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In “American Vernacular,” former New York Times photographer Susana Raab presents a selection of her photojournalistic and documentary work from deepest America. Her Blue Highway images are designed to be quirky and refreshing, but they are really the latest incarnation of a zig-zagging dialogue that’s run from the Depression-era photographers to Robert Frank to Helen Levitt to Stephen Shore. Sinewy teens in wife-beater undershirts milling around a carnival? Got ’em. Empty café booth adorned with schlocky art? Yep. Young lovers in an American Graffiti tableau? Of course. Raab injects humor into her meanderings (a gathering of Col. Sanders impersonators, a “Queen Victoria” reigning in front of a fast-food outlet) but the images that work best are those that seem genuinely spontaneous—a little kid pondering a ridiculously large, inflatable Pepsi bottle, or a caped Superman emerging from a Porta-Potty. Most memorable, perhaps, is an American flag design constructed by inserting plastic and paper cups into a fence in Mississippi—a piece of outsider art that lowers the venerable Southern tradition of “bottle trees” to the level of craptacular.
THE EXHIBITION IS ON VIEW 11 A.M. TO 6 P.M. TUESDAY TO SATURDAY TO APRIL 27 AT IRVINE CONTEMPORARY, 1412 14TH ST. NW. FREE. (202) 332-8767.