Miles Coolidge b. 1963, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Chromogenic print, face-mounted to acrylic
30 x 39 inches (76.2 x 99.1 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Purchased with funds contributed by the Photography Committee, 1998
1994 Miles Coolidge
Miles Coolidge's photographs of suburban and industrial landscapes are impassive portraits of contemporary alienation. His works, among them Industrial Buildings and Police Station, Kids-R-Us, McDonald's (both 1994) from his Safetyville series (1994–95), document banal spaces where the possibility of human existence has nearly been evacuated. At first glance the twenty color prints of Safetyville seem to depict views of an anonymous, suburban town in America. Upon closer inspection, however, the details become less plausible and the scenes less convincingly real. Safetyville is, in fact, only a model, a miniature town built at one-third scale in Sacramento, California, and designed to teach children about pedestrian safety. The flatness of Coolidge's images of the site further underscores the distorted logic of the child-sized buildings, which are mere facades like structures on a movie set. In part a commentary on rampant American consumerism, the images draw attention to the corporate logos adorning the buildings. Those brand names, such as McDonald's and Procter and Gamble, become markers of identification and comfort.
In his more recent series, Mattawa (2000), addressing a housing development for migrant farm workers in Washington state, Coolidge pushes the social critique of Safetyville even further. Mattawa #9, one work from this series of fourteen photographs, depicts rows of shipping containers that have been converted into worker dwellings. The narrow form of the containers stand in stark contrast to the mountains and fields that lie beyond their cold, geometric confines. Ironically, the workers are dehumanized as they are forced to inhabit the containers in which the fruits of their labor are transported. In both Safetyville and Mattawa, signifiers of daily life and human use, such as weathered facades, tattered signs, and cracked pavement, are mingled with an uncanny sense of absence. Employing an unlikely pairing, Coolidge fuses social commentary with a flat, formalist aesthetic.