Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi 'Open Range and Parking Lots'

By Mary Walling Blackburn

OCTOBER 4, 1999: 

Open Range and Parking Lots: Southwest Photography by Virgil Hancock III with an essay by Gregory McNamee (UNM Press), paper, $19.95

In a city that increasingly consists of more and more parking lots, plasma donor centers and Wal-marts, Virgil Hancock's photographs may initially seem pedestrian. After all, we live in Hancock's world. The ghosts of commerce gone bust surround us and corporate monoliths rise from their ashes. In a traditional call and response fashion, Hancock's visual juxtapositions ask, "How long can we do this?" McNamee's essay responds, "Not long."

That downfall, I think, has surely come, through telemarketing and satellite dishes, through the Social Darwinist dream progression of mom-and-pop-store eaten by 7-11 eaten in turn by K-Mart, through the incessant increase of monoculture everywhere.

McNamee is not simply screaming into the millennium roar of doom-sayers. He quickly traces the history of water use in this region and comes to an insurmountable impasse: Where are we going to get enough water? McNamee also broaches the uncomfortable topic of immigration. How can we support the ever increasing peopling of this region, requiring ever expanding housing projects, highway expansions and watery aquatic parks for fun family diversion? Is blasting through petroglyphs the solution? Can we ever change our own city's behavior if our own university insists on lawns and duck ponds in the desert and simultaneously publishes this book that critiques just that?

Hancock accompanies McNamee's vitriol with the beautiful spare photograph of "The Ghost of K-Mart," the awful and wonderful image of a massive tree trunk dragged in front of a 1960s-era concrete hotel, and the sparkling generic order of a Wal-Mart parking lot. The picture gleams like cavity-promising candy. Hancock is very good at documenting our everyday downfall, but unfortunately some photos are inexplicably repeated within the book and many images don't pack enough punch: not enough mystery, horror, and beauty. Perhaps that is indicative of today's Southwest. Yet if we try to salvage this region from an increasing sameness, green chile and low riders aren't going to be enough to save us.

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