It’s been a full decade since Buffalo artist Julian Montague’s delightfully odd book The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification was published and subsequently won the 2006 award for Oddest Book Title of the Year,
Mark Byrnes celebrates this momentous anniversary in A Look Back at the Greatest (and Only) Stray Shopping Cart Identification Guide Ever Made, an extensive, interview-based article which he posted on Citylab on January 26, 2016. After lamenting that Montague's book came out just a year or two to early to "go viral," he explores in great depth the nature of the book and Montague's motivation in writing it.
"I had always been taking pictures and making art, but this project ended up making me an actual professional artist. On paper it’s not much of a plan; things sort of just happened. I knew if I just photographed shopping carts it would read in a one-dimensional social documentary way, and I’m not interested in making super simple statements about consumerism. I realized it would be more interesting to figure out what’s happening with these shopping carts. That started with this very rudimentary set of designations, some of which survived through to the final version, some of which changed a lot.
"It was originally published in Basta, a local zine here [in Buffalo] in the late ‘90s. People responded to it pretty quickly. By 2003, I had a show in Hartford, Connecticut, and I shot more carts there. I did a residency in Cleveland for six weeks in the winter of 2005, so I did a lot of shooting there while riding around on my bike. There are a few from Florida, a few from other random travels. It just ended up being places that I went to.
"Someone from Abrams had seen my work in an art fair and asked if I had ever thought of doing a book, which I had; it was in my mind the whole time. So I put together the pitch for the book in 2005, and the book came out in 2006."
Keep reading until you get to the part where Julian discusses the persona he adopted to create the taxonomy of shopping carts, and how foreign this pseudo-scientific persona really is for him. Those who know him can attest to this.
This is a fascinating read about a well known, up-and-coming local artist (go Juian!) by a respectable journalist (with Buffalo ties, I understand) on a high profile site. Can it help but contribute to the growing Buffalo "cool factor?"