Photo by Jennifer Sakai
Photo by Jennifer Sakai; Courtesy of Photoworks at Glen Echo Park

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I love kitschy Americana as much as the next person, and there’s little to complain about how D.C.-based photographer Philip Taplin has portrayed the greater-than-life-size roadside businesses that operate from buildings shaped like cows, elephants, teapots, and alligator jaws. The gaudy architecture he documents plays off surprisingly well against the unruffled, pastel-hued skies in the background. The problem stems from the unfortunate timing of Taplin’s exhibit at Photoworks—not just that it comes during a deadly serious land war in Europe, but because Taplin’s subjects exist largely in the American hinterlands, which only serves to remind viewers of the unfortunate, yet growing, chasm between rural and urban America. Taplin’s source material will inevitably be viewed through the lens of nostalgia and optimism, yet such sentiment seems tonally off for our current era. The other artist showing at the Photoworks gallery, D.C. photographer Jennifer Sakai, shares an appreciation for the vernacular American landscape, in her case the less showy interiors and landscapes of eastern Long Island. While many of Sakai’s images proceed in a linear fashion from an old family house, the most impressive works are easily her two matrices of small, thematically related images—one featuring upright pieces of wood stuck curiously into pale beach sand, and the other of individual cottages at a seemingly faded motel. Both matrices tap into the same reverence for the yin-yang of similarity and difference mined so successfully in the works of William Christenberry, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and John Divola. The exhibit runs through April 10 at Photoworks at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Free.