Since 2010, Lorena Lohr has travelled the American Southwest once a year by train, bus, and foot. Each trip is photographed, and each trip becomes a photo book, the photo books forming a series, titled Ocean Sands. Lohr’s most recent publication, Texas Blue, focuses on El Paso, Texas, a city that sits at the intersection of three states (Chihuahua, Texas and New Mexico) and two nations (Mexico and the US). Just across the border lies Ciudad Juarez, and together the two cities form one of the largest bilingual and bi-national workforces in the Western Hemisphere.
Moving through Texas Blue is like moving through El Paso with Lohr as she walks the city’s streets, visiting its motels, restaurants and bars. Close to the body, but with an eye that is not hers, the camera records her wandering and resting. The flat tire of a cream-coloured car, soft on taupe pavement. Twelve small white bowls, holding twelve beige Chinese soup spoons and one shining silver ladle, arranged in two half-circles on a beige table. The corner of a street, one wall dusty pink, the other all moss green tiles, smooth and shining. A discarded cigarette on a terracotta surface and just next to it, a small blue triangle: the photographer’s jeans. Lohr’s palette is striking, as it creates a soft atmosphere of stillness and nostalgia. The predominant hues are peach, beige and brown, everything clay-tinged and warm, even the cooler pastel blues that were slowly bleached by the sun.
Each image is tightly focused, and each image holds within itself elements of what lies just out of view. The outdoor images are framed by slivers of footpaths and blue skies, and often depict wires winding up and away from walls and poles, ferrying energy and information beyond. Indoors, the close-up of objects flattens and abstracts their surroundings, leaving the viewer to grasp at textures, colours and infinitesimal details to form a sense of setting.
Texas Blue is devoid of people, but it is not devoid of their presence. Everything feels a bit faded, a bit used up, a bit abandoned, as though it has been touched, held, dwelled in, looked at, felt, handled and inhabited, again, again and again. The cityscape itself sometimes looks a bit bodily. Paint blisters and sloughs in the sun, like crackling sunburnt skin. Grasses and shrubs have wilted and dried, turning an acid yellow hue, one not dissimilar to urine. Here and there, plastic filaments sprout and dangle from crevices and structures. The body’s more hidden and intangible functions are even included, as speech is introduced through images of signage. As the frame crops the adverts, their sentences are edited into snippets of conversations or thoughts.
Lohr writes of these traces of presence as alternative portraits. The wear and tear of the spaces and objects she photographs are not simply representative of time passed or the disintegration of past aspirations, but rather point to a phenomenological understanding of time as lived experience. In the book “On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time”, Mohsen Mostafavi and David Leatherbarrow explore this relation between the deterioration of buildings and the experience of time, arguing against what they call “the monolithic (dispersive) view in which each instant appears and disappears in successive moments”. Eroding buildings and spaces are then not part of a simplistic narrative of inevitable decay, but are rather composed of layers of continuously unfolding stories, which, to quote Samuel Beckett, may end yet again.
– Review by Edmée Lepercq
Below, select images from Texas Blue © Lorena Lohr: