Ray Potes, Hamburger Eyes: Inside Burgerworld (Miss Rosen Editions, powerHouse Books, February 2008)
Allen Ginsberg, in the epilogue to his photography book, describes his photos as “celestial snapshots in a sacred world, recording certain moments in eternity with a sense of sacramental presence. The sacramental quality comes from an awareness of the transitory nature of the world, and awareness that it’s the one and only occasion when we’ll be together.” Ginsberg took his cue from Swiss-born American photographer Robert Frank, who stood on the shoulders of Depression-era photo documentarians of the American social landscape, artists like Walker Evans and Marion Post Wolcott.
It is with a foothold in this tradition, and a loose kinship with the children-at-play approach of such contemporaries as Ryan McGinley, that the photographers of Hamburger Eyes impact visual art and culture and subcultures. Started in 2001 by brothers Ray and Dave Potes and friends, San Francisco-based Hamburger Eyes has evolved from a stapled and photocopied photography zine with a print run of 30, into a periodical with a print run of 3,000—and now this bound version in black-and-white under the auspices of powerHouse Books.
Photographers Stefan Simikich, Jason Roberts Dobrin, the Potes brothers, and other contributors uphold the value of moments that occupy in-between spaces, impulsive contexts that—in flashes, stop motion, sharp contrast, pearly grains and blurs—evoke personal and social subtexts. Like Ginsberg, for this group, the world’s photographable spectrum is captured in fleeting glimpses and brief encounters in monochrome. Unlike Ginsberg, who snapped photos of his familiars, their art comes off as a streetwise affair with no second chances.
Many of the book’s pages are composites of several photographs arranged to heighten the effects of corresponding visual elements: sitting in a restaurant, studying a menu, a girl in a hoodie reaches behind her head, her right arm suspended in a snug arc; on the adjacent page, occupying a sidewalk, begging money with a soda cup and a shuffle, a bearded man reaches behind his back, his right arm suspended in a pinched angle. Individual photos coexist to establish and provoke feelings of the eternal in the everyday—the wait before an order is taken, before pocket change is given.
Inside Burgerworld takes the reader on a pictorial tour of sites past their prime, of lifestyles, faces, bodies, and scenes that together strike a range of human emotions—a disinterested child sitting atop a model deer at the famed Wall Drug mall (Wall, SD); a woman in high-waisted jeans showing off a trio of cotton candies; a spraypainted announcement on a crumbling shed advertising a concealed handgun course; a somber-looking man, post-sacramental, on Ash Wednesday; a Hell’s Angels cemetery plot; a lone, shag-haired partier having too good a time; the aftermath of a night spent drinking; two men grinning, transcending their missing limbs—the images are edited into a record of what we tend to see, in one form or another, but lose track of in our storehouse of visual impressions.
Hamburger Eyes: Inside Burgerworld keeps alive the tradition of black-and-white photography (film and digital) with edge, insight, and humor; for this alone it is a welcome contribution. Whether Hamburger Eyes is or ever will be—to quote editor Ray Potes—an “epic nectar,” “equal to the power of the human brain,” capable of “revolutioniz[ing] humanity,” is up for debate. At the very least the photos take a stab at capturing humanity, and in many instances succeed—a good thing, since our memories can use all the help they can get.