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 narratives 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, John Stilgoe, Mike Davis and Leo Marx, Brouws has combined anthropological inquiry with a somber aesthetic vision mining the overlooked, the obsolete, and 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.
Since moving to the Northeast in the late 1990s, Brouws has also investigated inner city areas, abandoned manufacturing sites, and other commercial ruins found in Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland and Youngstown. His photographs of these discarded spaces—the byproducts of de-industrialization, white flight, disinvestment, and failed urban policy—suggest an underlying disparity throughout a country that purports economic equality and social justice for all.
Alongside his photographic practice, for the past thirty years Brouws has researched and written about the historic and aesthetic development of railroad photography in America, authoring and editing numerous books on the subject including The Call of Trains: Railroad Photographs by Jim Shaughnessy, A Passion for Trains: The Railroad Photography of Richard Steinheimer, and his most recent publication (edited with Wendy Burton) Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs.
In 2013 Brouws (along with co-editors Wendy Burton and Hermann Zschiegner and authors Phil Taylor and Mark Rawlinson) published Various Small Books: Referencing the Various Small Books by Ed Ruscha (MIT Press). This was a multi-year, collaborative project involving ninety artists from around the world. Honoring Ruscha’s seminal books from the 1960s and 70s like Twentysix Gasoline Stations, VSB went on to become the defacto catalog for the Ed Ruscha: Books & Co exhibition staged at the Gagosian Gallery, New York and the Museum Brandhorst in Munich.
Brouws’s photography is represented by The Robert Mann Gallery
, The Robert Koch Gallery
, The Robert Klein Gallery
, and The Craig Krull Gallery
. His work is in numerous private and public collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Princeton University Art Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.