All Photos Matt Black.
Beginning in 2013, Matt Black set out to document isolated rural communities near his hometown in California’s Central Valley. In 2015, he expanded the project and set out on a total of 100,000 miles and 46-states, focusing on areas where over 20% of people live above the poverty line.
“To say, for example, ‘in the Central Valley of California or in rural Mississippi, these stories exist’ — by doing it that way, it makes it easier to ignore… So, the idea was to try to bring it as close as possible, to show how universal these issues and these sorts of experiences are in this country.”
The resulting project aimed to connect the experiences of these communities around the United States, to shine a light on the collective disparity they faced, and to show the reality of the American Dream for much of the country.
American Geography was recently shown all together for the first time at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg. I just recieved this unbelievable (and large) multi-booklet zine, which was created for the project – I highly recommend it.
Here are a few quotes from Matt, which I think explain the project incredibly well.
“What I’m getting at is at the center of the American experience. And people tend to focus on the bright and shiny parts of the country, but not the parts that are intimately connected to that prosperity but don’t share in it.”
“In the work, I’ve tried to deal with the psychology of powerlessness, and how these things influence people’s thinking about themselves, and about their communities. And it is something I think is underestimated. In the end, these issues stem not just from finances.”
“[These places] feed the raw materials for that American story to unfold [elsewhere]… And there’s a built-in sense of disempowerment that goes with that. Anyone who’s from a place like this knows the feeling very well. I tried to harness and internalize that feeling as much as possible, the tragedy and disillusionment that goes along with that. I used that to inform the pictures.”
“I remain committed to a strong emotional reaction in response to the photographs. To me, photography works best when the images provoke a visceral response. And the fact is those images are pretty rare.”
“The pictures look to me how pictures should look. And I can go into a little bit of detail about what it’s like to photograph in an environment like that of the Central Valley – it’s very difficult to get a full-range image in a place that is so saturated with sun. When I learned photography, it was all in black and white, and to get a full range image, you had to push your film in order to get a black and a white. You had to use contrasty film, or
everything just came out grey. And since then, I’ve never really changed or questioned it. To me, that’s just how photographs look.”
“I talk to people from elsewhere, and they say this is the first thing they see when they come to America. They’re shocked by the visual, street-level reality of America. And I think that just points out… again, this myopia that we were talking about before, Fred, this blind spot that Americans have. It becomes so easy to unsee ourselves.”