This Land Was Made For You And Me
(Letter from the Editor)
by Aaron Schuman
Originally published in OjodePez #13 - http://www.ojodepez.org/
This land is your land, this land is my land;
I am an American. But to be perfectly honest, I am not wholeheartedly comfortable in saying so. It’s not that I’m in any way ashamed to be American; in truth, although I wouldn’t claim to be unconditionally patriotic, there are countless reasons why I am proud to be American. Yet in light of both abuses of previous decades and more recent actions of the current government, I regrettably find myself wincing slightly when my nationality is revealed.
In part, this is due to the fact that I do not live in the United States. In 2003, as the invasion of Iraq began and the country was in the midst of re-electing George W. Bush as its President, I moved to the United Kingdom; I should note that this was for entirely personal rather than political reasons. But living abroad has given me a completely new perspective on the United States – at times a refreshing one, and at other times, an incredibly painful one – which has helped me to realize more fully the way in which the country is perceived and understood by the international community. As much as American culture has been absorbed, adopted, adapted (and imposed upon) the world, the negative consequences of its influence have not gone unnoticed, despite what many Americans wish to believe. As Bob Dylan explained, ‘I like America, just as everybody else does. I love America, I gotta say that. But America will be judged.’
From California to the New York Island;
Several weeks ago, I attended a lecture by a British photographer, who presented various photo-essays he had made in and about the United States. Collectively, the images depicted a nation of obese, gun-totting, religiously fanatical hillbillies who were either high on methamphetamines, violence, paranoia or misguided idealism. Admittedly, this is not an entirely inaccurate portrayal of the country – these things do exist – yet it is an extremely exaggerated and stereotypical one which I have seen endlessly repeated on television, in the news, and in photography and film, much of which has been produced by Americans themselves. As much as I admired this particular photographer’s ability to find, examine and illustrate exactly what he was looking for, I became incredibly frustrated by the superficiality of this formulaic and pervasive viewpoint. Furthermore, I sincerely believe that such representations of the United States are not only naïve, but are potentially very dangerous. ‘Ha! Stupid Americans,’ we can say with a shrug of the shoulders and a smug smirk, no longer judging but instead simply dismissing. Such an approach encourages us to ignore the powerful position of America within the world, and to overlook both the complexity and diversity of the American experience itself.
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters;
The photographic works published in this magazine are an attempt to promote an alternatively challenging, intelligent, informed and comprehensive understanding of America, and Americans. In Garry Winogrand’s 1963 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship – in which he proposed to photographically investigate the United States following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the commencement of the Vietnam War – he wrote:
‘Since World War II we have seen the spread of affluence, the move to the suburbs and the spreading of them, the massive shopping centers to serve them, and cars for to and from…Our aspirations and successes have been cheap and petty. I read newspapers, columnists, some books, and look at some magazines. They all deal in illusions and fantasies. I can only conclude that we have lost ourselves, that the bomb may finish the job permanently, and it just doesn't matter; we have not loved life. I cannot accept my conclusions, and so I must continue this photographic investigation further and deeper. This is my project."
Forty-five years later – following September 11th, the American initiation of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the escalation of both terrorist and nuclear threats, and the proliferation of paranoia and misinformation – I too cannot accept either my own or more general conclusions made about my own country. And so, as editor of this issue of OjodePez, I have also tried to investigate further and deeper; this is also my project.
This land was made for you and me.