The changing symbology of the ordinary. An American visual approach

Carlos Santamarina-Macho


The concept of “the ordinary” has become an ever more usual reference in the analysis of certain architectonic and territorial situations; but also social ones, which seem to escape any order set by planning. Nonetheless, the word still carries a rather ambiguous meaning, because not only the term is in itself polysemic, but also because it can have several interpretations, sometimes in a contradictory way, depending on the area of study, the time or the place in which it is used. This text addresses some of these apparent contradictions through a selection of visual expressions that emerge from the reassessment of “the ordinary” within a particular context: America in the seventies. To illustrate our views, we will use the work of two renowned photographers: David Plowden and Stephen Shore. Architecture was the centre focus of their images, which are part of the broad tradition of depicting American everyday life. We will analyse and compare them with the purpose of identifying their frictions and, more importantly, the values that transformed each of them from the ordinary into a perfect tool to deal with the strange and unstable material situation lived in post-war America.


Commonplace; Man-made landscape; Vernacular architecture; Photography; United States of America

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