Along the Ohio, Andrew Borowiec, 2000

Along the Ohio

Andrew Borowiec


The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London

From its formation in Pittsburgh to its confluence with the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, the Ohio River passes through a landscape that is, for photographer Andrew Borowiec, "both exotic and authentically American." Borowiec's eighty duotone images explore the cultural landscape of this region, presenting clapboard houses and white picket fences, pickup trucks and rusting sedans, back yards with satellite dishes or with barbecue grills made from fifty-five-gallon oil drums. The pictures concentrate on the common scenes of everyday life and work, especially in the small, mostly blue-collar towns along the Ohio. While taking these photographs, Borowiec says, he came to realize that "the region's story was central to America's evolution from colonial wilderness to industrial superpower."

Along the Ohio illustrates the current condition of a region that was essential to the economic vitality of the United States. Many factories, once a source of prosperity, lie idle. Houses and banks stand boarded up and rusting machinery litters the river's edge. But Borowiec's camera finds a resilient strength, even among deteriorating homes--carefully mowed lawns or freshly painted fences are signs that residents still strive for pride and the American Dream, despite their less-than-ideal circumstances.

To take his photographs, Borowiec preferred to walk along back alleys, in the belief that the rear of a house tells more about its residents than they might reveal in their front yard. Although there are few pictures with people in them, the human presence is evident in all of these photographs--they capture an environment that has been transformed by its residents. These residents, initially suspicious of this man with a camera, peering over fences, soon responded to Borowiec's interest with local legends and suggestions for places to photograph. In the same way, the photographer clearly grew to identify with his subjects--a fact especially evident in a series of poignant and sympathetic images taken during the 1997 flood and its aftermath.

Borowiec observes in the introduction: "The social and economic condition of the Ohio River valley mirrors that of countless places in the United States where people are not as well off as they once were or as they would like to be." His photographs constitute an original artistic statement about life in the postindustrial United States.

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