Rule Breakers: Leigh Merrill

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

This Place

Rule Setter: Dennis Nance, Curator, Galveston Arts Center
Rule Breaker: Leigh Merrill

Growing up between Houston and Galveston, Texas, I would either drive north to Houston or south to Galveston along I-45 to escape the suburbs with friends. As I have grown older and revisited these same routes, the marshes, estuaries and open spaces have filled with a homogeny of big box stores, tract housing, and strip malls. Along the stretch of highway between Houston and Galveston today, there is an ongoing battle between businesses and advertisements. Between downtown Houston and the 610 South Loop, the billboards surrounding the headquarters of Planned Parenthood promote pro-life messages. In Dickinson, south of the Beltway, a billboard pleads “God Mends Broken Hearts” next to the Heartbeakers Gentlemen’s Club. There are flashing LED billboards peppering the remaining interstate, advertising the pleasures of the approaching tourist destination, right up to the point that you pass the last few miles of visible estuary before cruising over the causeway to the island.

I never want to see another photo of urban sprawl, as I see it too often from my car window.

Leigh Merrill seamlessly stitches photographs made in urban environments, highlighting moments that delve into the push and pull between our built environment and an underlying desire for order and consumption. I am a commuter and so is Merrill. She lives in Dallas and commutes about an hour to her teaching position in Commerce, TX. Through her travels in the US and Europe, Merrill has accumulated a mass of images of the ever-sprawling urban landscape. From thousands of photos, she stitches other-worldly environments that break up the sameness of these locations and highlight the bright colors and quirks found in the facades, signage, and paint jobs of strip malls. These imaginary spaces are not identifiable and often mimic various architecture and landscape styles. Her photographs reveal the claustrophobic and expansive nature of our urban surroundings, while reflecting on cultural ideas of beauty and perfection. Merrill presents a version of Utopia, however false it may be, through bits and pieces of meticulously rearranged scenes of the sprawl we both love and hate.
—Dennis Nance

The Strip

The Palm Tree

Pink Corner

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