Two sides of life

By GREG COOK  |  December 17, 2009

It's a dash of celebrity amidst Martin's black-and-white documentary photography of unknown folks populating the old, weird America. He photographs a road cutting through a snowy rolling Vermont mountain valley, as seen through the frosted windshield of a bus, or children crowding around a car under the spray of a fire hydrant opened up on a summer Brooklyn street. These are iconic, radiant moments.

Some of the photos are more interesting for what they are than how they're shot — like images of Halloween on San Francisco's Castro Street in the '80s. But then there are tender images like one of an old woman on her back her nursing home bed, with her scrawny bare legs raised into the air. It speaks of the struggles and humiliations of getting old.

Martin photographs the boarded-up Tummyville USA ice cream parlor and a sign featuring Abe Lincoln atop the crappy Lincoln Motel in New Jersey. A photo shows a young woman sipping from a paper Coke cup sitting on a shoeshine stand in a dingy hallway before a mural depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Martin seems to be asking "what is America?" as he photographs the intersection of our ideals and economics, where democracy sometimes is embodied in the fact that — as Warhol once noted — no matter who we are, we all get the same can of Coke.

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