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William Brumfield’s new book Lost America has just appeared!

In the summer of 2023, the A. V. Shchusev National Museum of Architecture displayed the photographic exhibit “Lost America” by the William Craft Brumfield, the American historian of Russian architecture, photographer, and professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University. The show presented the artist’s view of disappearing urban spaces, trivial — at first glance — structures, whose mystery exposes to view another, intriguing, quiet America.

Today, in a continuation of the exhibit, “Tri kvadrata” Publishers presents William Brumfield’s book “Lost America”.

In Brumfield’s words: "The book "Lost America", based on photographs from my exhibit of the same name at the A. V. Shchusev Museum of Architecture, is a statement of my understanding of photography as an art form. Most of the photographs were taken in the mid-1970s when I was already beginning to comprehend the role of photography in my interpretation of Russian culture. But at the same time, I was mysteriously drawn to American corners — often forgotten or abandoned — that captured the essence of what photography could express. A photograph is uniquely of the moment and yet it is capable of expressing, implying, the eternal process of change in the world. The five sections in this book examine the transcendental nature of process in static objects, moments that capture the transformation caused by abrasion, neglect, abandonment, or simply weathering--the gentle action of waves sculpting the most striking forms over unimaginable time".

“Lost America” is a project about the value of the alienated vision, which finds its aesthetic in de-aestheticized spaces — destroyed building, abandoned storefronts, surfaces with torn and layered posters.

The history of William Brumfield’s activity as well as the fate of the “Lost America” project are closely intertwined with Russia. William Craft Brumfield was born on June 28, 1944, in Charlotte, North Carolina in the American South. In 1966 Brumfield completed a bachelor’s degree in Russian language at Tulane University in New Orleans and then a Master’s Degree in Slavic Languages at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught the Russian language and received a doctoral degree in 1973. In the summer of 1970 Brumfield made his first trip to the USSR as a participant in a teachers’ exchange with Moscow State University. The 120 slide photographs that he brought back from that trip formed his first photographic experience. In 1979 William received an offer to direct a study program for American students in Moscow, which became a means to again travel to Russia and continue his research. Since1988 Brumfield has completed regular expeditions to the Russian North. As a result, several comprehensive works appeared, all illustrated with the author’s photographs. In 1996 there appeared Lost Russia: Photographing the Ruins of Russian Architecture where the object of research became abandoned architectural monuments in various corners of Russia.

As for his photographs of America, it was the book Lost Russia that stimulated Brumfield to thoughts of display what had at one time seemed “rough drafts”. When Brumfield was asked “What does Russia mean for you?” he answered: “Russia is the country where I found myself”. Lost Russia convinced Brumfield to return to his original American work, to that early searching, to show that America as an inseparable part of his soul. “Without Russia, my America could not have been realized” ,he wrote in one of his essays.

Almost fifty years have passed between the creation of the photographs and their display today at the Museum of Architecture. The majority were taken between 1976 and 1979 when, preparing for a prolonged research trip to Russia, Brumfield refined his mastery of photography and searched for his deep identity as an artist.

Brumfield explained: “In 1974 I began teaching as an assistant professor at Harvard University, and there I truly learned about photography. Even though I believed that Russia would be the focus, at the same time I intensively photographed in America with a dedication to revealing a transcendental mystery in abandoned, ruined or seemingly ordinary places”.

This bilingual edition (Russian and English) contains 96 photographs taken by the American photographer in the 1970s and early 1980s from five areas in the South and East Coast of the United States. Lost America has five sections (like the exhibit): Roxbury (Boston), Cambridge, Southern Dreams, Three Places in New England, and Archean Motifs.

  • The first section is devoted to Roxbury and portrays urban ruins, some of which became the canvas for the street art of the artist Dana Chandler, whose work inspired Brumfield. This environment became the source for images of robust color.
  • The second section, taken from forgotten corners of Cambridge, includes a décollage series focusing on the weathered tearing away of radical political posters, which creates a unique urban palimpsest. The artist gives special attention to the texture of the posters and their decontextualized words.
  • The third section, “Southern Dreams”, contains photographs taken during existential trips to the South, to the native places of his ancestors: to North Carolina, where William’s mother was born, and to New Orleans, the area of his father’s family. The photographs appear to be taken without purpose, yet the author reveals a visionary moment, the ironic absurdity of human intrusion into a natural setting.
  • The fourth part, “Three Places in New England”, presents a series of road sketches — Walden Pond; Mt. Auburn Cemetery; Montpelier, Vermont. Certain images here are lyrical, others are strange, alienated, depopulated that present another, transcendental America.
  • The fifth and final part, “Archean Motifs”, focuses on an exposed granite section of the Blue Hill Bay shoreline near Brooklin, Maine. The granite forms photographed in this section do not date from the Archean Eon, but there is a symbolic connection — granite merging with the sea as geology merges with the creation myth (the dry land separated from the waters).

The book opens with essays by the Architecture Museum director, Natalya Shashkova (“The Creative Path of William Brumfield”); the exhibit curator, Mark Akopian (“The ‘Lost America’ Exhibit in Moscow”); and a text by William Brumfield himself (“The Genesis of William Brumfield’s ‘Lost America’”).

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