Various Fires and MLK

2010, 5.5 x 7 in., 42 pp.
Digitally printed edition,
glassine wrapper

Edward Ruscha's second book, Various Small Fires and Milk, (1964) was published in Los Angeles, California. It presents a series of photographs of small fires – cigarettes, matches, a stove, a barbecue – and surprises us with an unrelated image of a glass of milk as the last plate. Various Fires and MLK uses this book's time (1964) and place (Los Angeles) as a point of departure. It adopts its layout while subverting the droll collection of photographs and non-sequetor coda by adopting images imbued with historic meaning: the Watts riots of 1965; the aftermath of Rodney King's beating in 1991; reactions to the shooting death of Manual Jamines, a Guatemalan immigrant, in 2010.

The Civil Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination including racial segregation, was passed in 1964. The use of MLK's picture is a typographic gestalt of Ruscha's title (MILK/MLK), and is a surprise in this sequence considering his message of nonviolent civil disobedience. It is this disconnect that relates Various Small Fires to the fires that followed.