Impromptu memorials to traffic crash victims have become a common, if rogue, element of the American landscape. They linger for years, often well tended, in the no-man's land between highways and private property.
Most people speed past them, paying little attention. Mowing crews take care to go around them. Vandals and thieves rarely bother them, as if acknowledging the spot's special significance to loved ones of the departed.
For the past six years, Phillip March Jones has been stopping, looking closely at each memorial, taking a Polaroid photograph and recording the location's GPS coordinates. He has done this from New York to California, and, because he lives in Lexington, all over Kentucky.
Jones has collected 139 of these photographs in a book, Points of Departure (Jargon Society, $40). He'll sign the book Saturday at The Morris Book Shop.
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"I had always been interested in roadside memorials on several levels," said Jones, an artist, writer and curator who started Institute 193, a non-profit contemporary art space at 193 North Limestone, and who is director of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta, which promotes appreciation for vernacular visual arts of the black South. "These memorials speak to a basic human need to create in response to death."
Jones said he has always been interested in art created by people who might not consider themselves artists. Jones doesn't consider himself a photographer, either.
"I wasn't trying to study them as art objects," he said, or even to make great photographs of them. Jones said he just wanted to document and catalog the memorials in a way that readers, who might otherwise speed by them at 60 mph, could slow down and take a look.
Jones chose to use Polaroid film, a pre- digital technology for creating "instant" pictures. It seemed appropriate because police once used Polaroids to create unalterable images at accident scenes as evidence.
Points of Departure is the 114th book published by the Jargon Society, a press started by two poets, Thomas Meyer and the late Jonathan Williams. Over the years, the North Carolina-based press has specialized in avant-garde works of literature and photography, although its most famous title was the 1986 best-seller White Trash Cooking.
Meyer wrote an introductory essay, but other than GPS coordinates showing where each photograph was taken (except for one, left out by mistake), there is little more explanation. Jones said he wrote an essay about the project, then decided not to include it.
"I wanted the images to speak for themselves; I was never trying to inject meaning into them," Jones said. "It's in the spirit of Jargon. There's a bit of poetry in it all."