This Train: Justine Kurland's Life on the Road
Justine Kurland's life on the road began as a child. Her mother and siblings would travel up and down the East Coast to make a living selling crafts at Renaissance fairs. Long before cell phones and our modern “van life” era, Kurland inherited certain types of knowledge: how to get by in a nomadic mode, how to build out a livable van and how to raise children on the journey.
So when Kurland took to the road to hone her own craft she mirrored much of what she had learned from the family business. Unfettered by the social constructs that dominate and define the norms of family; from pregnancy through the first decade of her child’s life, they traversed America together with a 4×5 camera. In 2005 when her toddler expressed a love for trains Kurland followed, picturing their roaming home as a family album and juxtaposing it with the train’s dominance in the landscape. Forming a parallel track, each framed work in This Train contains two back-to-back photographs, one appearing in plain sight and the other about-face. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, upon the viewer’s request, the gallery will reveal the hidden sides.
While the work is seen as participating in the American tradition of road photography, this exhibition highlights the shadow narrative. As Lily Cho writes in This Train, Kurland’s work “captures the ghostly remainders at the ragged edges of myth and triumph,” offering “a fantasy that works against fantasy.” In the seeming stillness of these images, the photographer denounces the myth of conquest over nature. At the same time, the work engages a dichotomy of our construction of family—the opposition between home and road, domesticity and journey, staying and seeking. Between these threads, Kurland reappraises an interwoven set of paradigms which retain a tenacious grip on contemporary American life. By placing these myths side by side, Kurland’s images capture a life somewhere in between.