Martin Hogue

 

On his book Thirtyfour Campgrounds

Cover Interview of November 02, 2016

The wide angle

There is a satisfying immediacy about the prospect of establishing an encampment for the night—clearing the site, erecting the tent, chopping wood, building a fire and cooking over the live flame—that in turn suggests a meaningful connection to landscape, place, and the rugged life of backwoods adventurers.

Each summer millions of Americans take to the road in search of this powerful experience of nature. Campgrounds all across the country commodify the locus of this singular experience into dozens, and often hundreds of individual sites. In Thirtyfour Campgrounds, I set out to explore some of these settings for myself. This is a book that was made so seriously that it must (not) be taken too seriously. For one thing, I did not personally visit any of the facilities, but sought to experience them from the standpoint of the camper/shopper, browsing online in preparation of her/his next camping trip. For another, the book is not a passion project: I am not much of a camper and don’t profess a great love for the outdoors. The project did however grow out of some of my own early camping experiences, and the profound disconnect I experienced between the ideal of being outdoors that many of us share when entering nature, and the physical realities of this unique spatial setting.

Modern campgrounds are indeed replete with delightful irony. Each “lone” campsite functions as a stage upon which cultural fantasies can be performed in full view of an audience of fellow campers interested in much the same “wilderness” experience. That parcel of land upon which most will elect to park their car, trailer, camper, or RV is thus not only an imagined ideal: there are currently over 900,000 campsites across the country, spread out over 20,000 campgrounds, most of which are designed according to a highly repetitive template centered around automobile accessibility. The small sample size in this book is representative of both the range of information that can be found online when reserving a campsite, as well as of all campgrounds nationally. All campsites end up looking much the same, which is both profoundly disturbing and quite funny at the same time. In many regards it’s fascinating that campers could make enlightened decisions about their encampment based on these photos. There are at once too many of them, and yet not enough to convey true meaning.