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Matt McCormick
at Elizabeth Leach Gallery
, Portland, Oregon  
Recommendation by Richard Speer

Continuing through April 2, 2011

The centerpiece of photographer and filmmaker Matt McCormick's "The Great Northwest" is a haunting 76-minute film of the same title, digitally produced and displayed to striking effect on a widescreen HD monitor. The film follows McCormick as he recreates  a meandering 3,400-mile road trip across the Pacific Northwest, as originally undertaken and fastidiously recorded in the travel journal of four 30-something friends in 1958. McCormick found the journal at a thrift store and grew fascinated with the photographs, the National Park entrance passes, motel receipts, and other souvenirs it contained.

By inter-splicing close-ups of the journal with current images of the landmarks visited by the quartet of friends, the artist creates startling temporal jump-cuts as iconic vistas remain unchanged, even as once-bustling towns turn derelict and buildings that were once neon-lit dive bars and greasy spoons morph into supermarkets, parking lots, and bank branches. The camerawork is preternaturally smooth and breathtakingly composed, and there is no audio other than ambient sound: the rustling of wheat fields, the spray of a waterfall, the clomping of hooves as cows saunter along a state road, oblivious to the automobiles that pass them by.  This minimal approach complements the artist's restrained approach, allowing the scrapbook, the landscape, and the open road tell a story that is expansive and unexpectedly poignant.

Elizabeth Leach Gallery

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