Review: Mike Rivera’s Timeless Views on Americana at Everybody’s Coffee

Mike Rivera, Baby Blue.
Mike Rivera, Baby Blue. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Americana is the latest exhibition at Everybody’s Coffee that showcases the work of photographer Mike Rivera.

In this exhibition, Rivera’s photos of Volkswagen buses, vintage cars as well as an Airstream, give us vibrant scenes of traveling on the road. What is impressive about his photos is their timeless quality—although he has taken these shots in the last couple of years, many of them can be mistaken as having been taken a decade or two ago. In his photos, Rivera captures that disappearing era when Route 66 was a main highway in the U.S. and when many people took long road trips by car rather than traveling by plane.

What is most notable in this exhibition is the absence of people in his shots, which adds a starkness to the settings. This artistic choice also adds more weight to each scene because we aren’t distracted by people, and this in turn, creates a dynamic focus on the vehicles, buildings, or the clouds in the sky.

Rivera explained why he chose not to use people in his photos for this exhibition. “I decided to create this style that I like to call ‘nohumansaround’ where there are no people in any of the scenes. The absence of people keeps the photos from becoming dated or having a historical perspective.  When I shoot a scene, I want the viewer to feel that this image could have been photographed yesterday or 10 years ago. I also think this allows viewers to create their own narrative with the picture,” said Rivera.

Mike Rivera, Airstream.
Mike Rivera, Airstream. Photo courtesy of the artist.

But despite the absence of people in the photos, the viewer doesn’t get a feeling of desolation, but rather a sense of quietude. And by using big skies as a backdrop in many of his photos, Rivera creates iconic scenes of the West that conjure up feelings of freedom and of making a fresh start in life.

His images also convey a restless spirit—the need to travel or move to a new location. Photos of VW buses makes one think of the ’60s and ’70s when families as well as hippies found this vehicle to be an economical mode of transportation to travel across the country. And the closeup of a vintage Chrysler in Baby Blue reminds us how many families drove in large cars before the advent of SUVs.

Also in this exhibition are a few photos of Uptown such as in Beacon of Hope and Uptown Blues where he not only captures the grandeur of the architecture of the Bridgeview Bank on the corner of Lawrence and Broadway, but also the light in the sky. In We Ride North, he creates a dramatic shot of an el train that reflects the last light of day, while dark clouds brood overhead.

Mike Rivera, Vanlife.
Mike Rivera, Vanlife. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The power of Rivera’s photos is that they act as a reminder that there is a beauty to taking a leisurely road trip, perhaps driving on Route 66 instead of driving along the interstate. His work also seems to tell us that instead of racing to our destination, we should open our perception and have a sense of wonder about the sights we see along the way.

Rivera grew up in Dallas and received his bachelor’s degree in visual journalism from Western Kentucky University. He has worked in New York City, Japan, and southeast Texas. Rivera moved to Chicago five years ago to work in the photo department of the Chicago Tribune. He now works as a freelance commercial photographer.

This is Rivera’s third show at Everybody’s Coffee, and for this exhibition, Rivera will be giving all proceeds from sales to Cornerstone Community Outreach, a homeless shelter in Uptown.

You can view photos of Rivera’s “nohumansaround” project by going to his website. And you can view more of his work on his Instagram page.

Americana will be on display through January 24 at Everybody’s Coffee, 935 W. Wilson. Hours: Monday thru Friday 6:30am to 8pm; Saturday 7am to 8pm; and Sunday 7am to 5pm.

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Tom Wawzenek