Life of the party: McDermott and Owen do shots

Ross McDermott, "La Faquetigue Courir de Mardi Gras."
Ross McDermott, "La Faquetigue Courir de Mardi Gras."

Ah, the road trip: an all-American tradition, often undertaken with a friend and a theme, say, visiting minor-league ballparks or driving the length of Route 66. Local photographers Ross McDermott and Andrew Owen set off on their own odyssey in a camper fueled by veggie oil with an artistic agenda: to drive cross-country attending festivals and competitions–- large and small, the odder the better–- in order to document what McDermott feared was a vanishing aspect of American life.

Fourteen months, 40,000 miles, and 37 gatherings later, the duo has returned with a transformed outlook.

"Festival life is strong," they write in the statement accompanying their exuberant exhibition, "The American Festivals Project," currently on view at The Bridge.

A giant green map of the U.S., crisscrossed with dotted white lines indicating McDermott and Owen's circuitous route, dominates the main gallery. Hundreds of sticky notes, each with a thumbnail snapshot of a memorable moment, plaster the map and offer insights into the photographers' personal journey, doing away with their anonymity behind the camera.

On the surrounding walls, oversized photographs capture the color and spirit of the myriad events they witnessed, often encapsulated in a portrait of a participant. For instance, McDermott's picture of a little girl in a pink pajama-like costume standing in the middle of a two-lane road, the mask over her eyes slightly askew, captures the homespun aura of La Faquetigue Courir de Mardi Gras in rural Louisiana.

Many of the photographs have a National Geographic sensibility–- not surprising since Natty Geo helped fund the trip–- but many also succeed as stand-alone images beyond their documentary context. Owen's shot of a fish-catching demonstration inside a glass tank at the Okie Noodling Festival in Paul's Valley, Oklahoma, is particularly stunning. In this surreal composition, a disembodied human leg and the tail of a large fish jut from left and right into the center of the frame, hazy with refracted golden sunlight.

The exhibition extends into The Bridge's anteroom, where hundreds of 4" x 6" photos are clipped to five tiers of monofilament. Viewers can flip each image up to read a caption noting the festival and location. Another area features smaller portraits, and in a niche, a monitor screens a video of interviews with festival participants.

The two intrepid, road-tripping photographers conclude, "Americans love to find their tribe and celebrate." Jump in with McDermott and Owen–- they'll show you where all the best parties are!

Ross McDermott and Andrew Owen's "The American Festivals Project" is on view through January 30 at The Bridge. 209 Monticello Road (across from Spudnuts). 985-5669.

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1 comment

Lovely article...lovely work, you!