For their “Lost Cheerleaders” photo series, Luke Batten and Jonathan Sadler–the two-person collective New Catalogue–imagined that a “cheerleader bus overturned, and they all started wandering off in different directions. We also had the idea that they might be lost figuratively, like a lot of teenagers looking for something in their lives,” Sadler says. One cheerleader stands in a parking lot, for example, while another carries a load of firewood in a forest. Batten adds, “They’re each trying to survive in the natural world–it’s a comment about how popular icons are cherished, glorified, used, and abused.” The words “New Catalogue” are emblazoned on the women’s chests, he says, because “we thought it might be a good idea to have our own New Catalogue cheerleading outfit, both adding self-promotion and commenting on it.” Their first book, Big Ten Co-eds, Preppy Girls, and The Lost Cheerleaders, is also on sale at the gallery. Though they’ve done a series called “Men in Briefs,” their publisher preferred they stick with women in the book.

Batten and Sadler met in 1991, when they were undergraduates at Humboldt State University in northern California. Batten was impressed by Sadler’s dry comments about the advantages of a major earthquake: “It sounded like he was preparing not for survival but for a vacation.” It turned out that both were outdoorsmen, as their fathers had been, and that both dads were alcoholics. Batten and Sadler became friends, and Sadler, already a photographer, encouraged Batten’s interest in photography. After photographing together off and on for nearly a decade, they formed New Catalogue.

Batten took snapshots as a child. “I photographed people’s dogs in their backyard. After I shot maybe ten rolls of dogs, my mother got sick of printing them at the photo studio where she worked and said, ‘No more dogs.'” He had an older brother who was a bird-watcher, and Sadler has been a birder since age 13, when he began going out with groups of mostly elderly enthusiasts. “I like to know things like the names of all the bugs around my house,” he says. “And I always wanted to be the person to tell you what kind of tree this is.” They fell out of touch for several years after graduating: Batten lived in Montana working on ranches and as a teacher’s assistant while Sadler worked at a summer camp and did odd jobs in the Bay Area. When both of them were in grad school, in 1998, Batten invited Sadler to his sister’s wedding in Idaho as an excuse to take a trip together. “We drove in circles around the Great Basin Desert in eastern Oregon,” Batten says. “It was something new for us, to try to travel with no detailed map and still not get lost. Our earlier trips were more destination oriented.” Batten says he photographed “cutouts in highways, where they slice a mountain in half to put a road there,” and balsa airplanes that he threw off monuments. They also photographed each other holding guns. They came up with the New Catalogue concept in 2001, on one of the many trips that followed. The original idea, Sadler says, was to categorize and photograph things, partly in imitation of stock photography houses that sell images by type. “We photographed fires and cell phone towers. We conceived it as primarily an art project and hoped it could also work as a business like Corbis, but the business was less interesting to us.”

Many of New Catalogue’s series involve social commentary. “Big Ten Co-eds,” for example, comments on the Playboy feature. Here Batten and Sadler’s subjects wear ski masks, suggesting robbers in general and, they say, Patti Hearst in particular. They’ve also shot a series called “Ivy League Tree Trunks,” in which the trees symbolize the ideals of solidity and tradition, and another called “Community College Parking Lots.” Their influences include Bernd and Hilla Becher, who monumentalized industrial architecture with their black-and-white grids of factories and water towers, and Ed Ruscha, who created whole books of photographs of gas stations and Sunset Strip buildings. New Catalogue, by contrast, proposes to both celebrate and satirize categorization. “You can categorize people and things,” Batten says. “But each thing is also a million other things–nothing’s really that specific.”

New: Catalogue: The Lost Cheerleaders

When: Through Sat 12/3

Where: Bodybuilder & Sportsman, 119 N. Peoria #2C

Info: 312-492-7261