Published by powerhouse Books and CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University


"What I love about Jim Dow's pictures is that they're not kidding. . . . In wordless ways America continually describes its vision to us, dropping broad hints about what its citizens are expected to be. With these photographs Dow catches the hints latent in dozens of American settings. . . . And when I say his pictures aren't kidding, I mean they avoid the danger that exists in recording such hints and signs . . . no superiority, no wry chuckles from a more refined altitude. Aspects of his photographs are funny, maybe even hilarious, but that's only noted in passing. He's more interested in what the American vision is, or was, and in the scary open-endedness of our identity."

—Ian Frazier, from the introduction

Jim Dow’s America is a land we both know and don't know. His photographs show a country always reinventing itself, discarding and preserving elements of its past, almost as though by accident. These places, often built by ordinary Americans for the most ordinary of purposes, share inventiveness with commonality, resilience with restlessness, and grace with roughness. Dow sees a landscape shaped by human life. His photographs take us ever closer to the human instinct to make and leave a mark: signs, barbershops, diners, churches, motels, billboards, libraries, pool halls, roadside stands, war memorials, office buildings, ballparks, metal buildings, wooden structures, amusement parks, general stores, courthouses, shrines, clubs, interiors, exteriors—pieces of a world primarily made by and for men whose lives took shape in the United States before the Second World War and whose marks on our country are at once indelible and changing.

Beginning with photographs Jim Dow made in the late 1960s, this retrospective book covers almost forty years, ending with pictures made at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Dow’s vision grows in part out of the influence of Walker Evans whom he knew and whose negatives he printed for Evans’s Museum of Modern Art retrospective. His work has evolved from his early straight black-and-white photographs to richly complicated color studies of American culture. With few exceptions, his photographs present us with peopleless spaces, but the spaces are never “empty”; they speak to and resonate with the presence of people and communities.

An obsessive photographer, Dow makes images that show how Americans create environments for utility but with transforming aesthetic power, how we find companionship, celebrate our lives and gods, memorialize the past, and make money. In these beautifully composed photographs, made in many different places in the United States, Dow reveals what is both commonplace and monumental in the American experience.

Jim Dow studied graphic design and photography at the Rhode Island School of Design during the 1960s. From that time forward he has been the recipient of numerous commissions, fellowships, and grants that have allowed him to travel and photograph as well as exhibit and publish extensively. His subjects include folk art, roadside architecture, signs, county courthouses, baseball parks, soccer stadiums, private clubs, barbeque joints, and taco trucks. He is fascinated by the way people leave their mark on both the rural and urban landscape and seeks to preserve this through photography. He lives in Boston and teaches at Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.