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12 April 2016

Kenneth Graves, The Home Front

12 April 2016 - Written by Laurence Cornet

Mack Books compiled Kenneth Graves' photographs from the 1960-70's. Looking at them today is like a punch in the face to oblivious nostalgia.

Spread for The Home Front, by Kenneth Graves, published by Mack Books

14 January 1963 – 30 October 1974: the time frame for Kenneth Graves’ photographs spans over a troubled time in the history of the United States. Americans fought a war that had mobilized 25,000 soldiers in its early days and amounted 250,000 less than two years later; a war that was gradually called massacre in most conversations and gathered protests as crowded as the deployed army. There were facing hard struggles back home, fighting over civil rights, mourning the death of a promised president, of charismatic rock-stars, and of the first victim of what would turn out to be a scourge known as four gloomy letters, AIDS.

Yet, his photographs are filled with humor. “I have so often documented the ‘strange’, the funny and terribly familiar”, Graves comments. Each picture is a scene of coincidences and evidences that end up making for donnish waggery. A giraffe so tall that only her legs can be seen from a car’s window; two girls performing perilous acrobatics in front of the open doors of an ambulance; a kid encaged in an fairy train desperately trying to reach his parents on the previous wagon. There is something that could belong to visual illusion in his frames - the same illusion than that of happiness spreading through the book though, as curator Sarah S. Phillips points out, “beneath the funniness there is the odor – almost constant – of anxiety and frequently, of military presence”.

Spread for The Home Front, by Kenneth Graves, published by Mack Books

People oddly refer to the 1960-70’s with an ounce, if not a pound, of regret. It was a time of real protest and beautiful unity, they add, not realizing that they might look back at today with the same sentimental longing. If we look at it from the perspective of meaningful events, the past recent years have seen as many or more revolutions across the world as it did in the late 60’s, which too led to a remodeling of society.

The last date listed at the beginning of the book in place of a prologue is October 1974, when boxer Muhammad Ali beat George Foreman in Zaire in “The Rumble in the jungle”, and thus regained the Heavyweight title. I don’t think that the only reason for this fight to conclude the list is the fact that it retrospectively became iconic enough to inspire Norman Miller’s staggering book of the same title. It rather works as a metaphor for the impact of Kenneth Graves photographs today - a real punch in the face to oblivious nostalgia.

The Home Front
Photographs by Kenneth Graves
80 pages
€30.00 £25.00 $35.00

Written by

Laurence Cornet

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