by Raymond Smith. Peter Hastings Falk, 2014. 144 p. ill. ISBN 9780932087645 (cl.), $49.00.
Reviewed January 2015
Stacy R. Williams, Reference & Instruction Librarian, USC Libraries, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Time We Shall Know Ourselves features fifty-two black-and-white photographs taken by Raymond Smith during trips along the eastern, southern, midwestern, and southwestern parts of the United States in 1974. Fifteen states are covered in his journey and each photograph provides an unobtrusive look at American society during the seventies.
It is the summer that Richard Nixon will resign as president and less than a year before the Fall of Saigon. In March of 1974 the oil embargo is lifted which allowed Americans to once again travel the roads more freely, perhaps setting the stage for Smith's own road trip. The country is in transition, and Smith's photographs develop multiple themes: family, work, patriotism, and death, among others. He is able to capture a diverse range of Americans as well as representative scenes of the American landscape.
The American flag makes an appearance in three photographs, each time reminding the viewer of the complexity of patriotism and how it can be reimagined through a seemingly simple photograph. For example, in photograph number six, Bourbon Street, New Orleans, a boy sits next to a hand-painted wooden box which depicts the American flag backwards.
The first and last photographs of the book highlight the transitional themes contained throughout it. In the first, Security Guard, Jacksonville, Florida, the subject stares directly at the camera and is engaged with the photographer, while in the last photograph, James River Ferry, Virginia, the subjects' faces are turned away from the camera, uninterested or unaware with what is going on behind them.
In another photograph, Rural Highways, Southern Georgia, after Rainstorm, a roadside sign reads "Christ is the answer," and it is framed by the window of Smith's Volkswagen Beetle. It is a beautiful self-reflexive moment that helps to frame the collection of photographs as a whole. His journey is stark, simple, beautiful, and seeks to answer who we are as Americans through his photographs.
In addition to the images, there are two essays at the end by Richard King and Alexander Nemerov. Richard King, Professor Emeritus of American Intellectual History, University of Nottingham gives us a brief background about Raymond Smith and some of his influences, for example, Walker Evans and August Sander. Alexander Nemerov, Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Stanford University provides a brief analysis of each image as well as historical context about what was happening in 1974.
This book will be of interest to those not only interested in documentary photography but in American Studies as well. It would be a good addition to academic libraries and special collections.