I got to see a sampling of Eastman’s work at his retrospective show at SLUMA last year, and found myself returning to the show several times over the months that it hung, to meditate on a few favorite images. His gorgeous image of a block of vacant buildings under a bright but ominous, cloud-marbled sky on Commercial Street in Downtown Cairo, Illinois, haunted me. It stuck in my mind enough to get me reading about Cairo, and to foster a curiosity about the place that prompted a road trip with two friends just this past weekend. (There’s a small version of the Cairo photo here.)
Eastman shoots disappearing Americana: the orphaned New Orleans shotgun house and the vacated small town downtown theater, and all sorts of things in between. Rarely have I seen photos of buildings devoid of people, that were so deeply suggestive of human presence. Sometimes, I’ll look at one of Eastman’s images and swear that there’s someone just out of sight, about to step up and look out a window or to round a corner, and that they’d have ended up in the shot if Eastman had hesitated and pressed the shutter just a moment later. Other times, I’ll look at one of his images and be unable to stop thinking about the stampede of so many thousands of people through the depicted space over the years, before it was abandoned. Eastman is also not at all afraid to use rich colors. Combine the bright palette with his thoughtful use of light, and some of the images you end up with border on the sublime. It’s easy to take photos of vacant, sad spaces, but it really takes something to make them this beautiful and this rich with life.
Hope I’ve not overhyped, but I love these photographs. Check ’em out for yourself here.