SHOWS

 
 

DREAMS OF AMERICA

Curated by Maya Polsky
Sep 5th – Oct 7th 2014
Chicago, IL

 
 

 

 

In “Dreams of America” my subjects—Americans—live through, and act out their dreams of self, their country’s history and hopes for the future. Some of these dreamers appear bitterly nostalgic; others are childlike and optimistic; quite a few seem completely, even exotically divorced from reality sleepwalking through a dangerous delusion.

Can one capture dreams in a photograph?  Each day, as we move through the world, we give ourselves away, revealing our inner lives. Dreams can be photographed, manifested in the ceremonious exhibition of ourselves. The most ardent wishes and visions from the spectacle that plays out in our head frequently translate in a display of costume and of gesture. 

Over the past fifteen years, I have made it my work to create catalogues of such manifestations around the world.  My first three books of photography dealt exclusively with this subject in Spain, India and Tibet. Contextualized by the rituals of bullfight, flamenco, and Buddhist pilgrimages, I concentrated on the psychological underpinnings of ritual participation. In these countries, the ceremonies are almost exclusively historical. Here, in the United States, the ritualized costumes and rites are projected as much to the future as they refer to the past.

Having grown up in Russia’s Ural mountains, and immigrated to the United States in 1990, I got naturalized in 1999. I am part stranger, part citizen in America. My work is an ongoing exploration of my still new home in all its elusive mystery. “Dreams of America” is work in progress. 

Can the American imaginary be depicted, can I capture using my eye, my instincts and my camera, the dreams of my subjects?  Can I make them evident to the viewer? After several years of research, shooting and printing, living on the road in this country, I decided that I shall try to do that: hold a mirror of my own to the varied expressions of the American dreams.

I began traveling to the political rallies and discovered that the extremist right wing readily parades its views as they venerate a fictitious America of the 1950s pre-Civil rights era. Their desperation and exhaustion with being stuck in the present is tangible, and is reflected in their dress code; nostalgic costumes and adornments of the 50’s.  An elderly couple dressed in the American flag complete with red white and blue striped top hats suspiciously eye me from their folded chairs. They miss that falsely homogenous, monochromatic America, and want what never was—“back.” At that Glenn Beck rally, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King speech, these people were saying    “We, too, have dreams.”

A few years ago, I photographed one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, and its inhabitants: streetwalkers, Mardi Gras floats, local actresses ...  I met a woman named Antoinette. She was once married to a blues singer Ernie-K-Doe, known for a one hit single called “A Mother-In-Law Lounge”.  Antoinette now ran a bar by the same name. In the corner of her bar, stood a mannequin, made in the likeness of her late husband. “Why did you have him made … like this?” I asked her. “Because I miss him, baby” she answered. 

I have returned several times to ComicCon in San Diego, California, to photograph people who congregate to celebrate the Comics.  Most of the participants were earnest and single minded in their devotion to the specific characters rather than to any political agenda. “I do not look that much different normally,” said a girl with a spider necklace.  One woman, who looked like a full frame Roy Lichtenstein painting, complained that her arm got tired from holding up her thought bubble, but insisted on the precise rendering. 

These people are not smothered by their fantasies, they are their fantasies.

Their metamorphosis is complete.

—Lena Herzog