Take three guesses on what style of photo portraits I am going after, and the first two don’t count.
In 2019, what does it means to be an American? As an immigrant myself, I have always been fascinated by this subject. Now with the country being divided politically, this question is even more important than ever. In this project, I aim to make portraits of “Americans”, people that have stories to tell.
For this project, I will be using an 8×10 camera and photograph solely in B&W. 8×10 B&W films are expensive and 8×10 color films are just impossibly expensive.
The style of work is of course inspired by Richard Avedon, and the project specifically is inspired by his “In the American West” work. In his body of work, the New York celebrity photographer of celebrities and powerful people, turned his lens to the “people in the West” that no one knew about: the coal-miners, the snake handlers, the drifters.
His choices of subject were totally unexpected as “the West” was thought to be of about expansive landscapes and cowboys. Avedon did not do any of that. He offered the world an uncompromising view of people that he and the art and East Coast elites were not used to seeing. “In the American West”, Avedon humanizes the un-glamors.
Avedon photographed over 750 people, exposing over 17000 sheets of B&W in the course of 5 years, and he selected about 120 images for exhibition and the book publication. His project was funded by the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. To shoot 17000 sheets today, just the film cost alone is over a hundred thousand dollars. Obviously I will not be doing THAT. (As an aside, he burned/destroyed all other negatives, what a lost opportunity for future generations to learn).
Nevertheless, with these two images (which of course may or may not survive to the end of the project selection), the project has officially started.