Jake Reinhart, Where the Land Gives Way

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Deadbeat Club (here). Softcover, 56 pages, with 40 color reproductions. In an edition of 300 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.) Where the Land Gives Way is also available in a special edition (here). This version (in an edition of 30) comes with an archival pigment print (4.5″ x 5.5″), a rusty nail from Western PA, and a stamped envelope with cover sticker. Signed and numbered.

Comments/Context: Jake Reinhart’s life is deeply rooted in the land and local community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The photographer was born there, grew up there, studied there, and still lives there today. He has been a first hand witness as the city has changed over the decades, its aging steel mills transformed into new industries, with cycles of growth, decay, and reconstruction an ever present rhythm. Reinhart and his wife continue living in the same neighborhood where their parents and families grew up, and the house they live in today was built by Reinhart’s wife’s grandfather. This profound connection to family and the land, and the sense of belonging they create, are essential to Reinhart.

Like many American photographers who have closely observed their local towns and surroundings, Reinhart is interested in the idea of place, his long-term presence giving him insight into the nuances of the changes going on and the subtle patterns of the people who have been living in the area for generations. His first publication Where the Land Gives Way is a softcover zine that offers an understated look at his hometown. The image tipped in on the blue cover depicts shelves crowded with numerous trophies, awards, and medals, and while we don’t know anything about the person who collected them, or what achievements they might celebrate, there is an immediate sense of dedication, continuity, and history, mixed with the quiet nostalgia of forgotten triumphs and memories long past.

Reinhart doesn’t make any overt reference to Pittsburgh in this body of work and visually the narrative stands in contrast to more common views of numerous bridges the city is known for. Reinhart’s Pittsburgh is calm and settled (some might say depressed), not unlike many Rust Belt towns in middle America. His depiction challenges the existing stereotypes of the city, with a sense of reassurance that feels attentive and comfortable. His pictures are rooted in the textures of passing time, where remembrance and history quietly intrude on everyday life.

The first photograph inside shows a blossoming tree in front of a house – its branches are so spread out that its white flowers completely block the building, leaving only lower part of it visible from the outside. The image leaves no doubt that the tree and the house have been there for a long time, witnessing the changes and development of the surrounding area. The book goes on to mix landscapes, portraits, and cityscapes, inextricably connecting the land that defines the place, the people who inhabit it, and the various structures that these residents have built.

Reinhart starts by setting the stage with a series of nature images, many steeped in the changing of the seasons – wild dry grass in the forest, a limb of a deer on the leaf covered ground, a pile of rocks next to the flowing water, and a flock of birds in the sky. He then intermingles an image of a green landscape with a row of private houses on a hill on the edge of Pittsburgh, bringing in the human presence.

As the pages turn, Reinhart documents a selection of unassuming residents of Pittsburgh and its outskirts: most of the portraits were taken outside and his subjects generally look straight back at the camera, seemingly comfortable and relaxed in front of the photographer. A middle aged couple stands in the road – she wears a yellow jacket with stripes and he has a bulky faux fur coat with a hood. This is followed by a stylish young woman posing with her son who holds sweet ice likely found at the outside weekend event happening just behind them. These portraits and others like them are filled with unadorned honesty, the kind of interactions that reveal the small details of overlooked lives.

One spread depicts a young couple standing on the back porch of their house; they look serious and focused. The image on the right side shows their house from a different angle. In the last images in the book, Reinhart introduces more homes and buildings, showing us the humble aging surfaces of the city. One of the most striking portraits is a young man standing in the doorway of his wood shingled house; through the glass of the door, he stares straight at the camera, the structured image full of cramped isolation and loneliness. These are the modest overlooked residents of Pittsburgh who have watched as the place has changed. Reinhart says “I’m captivated by my home and the reasons why people live here. In the physical landscape I see nature adapting to what is, while trying to hold onto what was. I believe this is a metaphor for the culture of this region”.

One of the last images in the book captures a backyard lit with sun, with a tire swing hanging from the tree. It’s a classic motif of bygone America. Perhaps it takes Reinhart back to childhood memories, or reminds him of his roots and connections to this place. Where the Land Gives Way is filled with this kind of understated reminiscing, where a subtle undercurrent of homesickness seeps into the muted realities of the present.

Collector’s POV: Jake Reinhart does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked above).

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Read more about: Jake Reinhart, Deadbeat Club Press

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