© Phil Jung/TBW Books

Phil Jung’s Windscreen presents twenty-six photographs of windscreens. Or rather, twenty-six photographs of cars (both interiors and exteriors), mostly taken either through windscreens or with a windscreen in view. The cars are bygone and tired; paint faded, held together by tape and polystyrene.

According to Jung, Windscreen is about a social landscape; about “class mobility” and “the American ideal”. His claim is that these spaces offer us a metaphor for something larger (religion, economics, society etc). Maybe there is some truth to this, but after reading (or looking, I never know which verb is best), I’m not convinced by Jung’s slant. Windscreen feels different; reads too inwardly to be about ideas that vast. Not inward in a limited or dogmatic way but more literally. Jung’s tight framing redacts the outside world that he says Windscreen is about; framing that at times feels (I’m thinking of Fayette, Tennessee) more akin to Saul Leiter than Walker Evans with all its abstraction and introspection. Windscreen’s almost full bleed printing adds to this inwardness, as does its beautifully expansive size (16 x 13 inches), the clarity of Jung’s large format photographs and his deliberate and attentive gaze. All of this lends such a gravity to these spaces that I can almost fall forward into the comfort of worn leather seats and the warmth of light filtering through a window. This is a beautiful thing, but it’s a feeling that leads us with conviction inwards, not outwards.

If I do think beyond the world that Jung has framed, it is only to wonder what the owner of each car looks like; whether there would be some tacit resemblance to their car or the items left inside if I passed them in the street. What does a job at the Department of Defence and four packets of Carlton cigarettes look like in a person? Or rosary beads, a few coins and scattered pine needles in between the two front seats? How I see Windscreen, then, is less as a book about dwindling ideals and more about the debris we leave behind as individuals. I think debris is the right word because debris lacks an agent. You don’t choose debris in the way you choose what to throw away. Debris is unconscious, left behind without knowing and then accumulating like sediment in a river.

Looking at Windscreen and thinking about debris makes me think about Man Ray’s Dust Breeding. On the surface there may seem little similarity between Jung’s photographs of faded Chryslers and Ray’s photograph of Duchamp’s cultivated dust, but I think there is common ground. David Campany says that Dust Breeding is a “trace of a trace” because a photograph is a trace of what was in front of the camera, so a photograph of dust is a trace of a trace. The same is true for Windscreen; its subject reflecting the photograph’s own condition and endlessly looping to infinity. The only difference is that dust, for Jung, takes the form of a rust-freckled bonnet. Man Ray also cropped the original Dust Breeding, removing the certainty that comes with context and opening up it to endless possible lives. Windscreen might not be as severe, but Jung has done something similar with his framing, and maybe this is at least part why I feel his reading of social mobility and American ideals feels off. In some photographs, Rawlins, Wyoming for example, the outside world is nowhere to be seen, and as a result there is the same dizzying sensation as with Dust Breeding, and the car panel (or windscreen perhaps) smattered with dead insects starts to flit indefinitely between a deep blue ocean and a galaxy ablaze with stars. I like how Windscreen holds this uncertainty and exactness in one hand.

Maybe I have said too much about one thing and too much about what Jung has said, but ironically it has given me a chance to talk about all that I like about Windscreen. Its gravity, its exactness, its limpid translation of the world, its divine attention to light and its vastness. Neither mine or Jung’s reading is right or wrong, it’s just how photographs work.