The book is a celebration of Dan Graham's first magazine article. It appeared in the December 1966/January 1967 issue of the small circulation 'Arts Magazine' and the editors drastically cut the copy and discarded all the original illustrations except one: a Florida developer's ranch house with floor plan. Since this first publication the article has taken on a life of its own. Odd in a way because it is quite short and I didn't think it offered any particular insight regarding American tract housing. A spread in the book features ten versions in various publications up to 1976. These repeat the original text but use different photos from Graham's New Jersey field trips.
The book is in three sections: thirty-six New Jersey photos from 2006; three essays; thirty-eight New Jersey photos from the sixties and seventies. In the first essay, by Mark Wigley, Graham admits his photography is never more than a hobby, the work of a resolute amateur. The sixties photos were taken with an Instamatic and the 2006 ones with a cheap point-and-shoot one. As I looked through the pages I became aware of tilting uprights, soft focus, washed out color and several confusing shots with reflections looking through windows. But these are working photos (to be used in slide shows for example) tightly cropped to emphasize the area of interest and in the same amateurish style as the student shots used in Venturi and Scott Brown's 'Learning from Las Vegas'. It's rather unfortunate that all the photos are presented one to a page in the classic photo book style which I think gives them much more credence than they deserve.
Apart from the three essays Graham writes, in the first photo portfolio, short intros to the seven cites and towns he photographed and contributes captions to many of the photos, commenting on the architectural style, the environment and the New Jersey and Staten Island working-class communities where he grew up. Of the three essays (over forty-two pages) I thought Mark Wigley's the most interesting. He reveals the background to the Homes for America article and Dan Graham's working methods. The two other essays are by Mark Wasiuta, one a Q and A with Graham and the other a full blown academic analysis with sentences like:
Yet Mallarme's "book" is described in terms that might be understood as a nonsolipsistic prescription for a form of confusion or interpretation between linguistic systems and objects, and as a procedure for operating on conventions of linearity, narration, and temporality - all terms that informed Graham's serial, permutational projects.
The book seemed to me a rather indulgent look at some bland, amateur photos of New Jersey tract housing. George Tice with his two books: 'Urban landscapes' and Patterson II' did a much better job of photographing the gritty cites of New Jersey and Barbara Kelly's 'Expanding the American dream: building and rebuilding Levittown' summed up tract housing concisely.