The artistic collaboration of artists Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, whose work is featured in our Mini Museum series board book Black Cowboys, is a testament to how well the married couple work together as a team. Their visually stunning photographs, shot in communities all over the world, tend to have to do with the blending of two seemingly contrasting subjects: Germans donning the dress of American Indians with painstaking attention paid to the aesthetic accuracy, an abandoned Wall Street like district in Cuba, a small town in Iowa densely populated with ultra orthodox Jews. These apparent contradictions call attention to our ideas of time, place, and appropriateness by transporting a feeling, a sense of nostalgia, an entire community and an entire culture.
Much of Robbins and Becher's work deals with authenticity; what does it mean when authenticity is replicated, disrupted, or overlooked?
Photographs in the Cracker Barrel series were each taken in one of the 600 Cracker Barrels in the United States, each disorienting in its familiarity due to the rigid standardization of decor and layout in each location. The pair document the mantelpiece above a working fireplace found in every Cracker Barrel location, each invariably featuring a mounted deer head above a shotgun. The slight variations of the surrounding knick knacks serve to further reinforce the standardization of the ever present shotgun-deer head combination. Robbins and Becher present these images with the context of the immense popularity of the chain as a result of the combination of “authentic” southern nostalgia and standardization that ensures consistent quality.
Beckley, WV, 2014
Council Bluff, IA, 2014
Officially Gothic, a series based in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, presents street corners in the popular tourist destination. Photographs come with the historical context that despite the implication of its name, the area is not exclusively Gothic in architecture, nor is it the only neighborhood in Barcelona where Gothic architecture is abundant. In fact, many of the structures were reassembled more recently and look more “authentic” than older structures that have remained relatively untouched since their construction.
Prison Window, 2008
The relationship between progress and tradition, history and modernity, then and now in appearance and actuality is a theme throughout several other projects. Notably, Robbins and Becher’s French Strip Malls (America in France) confront the viewer with typically American strip mall aesthetic in the French countryside previously reserved for perceptions of modesty and rejection of anything so gaudily American. While the French countryside may remain untouched in our sentimental minds, embracing American capitalist ventures is seen as a sign to many of progress and practicality.
The Black Cowboys series featured in our Mini Museum series board book calls attention to the viewer’s preconceived notions of Western culture and cowboy-hood by highlighting the surprise of seeing Black Americans in cowboy outfits. Over one third of cowboys were African American at the height of ranching in the nineteenth century, yet media depictions of cowboys and Western culture are overwhelmingly White. Robbins and Becher bring to light Black cowboys that ride and take part in rodeos and competitions across the nation, maintaining their role in cowboy culture and tradition.
Kareem, Harlem, NY, 2008-16
Check out Black Cowboys and the stunning work of Andrea Robbins and Max Becher. As part of the Mini Museum Series, 5% of all profits from this book are donated to the Lily Sarah Grace Fund, a non-profit that provides grants to struggling public schools to support child-centered learning and creativity in the classroom.