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Art Photobook Reviews

Bleak America by Adam Clitheroe

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

Why shouldn't a zine get as much attention as a book? 

The answer of course, is that there is no reason. The zine is merely (generally speaking) a smaller and more affordable way of presenting photography to the wider community.

Over the last decade or so in which the medium has truly flourished, it is easy to look back and see that many prominent and now well established artists first dipped their toes in the waters of "Great Lake Photobook" with these modest and very often unassuming little books. 

And whether out of financial necessity or the desire to control their own work, these diminutive personal artistic statements very often go on to be some of the most desired and cherished landmarks of their published oeuvres.

I am also conscious that as someone who has taken it upon them self to comment on this world of photo books, many of the publications under scrutiny can have a tendency to be formidable objects, being both costly and scarce. 

Well scarce comes with the territory but as to costly...

As with a number of photographers, Adam Clitheroe is already a successful commercial artist and film/video maker and also like many photographers, away from the paid work and commissioned projects resides the real passion, the personal projects. Those bodies of work that drive an artist, that fuel the soul and allow them to feed their imaginations, to weave magic and tell stories . 

These are the images that exist because a voice inside has compelled the artist to make a statement, compile a body of work and complete a vision. 

To tell those stories that nobody asked to hear, but given the chance, would both entrance and enthral when allowed to reach an audience.

I first encountered Clitheroe’s work through his 2021 zine trilogy “British Paranoia”, his reaction to the turmoil that ensued, both during and post Brexit. A monochrome swirl of frustration and confusion which appears to be the current default setting for this sceptred isle.

However, two years on and he now presents us with a new collection, this time of breathtaking panoramas and abstract details, for which he has flown these shores and crossed the pond.

Although the legacy of the Trump administration and shadow of "that" wall hangs heavy in the shimmering heat, despite its title, Bleak America is far from being a doom laden dissection of the US political landscape, rather a glorious colour rich pilgrimage through the open “bleak” terrain that comprises the south western corner of the country.

I have placed the word bleak in quotation marks because the dictionary definition reads 

"(of an area of land) lacking vegetation and exposed to the elements"

and whilst this may be partly true, I am going to suggest that the only "bleak" elements in these images are those placed there by us.

These are magnificent vistas which only go to reinforce what a truly awesome and varied landscape exists in the three thousand mile expanse between the East and West coasts of America.

Arid and parched this land may appear but the shimmering heat and brilliantly blue skies serve as much to highlight the reds and golds of the earth and the explosive bursts of colour provided by the resident plants and shrubs. 

All manner of life is here and the natural topography is truly breathtaking, whilst all around reminders that wherever we go, we have a tendency to fuck things up.

Yes the human counterpoints to nature's perfection are everywhere to be seen. 

A rusted car chassis.

A child's discarded teddy bear, complete with a lizard quietly resting and blending into its host's body.

A perfect winding road straight out of an O'Keeffe painting, achingly beautiful apart from a broken and discarded crate crashed against the banking side of the trail, the desert equivalent of a beached boat, stranded and abandoned.

A scattering of what at first glance appears to be bright yellow petals strewn across the sandy ground, but on closer inspection reveal themselves to be spent cartridges. 

We have arrived. 

Maybe I will have to consider retracting that " far from being a doom laden dissection..." comment after all, but I do stand by the statement that America the country is anything but bleak, however as soon as you throw people and politics into the mix, well that's a different matter.

So again, shouldn't a zine get as much attention as a book?

What do you think?

Bleak America by Adam Clitheroe is published in an edition of 100 copies. Price £8.00 to £10.00


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