Indulge me, if you will, as I take a journey down memory lane. My recollections of the 1970’s and 1980’s are colored by the dyes used in the ubiquitous slide films of the time. The emotional turmoil of my teen years is memorialized in the luscious reds and greens of Kodachrome and in the soft blue hues of Ektachrome. The palette of nostalgia, courtesy of Kodak. During that era, photographer John Goodman exploited the same suggestive slide films and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA is showing a stirring selection of prints made from his rediscovered slides in “John Goodman: not recent color,” currently on view through July 31st, 2019.
Unlike my own family’s slides, Goodman turned his careful attention to the unnoticed details of everyday life as he started his photojournalism career in and around Boston and New England. He was drawn to gigantic gas guzzling cars, glowing cigarette vending machines and cocoon-like telephone booths, often considered eyesores at the time. And yet, these pictures serve as a time capsule for the era’s mid-century designs which now seem rather elegant in their simplicity. Those gas guzzlers look like sculpture compared to today’s jelly bean shaped cars, and the once commonplace rectangular phone booth has disappeared altogether. In “Truro” from 1980, a solitary figure on the phone is bathed in honeyed afternoon light, recalling both a less frenzied time and just how private those public booths felt.
Goodman’s sense of light imbues his pictures with breathtaking emotional resonance and induces a sense of longing. Signature traces of American life in the 1970’s and ’80’s – a pungent sense of tone, texture and aroma – fill the gallery without a trace of saccharine sentimentality. The defining essence of those decades manifests itself in the skeptical expression of a woman caught driving with curlers in her hair and the boldly painted nails of a waitress taking an order. Details are key, and Goodman’s eye for those quotidian gems offers an uncommonly clear record of American culture during a tumultuous time. Susan Sontag noted that we cannot possess the present, but through photography we can possess the past. Goodman’s photographs are a palpable gift of late 20th century American life.
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