SF CHRONICLE: “Rickard at Stephen Wirtz” (2011)

By Kenneth Baker, SF Chronicle, June 2011

A glum “American Picture”: San Jose native Doug Rickard leads a growing number of photographers gleaning material from Google street views, the digital age’s extension of street photography.

The title of his show at Wirtz, “A New American Picture,” sounds like something out of the Cold War decades, when America strutted itself as counterexample to the communist world’s hollow boasts of triumphant centralized planning. The strutting goes on, even as capitalism hammers home its readiness to devour its own.

No doubt someone might cull from Google source material a panorama of foreclosure-free suburban enclaves or glimmering financial centers. But Rickard’s “New American Picture” maps a landscape of poverty, neglect and hopelessness, in shocking contrast to the sheen and bright, false promise of corporate media and advertising.

The poor resolution and anemic color of Rickard’s pictures, shot from his computer screen and minimally doctored, give them a look of faded prints from the 1970s. That quality not only makes a link to Rickard’s photographic ancestry – starting with the work of Stephen Shore – but it also reminds us that more and more people have no memories of an America different from the one whose deepening bottom strata he surveys.

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