Martin Hogue

 

On his book Thirtyfour Campgrounds

Cover Interview of November 02, 2016

In a nutshell

Thirtyfour Campgrounds examines the standardization and modernization of the contemporary campground as a familiar setting in the American landscape.

Campgrounds celebrate a unique form of American ingenuity in which intersecting narratives and desires (wilderness, individuality, access, speed, comfort, nostalgia, profit) find themselves strangely and powerfully hybridized. Thirtyfour Campgrounds traces the 150 year evolution of this unique landscape type. More broadly, however, the book poses important questions about the relationship between landscape and data: with a few clicks, taps or swipes, prospective campers now visit dozens of campgrounds and potentially hundreds of individual campsites in a single seating, comparing their advantages and disadvantages. How did we go from brave hikers setting up camp from scratch in the wilderness of the Adirondacks, to remotely browsing, shopping for, and reserving campsites in real time, often weeks or months in advance of arrival? How does the consumption of vast amounts of information through maps and websites shape our experience of campgrounds as landscapes? Are these landscapes themselves shaped by this information?

The book is a highly visual undertaking that features a combination of original drawings, archival materials and field documentation. The core of the book consists of a survey of color photographs of nearly 6,500 individual campsites retrieved from online reservation services like reserveamerica.com and recreation.gov. These photographs, arrayed into orderly girds and sequenced by zipcode and site number, span 200 pages. Taken together, these photos document 34 whole campgrounds of every stripe (federal, state, private) across the United States.

As a work of landscape and photography, Thirtyfour Campgrounds offers a nod to important artists who have expressed an interest for documenting similar generic settings: the title of the book is a direct reference to Ed Ruscha’s classic 1967 Thirtyfour Parking Lots (down to the idiosyncratic spelling of its title), which features aerial views of empty parking lots of all shapes and sizes in the Los Angeles area. The neutral, systematic arrangement of the thousands of campsite images in the book into grid form owes to German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher’s typological studies of blast furnaces, cooling towers, grain elevators and other industrial structures, and whose work are staples of contemporary art collections.

More methodical in its approach than conventional campground literature, Thirtyfour Campgrounds calls the very nature of research, the survey and the inventory, into question.