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James Smolka Portfolio 1: Postcards
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Notes on POSTCARDS view bio

A self-confessed obsessive traveler, James Smolka’s postcards from the road are hardly boastful, sweeping landscapes. Rather, they document the details of a day — details that you probably would have failed to notice, even were you there: The shape of a bush, a blank sign on an empty highway, an impossibly orange car, the way a power line frames the roof of a cabin.

Smolka grew up in a small town in Michigan, where he dreamed of hitting the road while devouring the local library’s encyclopedias. And these images have the look of an encyclopedia to them: this is a rock, this is topiary, this is an example of linear perspective. “I try to shift my camera just to the left or right of the obvious landscape,” Smolka explains. “It hints at the people around — something that’s ruined, or could be ruined, or even just overly landscaped.” He calls these signs of impending ruin “weird abuse,” though he says it without venom — he’s a documenter, not a commentator.

Smolka’s images frequently convey this element of amused surprise — even a rock can seem slightly caught off guard when he shifts his gaze to it without warning. Why me and not the mountain behind me, you can almost hear it ask. His subjects are unassuming — mundane, even — and yet framed, they become iconic. Were these postcards signed “Wish you were here,” the sentiment would be not wistful, but inquiring.


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