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Oklahoma: A Portrait of America - Libby Bender, Carl Brune and Scott Raffe


None February 21st, 2008

oklahomaportrait

Billy Books / University of Oklahoma Press

The spirit of the state is captured through 350 photographs in "Oklahoma: A Portrait of America," a hefty square hardback sure to inspire fingers for many flip-through sessions.

In the opening section, "People," snapshots of Oklahoma natives and visitors are presented two to a spread, each related at least in theme or composition, if not outright location.

The second section, "Place," opens with ominous images of stormy skies before settling into awe-inspiring views of locales from across the state "” some iconic (Stage Center, Arcadia's Round Barn), some simply real (the bingo operator's counter at the American Legion Post 192 in Spavinaw, the El Reno restaurant Squawk-N-Skoot Chicken-N-More). A lot of the imagery here finds a religious base or pays tribute to Oklahoma's American Indian roots.

As with "People," the photos in "Place" are presented in pairs; one of the most striking juxtaposes a close-up of Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower in Bartlesville with a weather-beaten motel sign along Route 66.

All the pictures were taken by Scott Raffe, who clearly has a gifted eye. Carl Brune's design centers the images with commanding white space, while Libby Bender provides brief introductions to each section. All three exhibit strong talent, but my only complaint is that the book relies on stereotypes instead of also subverting them. The busy, bustling urban side of Oklahoma that outsiders don't believe exists is passed over in favor of the empty, decaying rural side everyone assumes. While that stylistic decision is understood, it also renders this "Portrait" incomplete.

"”Rod Lott

 
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