Along the Yellowstone Trail is an exhibition of fine art documentary photography by celebrated Wisconsin photographer Carl Corey. As the first-ever solo exhibition to occupy ALL’s three “labs” (gallery spaces), Along the Yellowstone Trail provides a glimpse into Wisconsin culture past-and-present, and represents Corey’s latest contribution to American cultural landscape photography.
To create his latest body of work, Corey walked 480 miles along the Wisconsin segment of the historic Yellowstone Trail (1913–29)—the first transcontinental automobile highway in the northern United States—and chronicled the views along its vast network of wagon trails, farm roads, and town roadways. Traveling by foot from his home in Hudson all the way to Kenosha, Corey observes the idiosyncrasies of small-town Wisconsin life: an array of donuts in a local diner, a dangling Tweety Bird window ornament, muscle cars on the front lawn, racist memorabilia juxtaposed with religious iconography, and other nationalistic symbols.
Devoid of human figures, the photographs communicate a sense of alienation and touch upon the increasing disconnect between urban and rural existence, social decline, and the loss of communal identity. While Wisconsin-specific, the series also forms a larger observation of contemporary American culture, replete with its kitsch, guns, empty storefronts, dilapidated barns, trailer parks, and other recession-era roadside ephemera. Images of a vacant filling station branded “Cigarette City” and a “Discount Tobacco” store call to mind Corey’s background as a commercial photographer, where he worked for 25 years in Chicago and Los Angeles studios creating advertising campaigns for clients such as Philip Morris.
As with past projects, Corey contrasts the spontaneous approach of a wandering flâneur with compositions that are rigorously structured with minimal alteration, using techniques that could only be done in a conventional darkroom such as color correction, dodging, burning, and spotting. The results are lush, vibrant works that are at once unpretentious and cosmopolitan in their approach—distinctly Midwestern, while in conversation with global currents in contemporary photography.
Says Corey, “Wisconsin is unique. There is no doubt about that, however not so unique that its’ cultural and social disclosures are exclusive of that found elsewhere in America. I am not interested in the obvious, the landscape, the beauty of the small town nor in making a propagandistic statement of the Dairy State’s wonders. I am very interested in the subtle details. From these details a larger view can be compiled, a social jigsaw puzzle pieced together by each viewer in their own unique way. It is my hope that my experience results in understanding and further insight on the behalf of those with whom it is shared.”
Corey, who normally exhibits in museums and commercial galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong, has adopted an innovative exhibition design in keeping with Arts + Literature Laboratory’s experimental ethos. For Along the Yellowstone Trail, the artist mailed over one hundred hand-stamped postcards of his images to Arts + Literature Laboratory, which will line and wind through the galleries, simulating Corey’s route along the historic highway. The postcards are punctuated by twelve large, archival inkjet prints of photographs selected jointly by the artist and Arts + Literature Laboratory Lead Curators Simone Doing and Max Puchalsky.
Additionally, Corey has produced a “tourist guidebook” for gallery visitors, as well as a series of limited edition zines, postcard sets, prints, and an artist's book under his own imprint Cottage Industry, which will be available for purchase at Arts + Literature Laboratory.
Along the Yellowstone Trail is on view at Arts + Literature Laboratory through December 2, 2017. An opening reception on November 4 will feature an artist talk by Corey at 6:30 pm and Wisconsin-themed snacks and refreshments served from 7–9 pm.