Full disclosure up front: Larry Mills Jr. only shares this reviewer’s family name, not his DNA. For a while, Mr. Mills left Santa Barbara for colder climes out east, places that his wife knew well. The move seemed permanent, but as those of us who have waved goodbye to old friends leaving Santa Barbara know happens often, they returned. (Maybe it’s the kind of weekend we had last Saturday). Fortunately for us he brought back his photographs of that time, and very droll they are, for the exhibition, “I’m Over Here,” at Art Resources Framing & Gallery, through March 29.
Subtitled “Two Years of Getting Lost in New England,” this collection of 40 or so photos discover the odd, trash-strewn and God-fearing backside of the region far outside its usual cliches. Hardly an orchard, or a multi-colored autumn tree, is to be seen in Mr. Mills’ work. These are shots of neighborhoods and back alleys, backwaters and abandoned lots that the tourist bureau would rather you not see.
It’s all in the timing for Mr. Mills. During the height of summer, the boardwalks and seafront of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, are filled with tourists and locals. When Mr. Mills goes on a stroll with his camera, he goes off-season. He shoots structures that have lost their purpose, like an abandoned pier with just the hint of a structure on top remaining. There’s a racetrack, one supposes for go-carts, looking sad and needy in the low mist, lined with rubber tire bumpers. In one of his best shots, a waterpark’s labyrinthine tubes now look silly and abstract without riders to traverse its ways. Off to the left of this park sits a church with a white spire, because entertainment and salvation walk hand in hand in Mr. Mills’ universe. (That waterpark can also be seen in another of his photos, languishing far in the misty, wet background of an empty parking lot, save for a singular parked car.)
When there isn’t tourism, there’s always Jesus, and Mr. Mills is attracted to these working class displays of fervor and faith. In one jokey shot, a Pathfinder SUV is parked in front of a religious statue. The building behind it is all red brick, most probably is some sort of church. That it’s a “Pathfinder” is all irony, and the saint of the statue — whoever it may be — is hemmed in by both nature (a very old tree), the alcove of the building, and the parked cars. The path out is not so easy here.
In another photo a sign declaring “Trust Jesus” sits all alone in a storefront window in Beverly, Massachusetts, although all the windows have been painted over, opaque. And in a more obvious dichotomy, a graveyard is located in front of a strip club promising “Totally Nude Ladies!!”
Other buildings hint at a seaside town far beyond the frame of the photos. A stone fish sits in somebody’s window, its mouth agape. A painted shrimp crawls up a non-descript building.
Fortunately, Mr. Mills is back in town again and is applying his aesthetic of (sub)urban decay to Santa Barbara’s streets as well. “I’m Over Here” is both hilarious and sad, painting dreams of a time that maybe never was, with no hope of a future economic windfall. Maybe the most prophetic photo here is of four tires resting on an East Boston shoreline: the car made it all the way to the port, but found the mode of transport lacking. It had no option but to disappear.
Larry Mills Jr., ‘I’m Over Here’
When: Through March 29, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday,
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday; Closing reception 5-8 p.m. Saturday, March 29.
Where: Art Resources Framing & Gallery, 512 E. Haley St.
Information: 966-6923, artresourcesframing.com