Jeff Brouws, born in San Francisco in 1955, is a self-taught artist. Pursuing photography since age 13, where he roamed the railroad and industrial corridors of the South Bay Peninsula, Brouws has compiled a visual survey of America's evolving rural, urban and suburban cultural landscapes. Using single photographs as subtle narrative and compiling typologies to index the nation's character, he revels in the "readymades" found in many of these environments. Influenced by the New Topographic Movement, the artist books of Ed Ruscha (to whom Brouws paid homage with his Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations project in 1992) as well as the writings of cultural geographers like J.B. Jackson, Dolores Hayden and John Stilgoe, Brouws has combined anthropological inquiry and a bleak aesthetic beauty mining the overlooked, the obsolete, the mundane.
Initially engaged with what Walker Evans termed the "historical contemporary" along America's secondary highways beginning in the late 1980s, over the following twenty years Brouws has extended this inquiry into the everyday places occupied by most Americans – the franchised landscapes of strip malls, homogenized housing tracts and fast food chains. More recently, he has also instigated an all-encompassing photographic investigation of decimated inner cities: abandoned manufacturing sites, low-income housing, and other commercial ruins – residual public spaces left behind by the effects of de-industrialization, white flight, disinvestment, failed urban policy and overall societal neglect. Throughout these various series, Brouws seeks the nexus points behind the movement of capital and the cycles of construction, decline and renewal within the built environment. For him roads, highways and city streets – vital components of a national infrastructure – are both engines of economic development and symbols of human freedom. By subtle implication, his photographs also evoke the restlessness of an uncertain nation and communicate a low-lying foreboding. They also challenge the mythos of the American Dream and suggest an underlying disparity throughout a country that purports economic equality and social justice for all.
Brouws is the author of seven books including his most recent Approaching Nowhere published by W. W. Norton in 2006. His photographs can be found in major private and public collections including the Whitney Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Harvard's Fogg Museum, Princeton University Art Museum, and the Henry Art Museum.