The Design Observer Group


Posted 07.28.11


Leigh Merrill

North Texas Strip





The scenes of North Texas presented in this portfolio are all digitally constructed; as such they explore the ways in which our built environments consist of composites of different architectural styles and cultures, created over time in different eras. Ranging from urban to rural scenes, these images remind us that the personal and cultural mythologies of the American West — and maybe especially Texas — have long been romanticized and shaped by images, including movies as well as photographs.

While exploring a city or neighborhood, I create thousands of individual photographs and then digitally manipulate, assemble and reassemble these photographs to create new images. Each image is typically made from tens to hundreds of bits and pieces of different photographs. Some of the images depict completely imaginary places. Some act more like visual hyperbole — or a tall tale — where I have recreated and embellished a scene I actually saw.


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The image Texas Paint and Wallpaper, for instance, depicts a storefront painted with a mural characterizing the Old West. In my image this mural extends well beyond the frame, and the blue of the mural sky blends into the blue of the actual sky; so when viewing this image there is a moment when one representation blurs into the other. The blue Texas sky seen in this particular image is the same sky that I've used in every one of the photographs in this series. I've moved around the cloud pattern slightly, and lightened or darkened the sky, but on close inspection one discovers they are the same sky. This repetition was a way to comment on the classic big blue sky associated with Texas as well as to play on the idea of a backdrop, as if these images are all just stage sets.

One of the more urban scenes depicts a Jeep advertisement on a giant billboard in Dallas, with a large empty parking lot in the foreground. The ad shows a Jeep driving off-road through the redwoods of the California coast. Here I want to reference the idea of manifest destiny coming full circle, where the West Coast meets the Southwest. One of the recent Jeep campaign slogans is, "The Things We Make, Make Us," which is the title of this photograph. This slogan seems to me to add a wonderful layer of irony and humor, with its layered evocations of Americanism and capitalism and their environmental and political implications. It also plays directly with the ways in which the ideas of the Southwest and West are continually built into and referenced in our contemporary landscape. Moreover, the slogan perfectly encapsulates the reason why I continue to make photographs, which is a curiosity about how The Things We Make, Make Us.