The Larger Narrative: The Photographs of Michael Mundy
Going through a stack of Mike Mundy’s photos can be somewhat disconcerting. Some of them are color; some are black and white. Photographs of 1970’s Los Angeles billboards mix with serene autumn colors in Rhode Island. Austere mountain landscapes are set against seductive Valentine’s Day mannequins in Macys. One’s first impression is that Mike has never been interested in cultivating a distinctive photographic style. This is, in fact, true, since Mike thinks of his photographs as primarily objects. Photographs, no matter how archival the materials may be, are inherently ephemeral in nature, so he’s come to consider his art as falling into the same category as ikebana—the Japanese art of flower arranging.
But it’s clear that he does like to take pictures; he’s been doing it for quite some time. He started using a camera in the 1950’s, when he was going to high school in Los Angeles, taking photographs of, mainly, trains: a decrepit cab-ahead articulated at the Southern Pacific Taylor Yard, an abandoned Tower Car in the old Pacific Electric facility on Santa Monica Boulevard. He likes to periodically feature his older photos on his blog, the mikereport, where the Los Angeles scene continues to figure prominently in his work.
Mike himself refuses to commit to paper any kind of aesthetic philosophy; he has a collection of hilariously pretentious Artists’ Statements that he likes to make fun of. Needless to say, he avoids any kind of remarks that might be construed to be an Artist’s Statement. And anyway, he says, not only would he be unable to put together enough coherent phrases describing his art, but any such attempt would be tedious in the extreme.
Well, although it might seem presumptuous of me, here’s my own personal (quick) take: In fact, Mike does have a distinctive style in which all of his work can be seen to gradually form part of a greater, unseen whole. All his myriad subjects—the billboards and taquerias, sand dunes and granite mountainsides—are all perfectly co-existent. And all are, or could become, part of the infinite sum of particular things—the larger narrative—that encompasses and defines the photographs of Michael Mundy.