For the past five years artists and collaborators Joel Wellington Fisher and Justin Thomas Leonard explored the post-industrial landscape of three cities in the United States’ “Rust Belt” a phrase coined in the 1980s to label areas of economic decline and urban decay in cities that were once part of the country’s industrial sector.
The three quintessential American cities in the series are Pontiac and Detroit in Michigan and Toledo in Ohio, where a recent influx of young professionals and new businesses have begun to start a process of recovery.
These have now been collected into a book, titled Landmark and published by Daylight Books.
The book captures the theatre of the everyday, through the experiences and interactions of the individuals and communities. Images in Landmark include a workman in protective gear, the unusual sight of men on horseback in a city street, young women doing gymnastic routines and teenage boys in suits at what appears to be a religious ritual.
“Early on in the book project, we had a conversation with a fellow artist about urgency, rigour and expectations for pictures such as these at a moment in time (the early 21st century) in which the locations we worked in are often steeped in a glorification of ruin and reclamation,” say the artists Fisher and Leonard.
Landmark may allude to questions of identity, nationhood and the undetermined fate of some post-industrial cities uniquely ‘American’. However, as much as the work is site-specific and aims to contribute to a conversation about photographic representation, these pictures are metaphors, symbols, literal gestures.
Fisher lives and works in Portland, Oregon. He completed his MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Art at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.
J. T. Leonard currently lives and works in Maryland. He has shown work nationally in both group and solo exhibitions, was the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Fellowship in 2013 and in the summer of 2014 was selected to participate in Review Santa Fe by Center Programmes.