Friday, November 30, 2007

Death Trip


I love good titles. A Hollywood producer once said, "You can't sell crap without a good title." This one had a good title. It may be the greatest title ever. I was 15 years old, walking down the aisles of the old University Bookstore in Madison when it hit me: rows and rows of a new book called "Wisconsin Death Trip". That's a title. It's unforgettable. It immediately welcomes the viewer's imagination and (even though at the time of it's release, the "Trip" part of the title was a bit trendy) it was cool.
"Michael Lesy's 1973 book is based on the photographs of 19th century photographs by Wisconsin photographer Charles Van Schaick,taken mostly in the town of Black River Falls, and local news reports from the same period. It shows the harsh aspects of rural life under the pressures of crime, disease, and mental illness."
I had to have it. Since then, I've worn out four copies. My initial reaction was something like this:
"Wisconsin is this ancient, we've got more Indian burial mounds than anybody else place, infected with this strange, imported from way too many european ports Ed Gein copy gene that permeates and somehow intermingles with the "old ones" in a haunted, spirit infested landscape that manifests itself in eccentric behavior and acts of either unsurpassed greatness or stunning, headline grabbing depravity."
I've since come to understand the book as a carefully edited portrait of a society under the backbreaking stress of one of the worst economic depressions to hit this country...with a lot of unusual (even for their time) photographs thrown in.....................hmmmmmm. That's boring.
On second thought, I'll stick to my original interpretation.
Charles Van Schaick
, the death trip photographer, was a true artist. He's right up there with fellow Wisconsin photographers,Edward Steichen and Edward s Curtis.

1 comment:

Jb said...

Couldn't agree more -- "Death Trip" is one of the few, maybe the only, book I've ever read cover-to-cover in a single sitting.

And the pictures really are the best part.