David Billet and Ian Kline, Rabbit / Hare

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2020 by Deadbeat Club Press (here). Softcover, 72 pages, with 43 black and white photographs. Includes an essay by Tim Carpenter. In an edition of 750 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Rabbit / Hare is also available in a special edition (here). This version includes a signed and numbered photobook, with an archival pigment print (8×10 inches), also signed and numbered. In a specially designed foil stamped slipcase, in an edition of 20 copies.

Comments/Context: Stephen Shore once wrote that “our country is made for long trips”; the road trip genre is essential to American photography. Rabbit / Hare is a collaborative project between two photographers, David Billet and Ian Kline, who in the summer of 2017 set off on a two month road trip from Pennsylvania to Texas. Since both artists had never been there, Texas was their main interest, and they wanted to explore the current political climate as well as their own representation. “The two of us wanted to see, as singular people and as partners, where we fit into this landscape that held so much influence to our understanding and our elders’ understanding of masculinity, America, and life.” Like many photographers before them, Billet and Kline hit the road to explore, to look both inward and outward.

A black and white horizontal photograph of an empty highway is placed vertically on the cover, signaling that we are starting out on the road. A thin black line runs across the cover (roughly dividing it in two), with the words “rabbit” and “hare” appearing at the top and the bottom, like two sides of a coin or a duality, and setting up the pairing of the photographers. The text on the cover is slightly indented adding space and dimension to the typography, a nice design element.

While the cover itself is not particularly exciting, inside the book holds a surprisingly striking visual narrative. All of the photographs in Rabbit / Hare are black and white, and the images are mixed together without explanatory notes or captions identifying the photographers. In referring to Texas, Tim Carpenter notes in his essay that “none of our United States better exemplifies the contradictions of our hopes and fears. Of ours blessings and curses,” but Billet and Kline don’t exploit this curious side of the state. Instead, they use their sensibilities and intuition to show the uncommon grace found in everyday moments.

A flared, atmospheric photograph of spear thistles, a tall prickly and hairy weed, lit by the sunlight, opens the book. It is followed by a shot of a curtained window, a nod to Robert Frank, the ultimate American photographic road tripper. A number of photographs in Rabbit / Hare are taken from inside the car, bringing in the perspective of the road, movement, and fleeting moments. A cat under a car enjoys morning sunlight, and a few spreads later, an inside car shot captures a bird standing on a rear side mirror, the light reflecting off the dirty mirror adding a doubled glare. The photographs constantly play with light and reflections, highlighting the joy of taking unplanned photographs and exploring. 

Darkness takes shape as a silhouetted cowboy seen through the car window, with a star hanging from the rear view mirror, and then as a group of young people as they move in unison, most of them girls; “ALL AMERICAN GIRL” reads the t-shirt of the girl standing upfront, pulling us back to the all American cowboy. One of the most striking photographs in Rabbit / Hare catches a cat in mid-jump (again through the darkness) as it tries to catch a bird; the moment is so perfect, it was likely a shot of a museum diorama, making it all the more magical and surreal.  Photographs of buildings and signage connect back to the influence of Walker Evans, and then more wide streets and open highways take us back out onto the road. 

The openness and curiosity of Billet and Kline’s approach is particularly evident in their portraits of men. They question, or rather try to understand, American masculinity. A cowboy in sunglasses on a horse holds his hat close to his chest, he is rather gentle and candid as he seems to look right at us. Another photo captures a skinny young man from the back as he stands shirtless in the meadow smoking. These portraits show the artists’ search for nuance in human connections. 

Several spreads featured inspired image pairings. A close up of a baptism ritual, with a teenage girl dipping in water as a man’s hands offer support, is matched with a billboard depicting a silhouette with wide open arms. Later in the book, a person sits in a small empty auditorium with the empty screen pulled down and a Confederate flag hanging in the corner; this image is paired with a photo of a man peeking through the curtains, with only one eye, part of his beard, and two fingers showing, like a sneaky voyeur. These juxtapositions offer formal connection and a healthy sense of wry humor. 

The final photograph in the book is a portrait of an elderly woman; her silhouette emerges from the surrounding darkness – deep wrinkles on her face, grey hair lit from side, and just a hint of a nose tell us only a small part of who she is. Seen together, the photographs in Rabbit / Hare offer a small, delicate, and quietly personal portrait of America. There have been endless road trips photography projects, even more in the past few contested years in America, and Billet and Kline were obviously influenced by this tradition. But as they complete their journey, we are not presented with a clear commentary on the current political climate; instead, we see that taking a trip like theirs forces one to confront existing stereotypes. In both mundane and unique moments in the photographs, they show us how to see the world with an open heart. 

Collector’s POV: Ian Kline and David Billet do not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artists via their website (linked in the sidebar).

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