Yard Press, 2016
Uncoated paper 80gr
Limited edition 300 copies
It was 2012, but I remember it like it was yesterday; my first real, raw, honest taste of America. The same America you see in movies and TV shows. That perfect America of the "Yes we can!" and "You can have it all". I was in Los Angeles, and I was invited to spend Thanksgiving in Torrance, CA. The house was very welcoming, properly adorned with colourful fairy lights, a cute driveway with minivans parked in perfect order, inhabited by the typical American family: a mix of ethnic groups and various generations ranging from grandparents to grandchildren. By the time I go through the front door I find myself surrounded by people who invite me to come in, sit down, take off my coat, take a tour of the house and, cherry on top, someone even made me wear a sombrero. We sit at the table and begin feasting. I immediately feel like I am in a TV show, and I realize how strange experiencing something entirely new is while feeling in a sort of deja-vu all at once. Impeccable presentation, nevertheless. Grandma serves the turkey and I fall in love with the gravy. As good tradition goes, we engage in various types of after dinner conversations, and, given my role as host, we almost immediately get to the origins of the family related stories, and how we all found each other under the same roof on this day.
Although the symbols of liberal America were scattered everywhere around the house, as I mentioned previously, the family included four different ethnic groups. American grandfather, Korean half-Japanese grandmother, daughter married to a Mexican who had a beautiful baby girl that perfectly represents the sum of this mix. At some point grandma gets up and goes to the center of the living room. We all sit around and she starts this heartfelt monologue, attracting the attention of everyone. She tells me about Korea, about poverty, how she arrived in America, about the years living on the streets, the abusive stall where she sold manufactured clothes, the money earned and saved, the small company that she had started, and the economic well-being that in the years had brought to her and her family. She told me how America had made this possible. Of how Korea had abused her, but America had accepted and cared for her. She talked about how the American dream exists, persists and transforms the impossible into real opportunities. And, of course, I feel so transported and I, somehow, admire the power of these words that for sure treasure a deep and real truth.
That kind of Positive pride that made America great! To me, it seemed I was re-watching an episode of that somewhat bigoted TV show – often dished to me in adolescence – called Seven Heaven, where we witness this monologue by the youngest daughter of the numerous offspring started by the Reverend Camden (played by Stephen Collins, the one that made headlines for molesting three minors) who, illuminated by ethereal light, in front of a deep blue sky and a crowd, praises mother country America, the American dream, and how one must be proud to be American.
It is possible to counter, however, a somewhat different, dystopian and much less romanticized vision of America. Several movements, in fact, have never harboured a great sympathy for the American system, guilty of representing a sort of machine that have played a key role in the disintegration of ideals, in creating an uncertain future at a global level, and in a series of acts of violence and wars that continue to inflict the world; a scary vision that after Obama and the recent events is overwhelmingly coming back; a vision from the one that came to mind the first moment I started looking through Brad Feuerhelm's Goodbye America.
This is my personal way to introduce this book which to me is, in a very sincere way, an attempt to bring a certain kind of consciousness of America’s recent history. To be honest, I already knew what to expect because I know Brad and we already happened to talk politics and world views, so I wasn't shocked in turning the pages of this book that, in a very intelligent way, it has been published by Yard Press immediately after the election of Donald Trump, and at the time of inflammatory remarks on the political, social and democratic American system. I remember when discussing Clinton and Sanders how Brad was quite concerned – almost certain at times – about the possibility that Trump could become a concrete thing. During the campaign I can't deny that I have followed much of his outbursts and very timely analysis in full Feuerhelm style on Facebook and, more indirectly, ASX.
I mentioned dystopia earlier on because dystopian is the picture that Brad gives you of the American dream. Goodbye America speaks of decline, of a society that has collapsed in on itself and that, surely, continues to do so without being aware that the credibility of the past is now undermined. The book is a symbol of all this, an anthology of the American dream, the glossy images that symbolize freedom, social, cultural and sexual independence, fast food, skyscrapers, power and wealth. All are archival images, part of Brad's collection, over which he intervened grinding, scratching, burning, raping and destroying these symbols. Like on a rampage, a sudden anger that leads you to lose control. This is what I see and sense at a very personal level: an almost unconscious gesture that encloses a majestic violence aimed at raising awareness. The book presents all of this in a very direct face punch, where all the space is left to the images, where even the cover is so direct as to leave no room for doubt, and the essays matching the images are politically "incorrect", extremely lucid in political analysis, and strong of an activism that does not seem to be at all an end in itself. I like to think that this work fits into a current, a trend that gradually and with a lot of different ways and approaches, is outlining a "new history" of American photography made of deconstructionism, impulsivity, dystopian landscapes and a strong awareness that change it is increasingly necessary.