I learned of Brohm only thanks to a joint book he did with Alec Soth, Two Rivers, which I only learned of thanks to, well, I don’t recall. Ohio collects some of his available-light work from a Fulbright Scholarship he won that brought him to study at OSU at the same time that Allan Sekula was teaching there. The work reminds me for all the world of Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects, with a bit of Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places mixed in.
Honestly, there’s not much more to say about it. It’s the early 1980s (1983-1984) in middle America and looks like my childhood, more or less. I don’t feel nostalgic for it, not really, and I grew up in a different part of the country, but I feel a kinship with the scenes and all and dig it.
The book opens with an essay from Thomas Weski that I didn’t make it through. Weski opens with a brief paragraph on Brohm’s Fullbright before spending 3 pages giving a full history of photography education in Germany and only then going back to anything about Brohm or his work. I didn’t make it and don’t expect I missed much.
A couple of pages of Polaroid Studies separate Weski’s historical essay from a more personal one by Vince Leo, who appears in one of the Polaroid sketches that separate his essay from the plates. (So: 2 essays and 2 groups of Polaroids.) Both essays appear in Deutsch (auf der linken seite) und English (on the right). I was put off by the Weski essay to such an extent that I didn’t bother with Leo’s, and shame on me.
That said, I came for the pictures, which are apparently very simple, much like Shore and Sternfeld, and I know I could never make them, and not (only) because I’m photographing 40 years later. It’s clear that he did more than just lift the camera to his eye and click. The scenes are deeply seen and recognized, and everything is just in its place. Brohm didn’t make the jokes that you might find in Sternfeld, and his vision leans more towards the “Democratic” stance of Eggleston, but it’s very much early 1980s sort of work, and I dig it.
One of the pictures, the penultimate one, really knocks me out. Brohm pulled a car up next to a water tower and photographed through the windshield. The water tower looms over a couple of apartment buildings and the car like some sort of B-Movie alien arrival. It’s absolutely great, and living, as I do, next to a very similar water tower, it speaks to me in ways that Brohm could never imagine. And your mileage may vary.
Ohio is rather expensive these days, and I’m sure I paid less than what bookbinder shows (at time of writing). Is it worth $100? Maybe. From my view it’s a sort of deep cut from the Sternfeld/Shore generation and works on all fronts: from color to framing to pacing, it just sings. Maybe Steidl will reprint it one day. We (or you?) can at least hope.