This essay is a part of the exhibition catalogue for the 2021 show PLEASERE TURNCART SHERE featuring the photographic works of Nicholas Seitz.
I will admit that I was a bit skeptical when Nick first told me about this series of photographs. I would have been much more skeptical had the series been created by another artist, and perhaps would not have given it the consideration it deserves; but it was Nick, and I know how deeply he considers his actions, how meticulously he attends to detail, and how hard he works at his craft. Because of my friendship and respect for him, I was open to spending time with this series of photos he made, and by doing so I have found far more richness in them than I ever expected. However, not everyone can know Nick the same way I’m privileged to, so I hope to offer, as an alternative entryway, some observations about this collection of images and why they truly worth your attention.
Printed for you in this book, [title of work here] is a series of 840 photographs of a shopping cart corral in the parking lot of an abandoned store. That much may seem obvious, but after my initial instinct to rush into interpreting meaning and symbology in the images, I was surprised by how compelling they were on their own terms, without me having to read them as commentary on late Western Capitalism or the history of photography, or as a jumping-off point for any other conceptual topic. On the opposite side, I was impressed that these images were not thoughtless repetitions that only exist as an artifact to document the great efforts of the artist, like a video of someone doing pull-ups recorded to impress me. Instead, Nick’s achievement occurs in how he is able to use a vast range of photographic techniques to capture a highly varied set of images from a very restricted circumstance. Some photographs are conventionally representational and help us see the natural setting, but many others are highly abstract, geometric, architectural, impressionistic, cinematic, and even painterly. The images help the eyes to become sensitive to the full microcosm that surrounds the corral, and I came to realize that “840 photographs of a shopping cart corral” is perhaps the most unjust description one could offer for this work.
In another artist’s hands, this may not have been true. An immature artist may have taken 10 or 20 of these images in an attempt to capture some spirit of gritty urban realism. Perhaps a more clever artist would have seen the ironic possibilities of taking 100 or so photographs of the corral to revel in its apparent absurdity. Standing apart from these examples, the sheer scale of 840 photographs implies something much different, and demands serious consideration due to the time and effort required for their capture and editing. I found myself intimidated by the number when I first began looking through the series, but the images drew me in, and began to sensitize me to the space and objects being captured. Certain series of quieter images are suddenly disrupted by a forceful composition or vivid color found in the next, each time eliciting both my surprise and satisfaction. Again and again, Nick’s patience in capturing every possible manner of image brought to my attention details that I could have never seen myself. Moreover, I realize that this is only able to happen by virtue of the large number of images, because however creative 10 or 20 of the best images could have been, such a limited number would have reduced the objects, environment, and scenario into means to the ends of an artistic shot. By providing such a number of images, I was led to become personally acquainted with the details of the corral, lights, trees, animals, and the sky beyond.
So what of the corral? What makes this lone structure a viable subject and able to sustain such attention? I think firstly, there is an underlying humor present in the corral that imbues the whole series. Any abandoned object always bears with it a certain faint ridiculousness born of uselessness, because it is no longer performing its primary intended function yet lacks the self awareness to be anything less than sincere. Take the sign as an example: I was regularly amused by how the phrasing of its words and the ramrod-straight uprightness of the post gives the impression of a robot at Disney World after the apocalypse, still offering polite greetings and instructions to the wildlife as they meander through the rubble. Humor is surprise that produces joy, and since this particular corral has ceased to fulfil its intended design, unexpected associations emerge for us to experience and relish. Complimenting the humor in these images, however, is a secondary sense of sadness. After all, abandonment is rarely ideal, and unlike the many disposable things that are meant to break down after their use is completed, the corral is clearly not one of them. Built to withstand exposure to the sun, wind, and rain, as well as the constant abuse from metal shopping carts being shoved in and pulled out, the corral has not only lasted; it has outlasted, and continues to stand as a sentinel in the space it commands. Yet even in the photographs, it is not fully abandoned. The trees keep it company and its fellow, the lamppost, still shares its light. Even as the metal, four-wheeled beasts of burden are absent from resting in the corral’s curiously bedframe-like form, the birds and the bugs still find its steel rails more than sufficient for their perches. Humor, sadness, possibility, continuation — all these things are hinted at by the corral and its surroundings, and amply justify the decision to make it the organizing subject of the series.
As a result of spending time with the work, my initial assumptions have been changed. My skepticism is chastened, and my faith in my friend, validated. One of the marks of good art is that it changes you for the better. Too often, I come to a work as if it is entirely passive, ready to impose myself upon it such that when I come away, I’ve only confirmed what I already think. By demanding my patience, my time, and my attention, [title of work here] not only satisfied my questions about itself, but asked questions back to me that require my own reflection. If I’m honest, my lived experience is very much like my initial experience of these images. I spend an enormous amount of time with the same people, the same objects, and the same daily patterns of living. It is terribly easy to lose focus, let everything blur together, and find myself clambering for cheap novelties to satisfy my blinded eyes and deafened ears. These 840 images beckon me to reopen my attention toward the normal, the common, the humble, and the forgotten. As I think about turning my eyes back towards the valuable possibilities hidden in the world around me, perhaps you will consider how these photographs are a gift that can teach you to do the same.