Cultural context is vital for both art and literature. While great art and great literature can both speak to its context and transcend it, most often, it epitomizes it, and stays firmly within it.
For the most part, I do not review literature contemporaneously to its creation. It is sometimes months, even years, after its publication that I will read a book and, perhaps, review it.
I don’t review every book I read, hell I don’t even finish every book I start. But when a book speaks to me, good or bad, I will say something about it.
And so it is with Drive-By Shootings, Photographs by a New York Taxi Driver, by David Bradford. Published in 2000, these photographs speak to a different time and place, both in their art and in Bradford’s accompanying text.
And now, all these years later, I am wholly unimpressed with both the art, and the literature.
Yes, I am old enough to remember taking photos with film – I took a photo journalism course in uni and learned all about, you know, gritty, uncompromising, truthful photography. Yes, I understand he was driving his cab while taking his photos. Yes, I know that was an innovative-ish idea. Oooh, a cab driver taking gritty black and white photos of dirty New York City. Oooh.
But now, in retrospect? Ugh.
The photos are often blurry, poorly structured and illustrative of nothing particularly interesting. They are little more than bad holiday snaps by a tourist with a cell phone. I should know, that’s exactly what i did a few years ago, in New York, with my Fuji FinePix and an iPod Touch 5.
Worse, though, is Bradford’s writing. Strike that. Worse, though, is Bradford’s thinking as illustrated with his writing.
But then who reckons on a cabbie who speaks English, is intelligent, and, on top of it all, hangs interesting art in his cab? ~ David Bradford
Then he jokes more about being an English-speaking cabbie, American born at that. I didn’t take too many cabs in New Work, but everyone spoke English – many simply did it with an accent.
Funny how he blames his lack of family, friends, and social life on his job, and not on his arrogant, thinly veiled racist attitudes of being superior to everyone else (after all, he was an art director at Saks for God’s sake! And he has had gallery shows, and even a German documentary made about him, so yeah, he’s better than you and me, combined).
Bradford received his degree from Rhode Island School of Design in illustration and began photographing New York City as inspiration and reference for his drawings. Bradford spent a decade honing his photography before becoming a cabbie.
Bradford continues to be popular, with other books, pieces on various TV shows, the kind of stuff we use to measure game and by twisted default, greatness. It’s like being on a reality TV show – if you’re good enough to be on one, then you must be an amazing person. Right? Nope.
I doubt he could make a dent in the art world of today. The other reviews I’ve read, all gushing about the “true artistry” and “monumental photography” by a “struggling artist,” make me want to gag a little bit. I sometimes think all you have to be to earn success in the art world is male. Bradford’s success reconfirms my suspicion.
Oh, and I don’t like the violence implied in the title of the book. Let’s just throw that in there, too.
One last thing, all of the photographs accompanying this review are mine, from a trip to NYC in 2013. So if you were thinking
Hey, these photographs aren’t so bad, what is she talking about?
thanks, you just complimented me.