Matthew Genitempo’s latest photobook captures the eerily beautiful landscapes of Marfa, Texas, in atmospheric images taken on ambling walks at the start of the pandemic
In American photographer Matthew Genitempo’s new photobook, Mother of Dogs, atmospheric black and white images guide us through the artist’s local landscape. Based in Marfa, Texas while he was making this work, Genitempo began the project to document his daily walks with his partner, Ada, during the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. “As most people experienced, life sort of came to a halt, and so did the projects that I was working on at the time,” he says. “Our home was next to the railroad, and Ada and I would take early evening walks on the trail that ran alongside the train tracks. It began as a simple routine during uncertain times, and I just started bringing a camera along.”
Over the following months, Genitempo took pictures instinctively, eventually gathering a constellation of images of fields and dusty desert plains, backyards and railroad crossings, blurred pathways and portraits of Ada. Connected by their sense of quietude, the pictures are almost entirely void of other living beings save for a dog or two, and, seen together, they exude a dreamlike and poetic atmosphere. This wasn’t the photographer’s initial intention. Instead, it’s just something that seemed to emerge as the project developed. “I just wait to see what the pictures are doing, and then I follow that,” he explains. “And once I can see what direction I’m intuitively heading in, then I begin to imagine the entire project.” Taking all of the images on his 6×7 film camera, Genitempo also says that choosing to shoot in black and white was intuitive because it “just felt right” for the subject matter.
Published by the Texas-based publishing house Trespasser, Mother of Dogs is Genitempo’s second photobook. His first, Jasper, published in 2018, took us to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, telling the story of the hermetic men who live in solitude amongst that wild landscape. Inspired by the life of the poet and land surveyor Frank Stanford, it was a work balanced between reality and myth, rich in narrative detail that influenced its edit. With Mother of Dogs, however, a looser editing process was possible because of the project’s organic nature, and Genitempo played with the visual conversations he could create between different images.
“I had quite a bit of time on my hands, so I was printing out pictures and making pairings,” he says. Genitempo goes on to explain how these early experiments shaped the process for the final publication. “The width of the printer in my studio is limited, so when I was putting together the maquette I started using this kraft packing tape to make folios for the book. Each spread had a piece of tape running down the centre of it, and it’s difficult to explain, but I just liked how it looked, and it seemed appropriate for the pictures, like the tape added a DIY and thoughtful quality,” he says. He continued to make an entire maquette with each book spread taped down in the middle. Liking the result, he decided to hand-fix the final run of books, binding each one with kraft tape in the same way.
Genitempo says Marfa is a quiet place, describing how “sometimes when the train passes in the middle of the night, all of the dogs in town will howl when the engineer blows the horn”. In fact, he adds, this very subject led to the project’s title. “Most people think that the title refers to Ada because she’s the recurring female character, but the ‘mother of dogs’ is actually the other recurring character: the train,” he says. “It occurred late one night while some friends and I were drinking on our porch. One of my pals casually said, ‘it’s the mother of dogs’. It was perfect. If you wait around, sometimes the title just finds you.”
Genitempo and Ada have since moved away from Marfa to San Antonio, which, in some ways, makes Mother of Dogs a compelling photographic time capsule. As the book moves between the emptiness of landscapes and the subtle details of slow spring evenings, it carries the viewer gently through the sequence. Indeed, the publication functions like a visual document of the ritual of walking, which shaped this strange moment in history for this couple and for millions of others too.
Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London