compelling photographs out of prosaic scenes of houses and commercial buildings, a trailer park, a strip joint, open fields, a unicorn, signage of all sorts, a giant concrete elephant, vehicles (most upright, one on its roof), and more. All are presented with a fine eye for composition, along with a subtle sense of humor. The deadpan aesthetic borrows from the likes of Stephen Shore, Wim Wenders, Subjectively Objective, the New Topographics, and architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Each image stands on its own, while the clever sequencing encourages viewers to find the connections between adjacent images, and to page back and forth to find even more connections. 

There is a mix of color and black-and-white images, but the color ones are the most striking. Color-coding is a common motif. In one image, a yellow tarp over a Jeep matches the yellow walls of the house next door. An image of the red wall of a meat market is followed by an image of the red roof and trim of an abandoned McDonalds. Fun juxtapositions are another recurring element. A carousel horse mounted on a pole outside a house bears a remarkable resemblance to the stripper pole on the sign for a topless bar on the facing page. In another image, a “Beware of the Dog” sign on a chain link fence features a cute pony rather than a menacing dog standing behind the fence. Other repeated motifs include vernacular signs, reflections in puddles, and animals of all sorts, real and fabricated.

The images are largely devoid of people, but filled with evidence of human presence — empty chairs, empty cars (parked and abandoned), a picture of Jesus taped to a front door  — inviting us to fill in the narrative behind them. The book’s title comes from a photo of a drab brick building in Delaware with “Prophetic Kingdom” signage on the windows. From there, Buday says, he conceived a “loose biblical framework” that gives the images “an allegorical nod toward a prophesied, postlapsarian world in which great famine plagues the earth after many years of bountiful plenty.”

That explains the deserted imagery, but it’s a rather grim assessment for a pastel-colored collection of imagery presented with a wry sense of humor. Like folk art and outsider art, the scenes Buday has captured celebrate the vernacular wonders around us.

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Contributing Editor Wayne Swanson is a Contributing Editor and a San Diego-based fine art photographer and writer.

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Prophetic Kingdom, Martin Buday

Photographer: Martin Buday, born Doylestown, Pennsylvania, resides Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Publisher: Daylight Books (Durham, NC, USA, copyright 2021) 

Essays: Elisa Wouk Almino, Nicole Kaack

Text: English

Cloth-covered hardcover book with tipped-in photo, sewn binding, four-color lithography, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 112 pages, 54 plates, printed in Turkey

Creative Director: Ursula Damm

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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