A few summers ago I drove around the US for 2 months on a road trip. I wanted to photograph the American landscape. I wondered if there was still such a thing as the American Dream. The photographs I made during that time have been compiled into a book, “Bountiful,” which is now available through Done To Death Publications.
One big loop—nearly 12,000 miles.
I grew up in the woods on the East Coast, but visited family in the Midwest almost every summer growing up. I was always struck by the differences in daily life you could find between diffrent places. I always wondered what all the other places in our country were like. So, during the summer of 2013 I took a road trip around the US. One big loop—nearly 12,000 miles. I hit a lot of places, big and small, from cites to national forests. The mini-van I borrowed from my parents got about 24 miles to the gallon on a good day. I burned almost five hundred gallons of gas and produced about 4.75 tons of a carbon dioxide, if my math is correct. I didn’t have a co-pilot that was with me for the whole trip, but instead met up with friends for different legs of the journey. In my memory, the trip now seems to blend seemingly endless miles of state highways, seldom traveled by out-of-towners, into one long road.
The towns are the sites of disinvestment. The journalist Chris Hedges has called them “sacrifice zones;” those places exploited in order to support the upward growth of our financial and corporate sectors. The same sectors which rely on archetypes and representations of America as a land of wealth and prosperity to sell themselves to consumers and shareholders.
On Main St. there was always a liquor store, frequently a family dollar, and little else.
I always elected to take the long, wayward routes. There was some interstate driving when neccesary, but if the mission is trying to see what places look like, huge highways aren’t really the best route. Instead the majority of our miles where on state highways, which can be quite stunning. Picure a simple two lane road cutting through fields fenced by huge rock formations, or a winding through the redwoods along the coastline. These roads link small town after small town. Some were quaint with busy shops, other were less so. I noticed a through line linking these despressed small, out of the way, towns I passed through everyday. On Main St. there was always a liquor store, frequently a family dollar, and little else. Depending on where you were in the country, there was probably a Walmart within 30 miles.
The Dream is a promise. Anyone who tries hard enough will have a good life—a life that their parents would want for them. It’s a dream that conceives of a country that is bountiful in its resources and beauty.
For the majority in our country, this dream, this sentiment, is a hollow truism. A lie that assumes privilege and ignores the pervasive structural inequality in America.
It was a time when financial profits had started to grow again. The TV screens spoke of new record highs on Wall St, they said we had beat the recession. While for everyone, else incomes and employment were woefully lacking.
It was a time when country was still reeling from the damage of the 2008 financial disaster. It was five years after the crisis and America’s countryside still showed deep wounds.
These are only slight glimpses of a public culture shifting over time...
“Bountiful” presents an image of America as I saw it over those two months. I thought it was worthwhile to look at what the country, my country, actually looked like during what seemed to be an historic period. The project is an attempt to picture the American landscape. It is not the first, definitely won’t be the last, and is by no mean the most comprehensive photo project based on this subject.
The book ends with a disclaimer to this end, because of course, it is impossible to look at place through a single narrow lens. The disclaimer is a passage by sociologist Kathleen Stewart from her book a non-fiction short stories, “Ordinary Affects.”
“These are only slight glimpses of a public culture shifting over time. Partial scenes saturated with expectations, impressions too easily gathered into a narrative of social decline or (or whatever). These floating images do not begin to approach what might be happening to the ordinary in this time and place.”