Cherokee, North Carolina, 1996.
Highlands, North Carolina, 1996.
Highlands, North Carolina, 1996.
Long Island, New York.
Sapphire, North Carolina, 1996.
by William McCollum
Donning my hunting jacket with Safe-T
Orange accents, I trek across Soho up to
Cooper Square in the East Village. My
destination is the Cooper Union darkroom
"cage." I'm there to speak to Reuben Cox, a
24-year-old photographer who is a graduate
of the same Cooper Union program that
brought the art world AC2K and Alex Bag.
This particular Saturday Cox happens to be
running the cage. Noting my jacket, he asks
if I'm going squirrel hunting, to which I
reply that I just don't want to be mistaken
for a deer. After shooting the breeze about
music and guitars (Reuben makes them), we
start in on his work.
In 25 and Under: Photographers (W.W.
Norton/Doubletake, New York), a book that
is clearly designed to help identify
important new photography, Reuben Cox is
given pride of place: one of his images
appears on the cover and he is the first
photographer presented in the book. This is
quite a distinction, considering that the
photographers who have influenced him the
most, Helen Leavitt and Gary Winogrand, had
to wait a good deal longer to be published.
Though in the past Cox has used large-
format cameras he made himself, more
recently he has used a 35mm. As a
photographer he is inobtrusive; his images
are, as a result, less documents of events
in time and more about the ambient quality
Cox's work in 25 and Under is culled mostly
from his road trips across the country,
seemingly taken from the collective
consciousness of American travel. For
instance: A moodily lit roadside
restaurant, complete with coffee and a
piece of pie. A dark, rainy exterior of a
gas-station convenience store with a patron
stepping suspiciously off the curb, as if
it were 30 feet down. A young woman
emerging from a wooded path, confronting
the viewer, like the return of Laura Palmer
in Twin Peaks. The phone call from the
roadside pay phone at dusk, a beer backlit
by a headlight. These works are less about
the vastness of America and more about the
intimacies of travel, both fleeting and of
More recently, Cox has been photographing
North Carolina swimming holes. A place of
social interaction, the river makes for
good narrative. It has been a place of
birth (Moses washed up out of one).
Enlightenment can be gotten (Buddha gained
it there). Redemption can be sought (John
the Baptist started a whole tradition). And
death can be had (Ophelia found hers
At Cox's swimming holes we find myth and
history alive in the present. A mother and
child sit on a rock in the water, divinely
lit. Salome dances on a boulder before a
court of beer drinkers. A boy rests against
a rock, his cast shadow creating an image
of a wing at his shoulder.
There is also a darker drama. A teenage
cowboy, with absurdly imposing boots and
scrawny torso, stands victorious, with what
looks like a victim draped over a rock in
the background. He could be one of Cormac
McCarthy's "kids." A water nymph climbs up
onto a rock at the water's edge, looking for
sanctuary. Ophelia seems to make an
appearance just before going under, her
hand clutching a rock in the river's cold,
black stream. Another young boy clutches at
a branch, attempting to cross a stream. His
features are at odds with the sinister
surroundings, perhaps one of the survivors
from Lord of the Flies returning from a
Reuben Cox is a well-balanced, solid
photographer, able to commingle
documentation and art. More than simple
slice-of-life photographs, his pictures
evoke a sense of drama that should prove to
be continually interesting. His work will
be on view in an exhibition accompanying
the publication of 25 and Under:
Photographers at the Aronson Galleries,
(in the Parson School of Art and Design, 66
Fifth Avenue, Dec. 11 - Jan. 17, 1996).
WILLIAM MCCOLLUM is a New York artist
who writes on art and music.