‘The American Dream’

Andy Levin at 100Eyes has curated an excellent body of work from ten photographers entitled The American Dream. With the exception of Daryl Peveto‘s American Nomads, none of the photographers have been highlighted on this blog. That will be sure to change in the coming days.

The American Dream

Like many American myths, the American Dream was created by a cabal of propagandists.

Hollywood studios, automobile manufacturers, the media of post-war America, and a booming housing industry, among others, all stood to benefit from an unprecedented marketing opportunity in the form of hundreds of thousands of GIs returning from World War II. And so it was born, the American Dream, a house to own, a car in every driveway, two children, and an unlimited future of consumption. Like its sister myth, the Cold War, the American Dream, the words carry such weight that they are capitalized.

This issue of 100Eyes is about words, and the way that images can change our perception of them. Most artists and photographers explore emotional territory. Suffering and joy are as much a commodity as are facts. In the work of the photographers represented in this issue of 100Eyes, we see reflections on the American Dream, on what Americans aspire to be, and on how their aspirations, formulated by the visions of Hollywood, are often transmuted in ways that are not anticipated and that often make us uncomfortable. In Brenda Ann Kenneally’s Upstate Girls and in Daryl Peveto’s American Nomads, we see what some might think are grotesque parodies of “the American Dream.” But to the photographers, and their subjects, this is anything but the case.

In a world of Madoffs what are the outcasts, those less able to survive?

Likewise, in the photographs of Caleb Cole, who dresses up in second hand clothes and photographs himself in elaborate recreations of the lives of their sometimes imaginary owners, there is both pathos and the narcissism of fantasy, of escapism that has always been part of the dream.

Photographs, of course, sometimes do not speak for themselves, and often the headlines, captions, and artistic statements that proport to elucidate are nothing more than sideshow mirrors themselves, shifting in appearance as images are projected over them. Such is the case with the American Dream, words which have a entirely different meaning than when filtered by Mustafah Abdulaziz’s hopeful images of the Obama inauguration images, than when viewing Daryl Peveto’s essay, “American Nomads.”

Andy Levin
New Orleans

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