Tumultuous Times – Battling a New Depression Today

In the present day, though we aren’t dealing with Depression-era dust storms or bread lines anymore, there is still quite a bit of strife and struggle that is happening in the U.S., hardship that if you don’t know where to look, you’d never see it.

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A man rests on the sidewalk in downtown Denver, 2014 (Leica M3 35mm) Kenneth Wajda Photographer

If you drive down any Main Street in any town in the U.S., you might see a downtown that isn’t all that active or thriving, but you also probably wouldn’t see despair.  The coffeeshop is selling $3 cappuccinos and the pub in town has a half-dozen patrons bellied up to the bar.

But behind that facade, there are people suffering with health issues, mental illnesses, addictions, poverty, unemployment, broken families, and alcohol and drug addiction.

There are also people celebrating a 90th and 100th birthdays that you wouldn’t know about, as well as people training to become Olympians, rock stars, surgeons, and still others starting a new job or a new family.

Good news and bad, they go together everywhere we go.  But to hear the politicians, the liberals only want free government spending and all things immoral, and the conservatives only want religion in all things and no corporate regulation.

Is any of that true?  What does a gay person in Kansas look like?  And live like?  What prejudices does a Muslim in Mississippi deal with, versus one in New York City?  Maybe we can put a camera to them and see.

In the days of the FSA program, Roy Stryker brought in photographers to document the life of the urban and rural people, and said the goal of the project was to “Show America to Americans.”

I’ve thought about that.  With our political climate so polarizing, our society so divided–liberals vs. conservatives, 99% vs. 1%ers–what would it be to look at what is really going on in America?  To see it for what it really is.

For instance, I hear on the news about people who are addicted to opioids, how serious this epidemic is, but I don’t know anyone who it affects, so it’s out of my consciousness.  But that doesn’t lessen its affect and the suffering it causes my neighbors.  I might imagine it’s some derelict in the gutter who’s shooting up, but perhaps it’s actually the star athlete who got hooked on the drug after a bad knee injury.

I need to see it first-hand to really understand. What does that America really look like?

We live in a time when there are more pictures being snapped than ever in the history of photography, but with great quantity comes a downside–navigating through the glut of images is difficult, and daunting.

I want to see what the country is really like, ‘Show America to Americans’.  Not the happy vacation pictures depicted on Facebook, or the slanted views delivered on the news, but real photographs of our neighbors and friends.  And the strangers that we meet along the way.  Created by serious film photographers, working with respect and journalistic integrity–another reason for using film.

The goal is to create a collection of photographs to eventually put into the Library of Congress, plus to deliver the images in a book, once we’ve gathered America’s story in photographs.

Photographs can bring about change.  This photograph by FSA photographer Arthur Rothstein, photographed in the Texas panhandle, showed Americans what the dust bowl was really like to people who couldn’t imagine how bad it could be.  I believe photographs can bring about change–they’re that powerful.  But we have to create them and show them to each other.

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Arthur Rothstein, Dust Bowl, Texas Panhandle

I’m seeking photographers to document their community.  Their neighborhoods.  Their events.  And to put a caption to the photo, because a strong caption makes the photograph’s impact that much greater.

I am purposely limiting the contributions to film photographers, as I am hoping to get past the quick phone snaps that don’t live up to the quality of the FSA photographers who have gone before us, and curate a group of photographs from serious documentary photographers and photojournalists who have the passion to want to tell America’s story.

One that’s not being told very well at the present time.

 

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