Here is the first press article written by the critic John Wood. And occasionally you will find others posted here!
David Thompson’s Guide to Loman Country by John Wood
David Thompson…traverses the United States both with a camera and a unique eye. What he photographs is a well-known but undocumented America – an America every bit as authentic as the money-pulsating towers of New York or Los Angeles, the red leaves and snows of Vermont, the bayous of Louisiana, or any other region that comes to mind. But Thompson’s America is unrestricted by geography; it is embedded in the midst of all those other Americas. It is the America of losers.
Americans don’t like to think about losers. We’re brought up in this country from childhood with one of the most perverse and debilitating of myths – that success is not only easy, but that it is also our birthright. We’re told again and again and we’re made to believe that you can be anything you want to be in this country – even the President. All you have to do is buckle down, put your shoulder to the wheel, and never give up. If you do that are sure to come out on top. It’s not just a debilitating myth; it’s also a ridiculous lie.
In Arthur Miller’s great play Death of a Salesman, the belief in that lie was Willy Loman’s tragic flaw, a flaw that led to the collapse of his life. Miller’s play is a powerful, painful dissection of the American Dream, the fake American Dream, the one based on being rich and important, not Walt Whitman’s authentic American Dream of “The Open Road,” a road where men and women of different races, sexual persuasions, and professions could link arm in arm and walk down it together as brothers and sisters.
But Whitman’s was not Willy Loman’s American Dream. His was a corruption of it, and that corruption was the tragic flaw that unraveled his life, just as the tragic flaws of an Oedipus, Agamemnon, Creon, or Phaedra unraveled theirs and brought them down. And as it was in Greek drama, so it was in the American drama of Willy’s fate. The main character’s flaw determined his fate but also havoced the lives of his family. Willy’s hopeless belief that he could be a Big Man led to his wife’s loss of real love and her inability to weep for him, even after his suicide; to the coming wreckage of the life of his son Happy, who believes Willy’s fake dream is the only dream a man can have; and to the ruined years but also the redemption of his other son, Biff, who came to realize that he’d been raised with a lie. David Thompson is the photographer of where Willy Loman’s American dream ends up. And his photographs are a color tour of Loman Country.
Loman Country isn’t just the land of losers but also a land of the alienated. Look at the Shoe Tree, the funhouse of horrors, the fascist’s shack, or the Bible truck. The owners are America’s authentic aliens, and they are angry, lonely, crazy, sad, and sometimes dangerous. What is most tragic is their pain. The woman whose husband was having an affair with Julie Rodriguez was hurting badly enough to tell those she didn’t even know about her pain. Look at those people at the “C F EE HOP”; can you bring yourself to believe that any of them are happy? But Thompson is not just an insightful and compassionate social critic. He is also a talented writer who brings to his photographs by way of a brilliant and cultivated eye the same sense of irony and humor we expect in the best writing.
To see the ironic side of Thompson’s work, look at the “OPEN Welcome” sign on the door of a hardly inviting-looking establishment of some unknown variety, or Ming’s Chinese Food, or the ramshackle building for sale which invites one to “MA E OFFER”, or the idea that you could possibly “Treat Yourself to the Best” of anything or could possibly ever have treated yourself to the best of anything here, or “RABBitS DEAD OR ALIVE, or a “POSTED” sign on a piece of property no one could possibly want to trespass on.
Religion is bright, big, and garish in Loman Country. Who but the most hopeless could find solace in Jesus billboards, Jesus trailers, Jesus oil tanks, the fear of the Lord yoked to chain saw sculpture, the Bible truck, or Pastor Witmer’s words? Each one of these pictures is a real though inarticulate cri de coeur.
There is humor here, as well, but it is unintended: a busty mannequin and melons; no loitering at a painting about social justice; the Christ of the tires; and Lays Electric Heated Motor Lodge. And there is also beauty. Look at the forgotten bank, or the blue skies, mountains, and truck. Loman Country has a little of it all because David Thompson has a comprehensive and humane view of what he sees. Tragedy, irony, humor, and general oddness all blend into a single vision – one I’ve seen from no other photographer, one that is an important contribution to contemporary American photography.