In his 1835 book Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention….” Modern travelers are still confronted by the fact that the U.S. is a nation of the faithful. Along America’s highways, byways and back roads, churches are as common as fast food restaurants, crosses punctuate the landscape, and it is almost certainly possible to drive coast to coast while scanning up and down the dial from one radio ministry to another. Given this bounty of faith-based material, it was only a matter of time before photographers turned their lenses on one of the most widespread of these phenomena—religious signs. Now two new books feature collections of photos that document America’s many roads to God.
In The Great American Book of Church Signs, (Sock and Roll Corp., 109 pp., $20) Nashvillian Donald Seitz has focused on the nearly ubiquitous signboards that display a weekly message of hope or faith, often delivered via a clever pun or pop culture reference: “7 DAYS WITHOUT PRAYER MAKES 1 WEAK” or “GOD ANSWERS KNEE MAIL.” Seitz’s collection includes 100 signs from many states but concentrates on the Bible Belt and was, according to the author, inspired by a sign in Brentwood. The photography is basic snapshot—Seitz lets the signs do the talking—but the book succeeds as a light romp through the brashness and sincerity of a true religious institution.
A more overtly artistic view of roadside testimonials may be found in Bible Road: Signs of Faith in the American Landscape by Sam Fentress (David and Charles, 159 pp., $29.99). From a graffitied “Trust Jesus” on a Chicago streetside mailbox to a homemade, Burma Shave-style Hail Mary along a Kansas highway, Fentress, who grew up in Nashville, has documented not so much the exhortations of church-based faith, but individual, heartfelt expressions of devotion and salvation. The photos, both color and black-and-white, emphasize the folk art quality of the messages and reflect Fentress’ training at the Art Institute of Chicago.
As Donald Seitz and Sam Fentress have ably demonstrated, our tendency toward religious advertising has not only created an American art form but has proven de Tocqueville still relevant after almost 175 years.
Donald Seitz will appear at Davis-Kidd Booksellers at 6 p.m., March 29.
The shooting location for hard bodies gym was formerly the Paramus, NJ location of Tower…
This is like a flashback to the '80s, when Ted Turner was colorizing CASABLANCA and…
That clip is horrifying. It looks like postmortem makeup. Very uncanny valley.
AGGGHHHH that last picture!
LE JOUR SE LEVE is far superior to its American remake, THE LONG NIGHT (1947),…