Work > The Promise

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Self-Produced Artist Book
by: Rebecca Holbrook

202 Pages, 3 Chapters

Self-Published First Edition 2013, 15 copies

The Promise chronicles the July 2011 road trip that Holbrook took to be present with her grandfather at the time of his death, which occurred less than twenty-four hours after departing from home. Separated into literal chapters of text and photographs that represent an infinite, yet accelerated and omni-directional, sense of time, The Promise activates ideas concerning loss and redemption. This work specifically presents a long-term contemporary commentary that examines and investigates Appalachia as a place embedded in familial history. The Promise also actively engages the use of the archive as a means of collection – further depicting the importance of time and the simultaneous involvement and reenactment of past, present, and future.

Holbrook’s grandfather relocated from eastern Kentucky to the eastern coast of Florida in the 1980s. It was from this journey that he never returned ‘home’ to dwell full- time, but rather, remained in Florida until his untimely passing in 2011. The absence of Holbrook’s grandfather from her childhood – the developmental stages of life and memory – was as profound as the presence of other significant family members that have been recalled in past works. The majority of Holbrook’s childhood memories of her grandfather exist only through the aid of photographs – the visual reminder and stimulus that afforded her the ability to reminisce of their past relationship. Only a few months before his death, Holbrook received her grandfather’s Nikon Instamatic camera as a gift from her father. Later, this same camera was used to photograph him in the minutes after his death. Prior to this experience in July, Holbrook began photographing ‘home’ months before as an attempt to reconnect with her grandfather on another level – if not physically, then visually. Documenting Appalachia was a way to record change, or a lack of it, in a landscape that is often stereotyped as anti- progressive and ‘timeless.’ Holbrook’s intention was that the photographs would ensure that her grandfather would remain a vital part of her continuing existence and attempt to re-introduce him to the rural Appalachian landscape he was familiar with years prior. Photographing with her grandfather’s camera served as a means of welcoming him back home in the final moments of his life.

Documenting the current state of Appalachia is significant and relevant in our contemporary time. While referencing traditional representations of the region, The Promise is placed in a contemporary spatial and temporal framework; changes within the dynamic, evolving physical and material American landscape environment coincide with the reciprocal movements of experience, of history. In recent political gestures, the uprising of mid-America represents a conflict that has commonly been associated with Appalachia. As Appalachians and American citizens, disregarding divisions associated with either prestige or regionalism, we (still) reside in a country disconnected from the institution, but united by the commonality of the American spirit. The Promise tells the story of a displaced American in crisis: at the time of his death, Holbrook’s grandfather was experiencing the eventual end to his third marriage, heavy debt by medical bills that privatized health insurance would not cover, the decline of his profession as a realtor in a thriving market, and the foreclosure of his Florida home. These situations recall notions of the ‘flawed’ and questionable American Dream, a “damn the man” reference, a reminder of the ‘cost’ of being ‘free,’ and a lingering feeling that these ‘promises’ may never be unbroken – any resolution is plagued with unbearable uncertainty. Through storytelling and reminiscing of past experiences, connections spanning several years of time and distant spaces can be made. Ultimately, this space – the road – initially separated Holbrook and her grandfather, but later was the one that bound them.

The Promise exists as a 202-page, hard bound, self-produced artist book. The first-edition of The Promise includes fifteen numbered copies. Included in the book are reproductions of traditionally typed text (typewriter ink on Xerox paper and index cards) and traditionally printed 5x7 inch silver gelatin photographs, each chronologically numbered and cataloged. Each book is a reproduction of the original (analog) book layout that includes the initial (first draft) text pages/documents and images.


+ Special Thanks to Beck and Orr Book Binding in Columbus, Ohio