Because her camera was moving, there’s a bit of blur in most of the images, which only adds to the feeling of exhilarating speed and spontaneity that comes from the fact that Mayes usually wasn’t even looking through the viewfinder. As a result, there’s a random quality to the subject matter, which avoids the photogenic grandeur of scenic parklands for the banality of street signs, offramps, distant mountains and telephone poles. Most of Mayes’s sea-to-shining-sea travelogue emphasizes hypnotic monotony over purple mountain majesties.
“Autolandscape” contains a double meaning, referring both to the artist’s vehicular vantage point and to the automatic nature of the shooting, which was guided primarily by instinct, not aesthetics. Flick’s photos, from his 1980 “Sequential Views” project, are similarly robotic.
Each of Flick’s works contains a 10-by-10 grid of 100 postage-stamp-size images of such Los Angeles area neighborhoods as Beverly Hills and Venice Beach. Like Mayes, Flick is also a documentarian of the landscape, except he’s moving through it on foot, not in a car. Shot at prescribed intervals, his grid of Inglewood, for example, documents a stroll down 10 blocks of Regent Street. Look very closely at the left-hand row, and you can just make out the street signs.
Surprisingly, the effect is less numbing than you might think. Shooting the quintessential car culture as a pedestrian — with his shutter blinking every few steps or so — Flick creates an almost filmlike effect, like an extended tracking shot. Evoking frames of a movie, Flick’s sequential views aren’t so much panoramas as miniature “cineramas.”
Steve Fitch’s work is unlike anything else in the show. Shot between 1971 and 1976 for a series (and book) called “Diesels and Dinosaurs,” the images document a Western America characterized by truck stops, motels, drive-ins, roadside reptile zoos and dilapidated dinosaur sculptures. Wit — along with careful composition — replaces the seemingly haphazard, deadpan tone of Mayes’s and Flick’s work.
Most of Fitch’s humor derives from irony. His idea of “nature” or “landscape” is epitomized by Woody Woodpecker on the screen at a Dallas drive-in or a mural of mountains painted onto the wall of the Big Chief Motel on Highway 80 in Gila Bend, Ariz.
It’s tempting to dismiss Fitch as the least landscape-y of the three artists. After all, his subject, more often than not, is vernacular architecture.
On one level, his work is about displacement, not place. Still, like Mayes and Flick, he conveys a real sense of a country in which no one — least of all the artist — stays in one place anymore.