2015 - by Aaron Schuman
Several months ago, my wife and I allowed our son – then nine-years-old – to wander out the front door and down into town, alone, for the first time. It began on a Sunday morning, with a mission to get a pint of milk from the nearby shop. With change in hand, he tentatively meandered around the corner and out of sight; a few minutes later he returned triumphant, literally jumping with excitement. In the subsequent days, many more journeys to the same shop followed – for butter, for sweets, for whatever he could think of that would get him out on his own for a little while. And then his territory began to expand rapidly, to the park, to friend’s houses, to the playing fields, the town center and beyond.
As both his familiarity and confidence with his surroundings grew, I was struck by how much he relished his newfound freedom and sense of independence. I was also reminded of how, on such early childhood expeditions, even the most modest facets of one’s immediate environment – a street corner, a parking lot, a crooked crack in the sidewalk, a low-hanging tree branch offering access to its canopy – become pregnant with private meaning and purpose. As one begins to consciously consider and survey this vaguely familiar but nevertheless novel terrain for the first time, the boundaries of one’s own life, experience and understanding of oneself are expanded exponentially. And through the process of identifying and absorbing particular landmarks, contours and features that contain specific significance for oneself, one redefines and reestablishes one’s own idea of ‘home’, of its borders, and ultimately of one’s relationship with the world at large. Within a matter of weeks a child explores, and then absorbs, their surroundings in a remarkable way, not only defining it for themselves but then defining themselves through it – ‘the town where my home is’ becomes ‘my hometown’.
In his poignantly observant body of photographic work, Hometowns, John MacLean pays homage to the incredibly subtle yet important influence of the hometown, particularly in relation to the fundamental visual development of artists themselves. Beginning with a simple idea that he quickly jotted down for himself in a notebook several years ago – ‘Photograph the hometowns of your heroes’ – MacLean has since explored and photographed more than twenty cities, towns and neighborhoods around the world, where a number of his artistic ‘heroes’ spent their childhood. From Moscow to Mexico City, from the south-west of England to the American Midwest, MacLean has traversed the globe not in search of its most spectacular monuments or most exotic landscapes, but instead in search of the everyday places that served as the most basic visual experiences and foundations for those artists who have inspired him, and thus for his own catalogue of creative inspiration.
Extremely well versed in the works, approaches, practices and personal biographies of his ‘heroes’, MacLean is remarkably adept at visually tapping into each one of their childhood environments, and invoking the underlying role that even the smallest of details may have played within the young minds of great artists-to-be. A soft morning fog slowly evaporating around a radio tower that stretches high into the Californian sky invokes the ever-shifting heavens explored by James Turrell; a tangle of dirty rope and rusted wires lying across Moscow snow pays happenstance tribute to the serpentine brushstrokes of Wassily Kandinsky; simple and straight-talking signage seen throughout Oklahoma City – for softball, sound systems, and Chevrolet – quietly mimics the pop-infused imagery and deadpan aesthetic of Ed Ruscha; and so on.
Yet beyond delicately echoing, referencing and reverberating with intimations of each of his ‘heroes’, MacLean’s photographs are strikingly original, visually arresting and deeply personal in their own right. In a sense, Hometowns collectively reflects MacLean’s own artistic ‘hometown’ of sorts, built of childhood stomping-grounds and populated by the influences of those artists that he most admires. Like a child let loose into the world alone for the first time, MacLean carefully surveys, defines, explores and then absorbs his surroundings – in this case the territory of his own, personal artistic influence – but then expands far beyond it, mapping an entirely new and fascinating creative terrain, and redefining himself as a unique and mature artist in the process. In doing so, he allows both himself and his audience to reflect on the notion of influence altogether, and then relish in the newfound insight, playful excitement, and remarkable sense of independence that such a freedom to roam affords.