An incredible and utterly unique historical document. This book contains selections from the photographic collection of one Mell Kilpatrick, a news photographer from South California who relentlessly pursued his profession during the 40s and 50s, capturing images from the plentiful crime scenes and in particular automobile collisions that came his way. Kilpatrick was an obsessive witness to the effects of the post-war explosion of car culture in California, and through his lens he repeatedly viewed the fatal consequences of speed. technology and reckless abandon. His work might have remained lost and unknown, sealed away in his locked darkroom, untouched since his death in 1961, if it hadn't been brought to light by collector and dealer Jennifer Dumas, who Found the 5,000 negatives and realised she'd stumbled upon something very special. Although he covered other 'stories' apart from crashes, including shots of everyday life in the small towns he visited, it is the roadside images that dominate the collection. They are an unsparing archive of human tragedy. Picture after picture unveils yet another tableau of disaster with infinite variations -- the fragile shells of cars collapsed and upended, corpses hidden or fully revealed, stoic cops and laughing bystanders dealing in different ways with the reality of sudden death. It is this combination of the banal or ordinary and the appalling horror of the moment of impact that makes Kilpatrick's work a Fascinating experience.
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Kilpatrick (1902^-62) was basically a working stiff who held down two jobs at once to support a growing family. He was a movie projectionist in the mid-1940s in California when he got a still camera and made himself invaluable to insurance companies and the highway patrol as a photographer of auto wrecks and later to the Santa Ana Register as a news photographer. Dumas' selection of his work concentrates on images of accident and death, including murders and suicides as well as highway fatalities. She speculates that Kilpatrick's pictures may have been influenced by the films noir he saw from the projection booth, but most were taken at night and required the spotlighting that produces their noirish chiaroscuro. In any event, presented one per black-bordered page, they are riveting--ghastly, to be sure, but not repulsive, like Joel Peter Witkin's tableaus featuring cadavers. Instead, they inspire awe, pity, and the humbling acknowledgment of mortality, just as the horrid medieval images of the crucified Christ were intended to do. Ray Olson
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