Tuesday, 20 July 2021

They never had a piece of the pie

Ken Light has slowly been getting more and more frustrated with the way the US has been changing and to his mind for the worse. In particular, the way the haves and have-nots are increasingly separated. As an example of this, he mentions in his essay that there are 224,800 millionaires in Northern California, the area which includes San Francisco with its huge number of homeless people. He decided photography was the ideal medium to reveal the Empire in decline and in 2011 he started a journey across the country that lasted for ten years. 

He says he didn't have to look too hard to find the fraying social fabric and the book's ten chapters (with 209 photos) clearly reveal this. I was struck by the way Light (deliberately or not) captures a contemporary take on well-known photos from past decades. In the 'Heartland' chapter photo 54 shows three crosses on a pole stuck into the ground by Interstate 90, Wyoming, photo 70 is called 'View from hotel window, Butte, Montana', Robert Frank took almost the same photos for his 'The Americans' book. Photo 77 shows a couple walking on the highway with their possessions in a pram and cart, Dorothea Lange took almost the same highway photo in Oklahoma, June 1938 for the FSA.

Chapter five 'Disruption' features various protest movements with a lovely shot of the Statue of Liberty looked at by three security cameras and on the facing page part of the metal Mexican border fence stretching into the distance. Trump is featured in this chapter and also in chapter six Transformation, with shots of his base fans at the inauguration in January 1917. Photo 187 shows the marque of the Grand Lake theater in Oakland, featuring a double bill: 'The death of Coronavirus' and 'The end of Donald Trump.' The last chapter 'Finale' features lots of the Stars and Stripes suggesting that Light thinks President Biden (shown in two photos) is a positive hope for the Nation. A clever photo in this chapter shows a TV announcer with the bottom ticker strip saying FOX NEWS PROJECTS BIDEN WINS THE PRESIDENCY. I found Light's photos an intriguing and fascinating look at contemporary America, his work clearly reveals the haves and the have-nots.

 All the photos are one to a page (9.5 inches square) and printed with 175 screen on quality matt art paper. Steidl print all their own books. Though the three hundred pages are unnumbered the 209 photos are.

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