Picks and Pans Review: American Beauty

updated 11/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

photographs by David Graham

Graham's lively photographs of backyards, porches, playgrounds, interiors and the people who inhabit them generate a kind of hum. It is the sound of people busily, lovingly putting their own stamp on their surroundings. Lawns have been mowed, ornaments set out, flowers planted, satellite dishes put up, murals painted, scenic outlooks established. And everything is neat and clean. Graham's pictures are about the pursuit of happiness. Most of the people in his pictures look as if they've found it—however quaint or humble it might appear—and that it has been worth the effort. Donald Sloan of Pueblo, Colo., a rail-thin, elderly gent in striped suspenders and soft slippers, sits happily on his porch in a red metal chair cushioned with a length of roughly cut industrial foam. Behind him are his dog, several blooming planters and an enormous air-conditioning unit that looks as if it could cool the whole block, let alone his house. Then there's Earl McCarty, who's sitting near the window of his grocery and hardware store in Hopbottom, Pa. On the paneled wall behind him are family pictures, a pinned-up American flag and a radio on a handmade shelf. Earl looks out dourly at the photographer, not flattered, not embarrassed, just quietly in charge. Graham, who, with his wife, Jeannine, logged 200,000 miles over eight years to produce this book, seems to like Earl. The book's humor is pervasive, but none of it is meanspirited. The title is clearly meant to be taken ironically, but not completely so. The colors in the photographs are assertive, lush, complex, and so are the visual rhythms and spatial relationships that arise from them. These pictures in fact seem to be emblems of the photographer's own pursuit of happiness, as personal but accessible as that of his subjects. (Aperture, $25)

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