Picks and Pans Review: Hometowns

UPDATED 01/09/1989 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/09/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

by George Tice

For a book that has no real point to make, this is a most entertaining project. Tice, a New Jersey-based photographer, fills this volume with photographs of the boyhood hometowns of Ronald Reagan (Dixon, III.), James Dean (Fairmount, Ind.) and Mark Twain (Hannibal, Mo.). The closest he comes to explaining a reason for grouping them in one volume is to say, "Three one-of-a-kind Americans, each became a symbol of an era. Different as they are, their Americanness linked them in my mind." He doesn't really have to make any sweeping generalizations though. His photographs add up to a portrait of small-town life whose persistence is both amazing and a pleasure to behold. Residents of modern American cities particularly will be struck with the openness, the expansive horizons, the sheer scarcity of people in these towns. Whether or not such places are more likely than New York or Los Angeles to foster notable people—a most dubious proposition—they are intriguing to ponder in their own right, and Tice's calm, atmospheric style suits them. The decision to include quotes by and about his three famous Americans lets him exploit one of the few foolproof maxims in literature—when in doubt, quote The Autobiography of Mark Twain: "In the small town of Hannibal, Missouri, when I was a boy everybody was poor but didn't know it; and everybody was comfortable and did know it."(New York Graphic Society, $50)

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