Robert Raczka at the Center for the Arts.

Source: Art in America
Publication Date: 01-OCT-07

The abundance of imagery in this exhibition of photographs by Pittsburgh-based Robert Raczka did not overwhelm the viewer as one might expect, perhaps because the various scenes seem comfortably familiar. The 42 photographs (all approx. 30 by 24 inches) of food, advertisements, signs and symbols, pop-culture items, holiday themes and leisure activities were shot after Raczka set the following project for himself: to carry a camera everywhere as he went about his daily life. If he was at a beach, on vacation, at a Wal-Mart, a casino or a beer distributor and something struck him as interesting, he photographed it.

All the images, shot with a 35mm camera between 2003 and 2006, are unaltered, printed directly from negatives and manifest a snapshot esthetic. Some have blurry sections or unusual lighting; the occasional sense of artifice does not result from the photographer's intervention. For example, in Untitled (9-9), a teenage girl in a 1980s-style mesh top and white miniskirt whose hair is tightly pulled off her face in a ponytail stands in profile beside an array of identical plastic mannequin heads--the kind used for beauty-school practice. The heads are also seen in profile and show the types of hair-braiding commonly done at boardwalk stands and fairs. The girl's profile is so like the mannequins' that she is nearly indistinguishable from them. The somewhat out-of-focus background and less-than-perfect composition suggest that this was anything but a staged shot.

Included among Raczka's photos are a few "insider" art jokes: for example, in Untitled (15-33), a portion of a dusty old poster of the Marlboro man, who so fascinated Richard Prince, can be seen above a Coke machine. A toy-store window displays soldiers that suggest David Levinthal's staged tableaux, and a Mona Lisa lit up in LED lights peeks out from the corner of another composition. Elsewhere Raczka photographs a hulking cement monument decorated with blue paint and various awkwardly crafted cement skulls, all part of an outsider art exhibition.

Some of the best images are slightly sardonic. An array of themed T-shirts printed with beer and Jack Daniels bottles and Confederate flags--a lone, satirical "Desperate Housewife" shirt among them--is obviously intended for a proudly "redneck" demographic. Considering that Raczka's photographs were taken as he went about his own personal day-to-day activities, it is perhaps surprising how familiar much of the imagery seems, revealing how increasingly homogenous the American experience has become.