Despite what some have encouraged, I’ve rebelled from turning this project into a first person navel-gazing account of my journey around the country. If I really believe that a photograph can give meaning or change to the world, that wouldn’t be living like it. The chapters of this project, though unmarked, recall a journey around the United States retracing Robert Frank’s footsteps from his seminal book The Americans. It seeks to look outward on the business interests of mostly dishonorable men and the social notions shared by people under their governance. There are flags of progress, flags of patriotism, flags of corporatism, and even flags that aren’t actually flags at all. It’s about a country whose symbol is openly sold, overflowing, beneath a banner reading “Expect more. Pay less.” It’s as if it was the American motto, and we should stamp it into our coins, right next to “E Pluribus Unum” and “In God We Trust.” There are conversations about the America that used to be, and the America that is; each photo says something that goes beyond the moment captured. This entire endeavor has been something of a love letter and a cautionary tale, to both my country and my medium.
Many have viewed this project as an homage to Robert Frank, and while at face value I can’t disagree completely, I do think that homage is far too strong a word. I see it much more as a nod of the head and a “Thanks for the roadmap,” both literally and thematically. In that sense, this project has led me to be even more fascinated by the way that other expressive media, like music and film, are able to freely sample from rich histories without commotion.
I never went to photo school; formally speaking, I only ever studied design. The likes of Dieter Rams and Charles and Ray Eames were my heroes. Almost everyone I’ve respected in the photo industry, though, has charged me with studying its masters. Maybe I’ve overcompensated in that department. This was my way of not just studying, but living the masters, getting my hands dirty and seeing. America: cynical and wrecked, optimistic, but not sentimental or leaning into clichés. It was a spiritual journey of sorts for a young photographer.