It Speaks to Me: Judy Fiskin on Joe Deal

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This photograph, from a series Joe [Deal] did in a housing development 10 miles east of L.A., uses a bird’s eye view, just elevated enough to eliminate the horizon line. I like to think of him lurking in the hills and peering into people’s backyards. Here you are drawn to the giant shape in the middle. At first you think it’s a swimming pool and then you can see it’s a patch of grass, with some trees planted on it. But it’s strange: the teardrop shape makes more sense as a pool; as grass you wonder where it came from. Another odd thing is that they put their lawn furniture and swing set in the dirt around the grass. And the yard next door is totally scrub. Joe was grouped with Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and other photographers who also looked at the suburban sprawl of the 1960s and ’70s, but unlike them he always said he was not interested in making a critique, just in being a neutral observer. I think one clue as to what he was after is that he did this series at a point when the houses were up but the land was still raw. He at least wants you to be thinking about the point when what is there now meets what was there before.

—Artist Judy Fiskin, as told to Jori Finkel