“As you see the large

truck and trailer

jack-knifed over

the edge of the freeway

in the evening rain

you notice the red letters

on the side: LUCKY

 

as your wipers throb and

scrape

you think, I should have

stayed home and worked on

the little drawings for

the next novel

 

then you feel shame for

such conservatism

hit the throttle and

begin weaving through and

past the other drivers

 

turning the radio up

to some sexpot singing

about how much she’d

like your love

 

you glide along

to the end of the

freeway

 

red light

 

sitting in the rain

with the others

 

many of the people probably

listening to the same

sexpot singing how

much she’d like

their love

 

you think about that

poor guy in the LUCKY

truck

wonder if he’ll lose

his job

 

as the signal changes

and we move onto

the boulevard.”

 

Jack-knife ~ Charles Bukowski (68)

 

 

 

                  Charles Bukowski describes the innate flawed quality of being human while trying to survive and understand American life in his poetry.  In Jack-knife, above, he uses the metaphor of life being a freeway, something everyone can relate to, to express his feelings of insignificance in a progress obsessed, constantly changing modern world.  His gritty, truthful writing laced with a romantic strain of perseverance is inspiration for my photography.

            I am inspired by the way Bukowski uses everyday objects and occurrences as symbols to describe the irony of life, like the lucky sticker on the truck, which is really very unlucky to be jack-knifed on the side of the road in the rain at night.  I am also interested in using everyday symbols and situations to visually describe American life. 

             Though his poems often seem pessimistic, lonely, and sad, there is always a redeeming quality in the end, a glimmer of hope or appreciation.  His honesty and subtlety makes me smile because I can commiserate, yet take encouragement from his strength of spirit, realizing that we all, as humans, make mistakes, have accidents, feel insignificant, feel selfish, and deal with pain underneath the illusions of contemporary American life.  “In between the punctuating agonies, life is such a gentle habit,” (Bukowski 133). 

            A dirty dust-ball, an empty chair near a lone house plant, a stack of sugary store bought cakes tipping over a countertop, stretch marks on a young thigh, a man baring his stomach, holding a gun and a beer, and a forest valley burned to stumps showing spring green sprouts, what do these things have in common?  Like the substance of Bukowski’s simple, poetic prose, these insignificant symbols speak of a larger metaphor of American life and human existence.  Their images make up the content of my photographic project, in which I combine contrasting, visually symbolic photographs in horizontal sequences as probing poetry of my own. 

            The complexity of meanings within these photographic sequences can be simplified by describing the symbols in each picture, the concepts behind these subjects, and the relationships created between image juxtapositions in three examples of my work.  Explaining my interpretations and where I see my art in the greater context of the world will reveal more depth in understanding.

            Through my photographic practice and artistic process I explore and express American culture, including the goal of the American dream and the nightmarish sides it can have, and the imperfect human experience everyone shares in dealing with the routines of society.  I am interested in the ideas of America portrayed through the mass media and collective mind set today including the freedoms, myths, contradictions, confusions, and the weaving beauty throughout.  The visual intensity of my photographic sequences celebrates and questions life, as I know it.

            I have always been fascinated by the myth of the American Dream.  As a girl I remember sitting on my father’s lap watching nightly news segments with Tom Brokaw telling stories of Americans succeeding, struggling, working hard, moving up in the world, and smiling with their families on camera.  His deep voice and seemingly heroic reporting was comforting and helped me imagine my own future dreams. 

            I grew up in a middle class family in Northern Michigan as the oldest child of divorced parents.  My dream was always to grow up, move away, get married, have money, and have children.  That seemed so appropriately American to me; that was success.   I had tunnel vision, focusing so strongly on this one naive fantasy, that before I knew it, my American dream had come true.  However, the illusion was broken when I met reality: life is not that simple, happiness is not sustained forever by achieving one goal, and reality is full of flaws. 

            Truth be told, there is an underbelly to the American dream.  My experience of this blurred line between fantasy and reality fueled the exploration of the illusions portrayed in American culture in my work.  I wanted to question how we make meaning and decide what to believe from the ambiguous images and messages in society.

My current photographic project involves working with multiple images to create digitally collaged sequences of four to six photographs in horizontal strips.  I am interested in making and including many different types, styles, and qualities of photographs in this body of work.  Two digital SLRs, a pocket digital camera, a 35mm film camera, disposable cameras, a scanner, the internet, and found images are the tools and ways I make and collect my photographic images.

             I constantly question my conventional and habitual thinking, often following my intuitive ideas for art experiments and creating images.  I photograph the artifice and habits of American culture within my day-to-day existence by taking pictures in a photo-diary, snapshot style, and shooting in the spur of the moment.  As well, I create more formal compositions in particular locations or settings that interest me.  Other times I start with an idea for an image and conceive the concept and arrangement of the picture before making it.  Using recognizable advertisements or magazine pictures that I subtly manipulate with Photoshop in combination with these other styles of photographs, brings the public images into a context of questioning and helps to create enticing visual contrasts in my sequences.

            I am also interested in adding hand made marks on top of photographs as it reminds the viewer of the artist, the human, behind the picture-making machine.  I color on photographs with black permanent marker to isolate an object, illustrate a concept, and create a graphic aesthetic.  Through these methods I create my own symbols in image form.

            With the diversity of imagery I collect, rounds of editing and organizing follow.  Little flash card photographs sprawl across my working spaces and with them I build the sequences with as much intuition as intellect.

            Working with multiple images is a pertinent format of our culture’s age.  It mirrors and mimics, employing the same tools as the media, echoing experiences surrounding us as modern global people.  We are conditioned to seeing numerous images around us, often entertaining to compete for our attention.  We filter through all the information, editing the important from the excess, and take our own meanings from what we choose.

              The conceptual part of my art pertains to the symbolic imagery within these many types of photographs.  My interest is in portraying aspects of American culture through a visual language of signs, and interjecting into my photographic interpretation of American society, the inseparable quality of the human condition.  What does that mean?  It means creating a visual arena of pillars, the singular photographs combined together in the sequences, to be read with the mechanism of semiotics, which together ask questions about the values and contradictions of American society, how we live and think about life: the cruelties, disappointments, pleasures, and all the routine in between. 

I am interested in presenting these observations in a beautiful way with an approachable, truthful, and stimulating aesthetic, peppered with personal story, images sometimes to be taken with a grain of salt and always in appreciation of their subjects.

            Over the course of the development of this project, I have become aware of my fascination with certain symbols and my repeated capturing of them.  My legend of icons, like a key in a map, includes hands, chandeliers, desserts, or other foods, quirky consumer products like outdoor furniture covers, or artisan toilet bowl cleaners, phones, crowns, skulls, mannequins, keys, locks, guns, eyes, wild cats, objects of Americana like rhinestone flag pins, and anything circular in shape. 

            The circle has become a type of personal emblem, and I am obsessed with the visual power and meaning of it as a symbol.  The circle symbolizes the return to unity from multiplicity, and it stands for heaven and perfection (Cirlot 46-47).  “There are profound psychological implications in the concept of perfection where the circle would correspond to an ultimate state of oneness,” wrote J.E. Cirlot in his book A Dictionary of Symbols (47). 

“Enclosing beings, objects or figures within a circumference has a double meaning: from within, it implies limitation and definition; from without, it is seen to represent the defense of the physical and psychic contents themselves against the perils of the soul threatening it from without, these dangers being, in a way, tantamount to chaos, but more particularly to illimitation and disintegration,” (Cirlot 48). 

            This quote is significant in respect to the black circles used over people’s heads in my sequences.  Sometimes we make ourselves blind to things in life as a way of self-protection and preservation, but not being aware can lead to other problems going unchecked. 

By infusing images of the circle throughout my work, I create a motif and integrated morale.  The circle reminds me of the cycle of life, the passing of time, and the commitment I have to my community and myself; it means strength, perseverance, eternity, and hope.  It is the most important part of the visual language of symbols in my art, as it is my way of communicating a culminating tone and message about America and human experience: keep committed, strong, and optimistic in the face of life. 

            To approach the meaning of these sequences the principles of semiology can be used to help define how meaning is constructed in photographs and determine how the underlying literary texts of images produce complex message communications.  Semiotics is the study of signs in all the signifying systems, like language, in a society (Chandler 2).  For example, a sign in the English language would be the word shoe.  The word is the signifier, and the object it stands for, the shoe itself, is called the signified.  From this simple format many signs can be combined, as in sentences, to form more complex thoughts like ‘the boy wears red shoes.’  In a similar way, a system of signs works in visual imagery.            

            Photography is like a visual language, and it is often spoken of as universal; but photographic reading is a learned technique as much as reading a book or a poem in a certain language is (Burgin 86).  Objects recorded in the camera have cultural meaning, and will be read within that pretext (Burgin 47).  Nothing is neutral before the camera (Burgin 41). 

Within the popular conscience signs can have multiple meanings (Burgin 54).  A ‘floating signifier’ describes the differing meanings signs can possess to different people with unique pretexts (Chandler 26).  The reading of an image can also be affected by the symbols it is juxtaposed against (Chandler 28). 

            Yet, fears of unclear messages do not stop our communication through images; it is more powerful than ever today.  Advertisements are plastered everywhere throughout contemporary culture, and we use pictures to express almost everything.  I think we have become immune to the multiplicity of meanings surrounding all that we deem or do not notice as symbolic.  We live with the ambiguity in image representations, and we each subjectively decide what the signs in images mean to us, if anything on the conscious level. The uncertainty and multiple messages in imagery are entrancing to me.  

            A round ceramic cookie jar painted with cookie shapes and a big walnut handle is the focus of the first image in the sequence of five, titled Blue Cheese Soufflé Play (fig. 5).  It’s separated from the photographic background by a curtain of black marker colored around it.  I interpret this sequence to address issues of growing up in American society.  The cookie jar represents the sweetness and simplicity of childhood while the blacked out background references blocked out memories or pain and the illusions and perspective one has about life as a child.

Figure 5:  Blue Cheese Souffle Play, Kelly Frank,

2006.  Digital photographic collage.

 

             There is an underlying tension in this image from the visual play of what is a three-dimensional object photographed, yet flattened to look like a puzzle piece by the black around it.  I want to reach in and take the lid off the cookie jar to reveal something or just get a cookie, but the defined edge of black surrounding the image seems to hold the lid on tight, preventing my mental craving and causing a subconscious uneasiness. 

            Directly next to the black is a snapshot of a somber dangling skeleton with its skull bowed down, a hand missing, and its feet gestured as if in nervous apprehension.  The bones are bathed in a natural light, which seems to expose the melancholy of death or its life as an unused educational tool. 

            The skeleton is a sharp contrast to the childhood thoughts the cookie jar evokes.  It is the opposite of youth.  The gentle light quality and gestured stance of it make me feel concerned and somewhat sad.  I seem to commiserate with its loneliness and disrepaired condition.  At the same time, I respect it as a symbol of death, the passage of time, and the struggle and suffering of people in the world. 

            Third in the sequence is a compositionally formal photograph of two children, a boy and a girl, playing a game in a beautiful grassy yard decorated by spots of sun and shade.  Two sturdy tree trunks balance and stabilize the photograph, visually protecting the children from the imagery in the preceding and following pictures.

            This photograph represents a carefree childhood, the ideal.  What does the future hold for these children?  I think of my own childhood and American dream, the idea of having material and emotional security.  Essentially, wouldn’t we all like to be worry-free children again?  So the image stands for something to want.             

            The following photograph is of four skinny dangling legs in fancy black nylons and pointy high heels.  They seem gigantic compared to the children.  The visual image makes me think of stomping on the kids and the heels being used as violent weapons.  Derived from a fashion magazine, the two girls’ fragile legs are bent huddling together at the knees as if their torsos and heads, cropped out of the image, were frightened of something. 

            High heels are symbols of ultimate feminine beauty and seduction.  Women wear them to dress up, be fashionable, and even proper, but they are also a symbol representing old stereotypes of women.  Do I wear high heels to be beautiful, mysterious, sexy, as implied by the mass media, and pronounce my status, or revoke the cultural emblem of objectifying women, but be marked as dowdy?

            The legs of the two girls are touching each other at the knees in an expression of submission, and it sends a subliminal sexual message.  Again, this picture is a representation of something we desire as a culture from a male or females’ perspective.  As a woman, I feel a duality of being in control of this sexual power and controlled by it in our society. 

            The last photograph in the sequence also brings up the role of women in America.  It shows a woman in a tight white top presenting a perfect soufflé proudly in her kitchen.  Next to the soufflé are a sliced roast and a cream candle flickering on the stove.  I have colored a black circle over her face, leaving only a bit of the flesh of her neck visible and her identity a mystery.  It’s a dark, cold picture with the headless woman lit by a harsh overhead kitchen light falling off into darkness.

            I am the young woman in this picture, although I do not intend for the image to be viewed as a self-portrait.  The black circle serves to take away identity, and create a universal cookie cut out of a woman in a traditional stereotype.  The situation seems real because of the snapshot quality, but illusionary at the same time, because of the dark, sterle surroundings and constrained pose.  I read my body as hovering between childhood and adulthood, sexual appeal conveyed with the gesture of one hand on the hip and a slightly uncomfortable and artificial feeling portrayed with the other arm stiffly positioned, oven mitt on, presenting the dish. 

            Thinking about the age and role of this woman relates back to all four of the other images.  From childhood to death, the combination of imagery in this sequence questions the illusions and realities of American life.  It also questions the ideas of materialism, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, appearances, success, desire, values, and morals.   

            John Baldessari, a conceptual artist, used the technique of placing opaque colored circles of different sizes on people’s faces in images for visual and conceptual effect (Bruggen 139-40).  For instance, his piece titled Bloody Sundae (fig. 1) from 1987, made up of two black and white photographs, the top with three men hiding behind a pile of junk, and the bottom with a woman and man on a bed leaning in for a kiss (Bruggen 139-40).  All the people have circles painted on their faces from their eyes to their mouths of red, green, yellow, or blue. 

Figure 1: Bloody Sundae, John Baldessari,

1987.  B&W photographs on board with

vinyl paint.  Collection of Joseph Rank.

 

Although I do not remember seeing this work of his before drawing circles on my photographs of people and conceiving of the meaning it had to me, I find it interesting Baldessari employed a similar technique.  It reinforces my ideas of the circle over a head as a visual pun and a symbol for the illusion of individuality in modern culture.  Baldessari is also alluding to the stereotypical roles of men, women, and people in our culture in general, as I am aiming to do. 

            Intent to Swiffer (fig. 6) is a sequence that speaks of loneliness and desire.  The first photograph of chocolate ice cream is pictured from the vantage point of looking down as if you are about to take a bite.  There is a hypnotizing quality about it, as it seems to stare the viewer right in the face.  The perfect scoop signifies the desire and sweet experience of indulgence.  At the same time, the image is a tease, similar to a richly detailed food advertisement that makes your mouth water.  This picture is from an advertisement and words printed from the magazine page are faint in the background of my representation.  The ice cream scoop looks sculpturally chiseled, flawlessly carved out of the tub.  It has the visual illusion, portrayed life size, of actually being in front of the viewer, so the vertical lines of underneath text remind that we are just looking at paper. 

Figure 6:  Intent to Swiffer, Kelly Frank, 

2006.  Digital photographic collage.

 

            Next is a quiet photograph of an interior setting.  The empty chair in the dim room speaks of the absence of someone, yet the small green potted plant looks healthy and taken care of sitting atop a window shelf.  It symbolizes life and growth.  No matter what happens day-to-day, the plant still grows.  The way it is resting peacefully and helplessly in the window light reminds me of the delicacy of life, and what is important like giving and taking care of something, or someone, and oneself.  This photograph embodies the values of an unsuperficial, unselfish life, and speaks of the beauty within that simplicity, which contrasts with the implications of the pictures to the left and right.  It feels calming and hopeful.             

            The following image is of a man in a suit leaning against a constructed wall rest, a sculpture, in a museum with information tags and other art pieces around him.  The black circle over the subject’s head again blocks out the person’s identity.  Because of the gallery setting, the ‘universal’ man is put into the context of art, as an object of beauty and importance to analyze and admire.  It is an odd snapshot, but the flashlight makes it look ‘real.’  He is resting leisurely and breaking the ‘do not touch the art’ rule by reclining on another artist’s work.  His dressy attire and well-shined shoes represent success and high class: the American dream.  Is he deserving or overly self-entitled?  What does he value? 

            The black circle on his head pokes fun at him and deflates his position on a pedestal. It also makes a visual comparison with the circular ice cream scoop in the first image of the sequence. 

            Next to him is a black and white photograph of light shining through a window, which repeats the meaning of the previous image in the sequence, and signifies ‘a window on his soul.’  It speaks to look inside this man, a stereotype or a bit of everyman, to question what lies beneath his shell of American power and status.  Ironically, he is juxtaposed with a ball of dust in the following image, a symbol he is trying to conquer. 

            The next photograph in this sequence shows the influence of Wolfgang Tillmans' photography.  He photographs common objects elevating the low subjects to beautiful representations and fine art status.  Images of common objects reflect the photographer’s values and appreciation for the uncomplicated and mundane routines of daily life.  Tillmans’ work lead me to examine my everyday habits.  As he photographed a pair of pants hanging suggestively over a stairway banister, (fig. 4), I snapped a picture of the ever-constant dust and dog hairballs on my kitchen floor.

Figure 4:  Gray Jeans Over Stair Post,

Wolfgang Tillmans, 1991.  Colour photograph.

             

            An occurrence I usually try to hide and ignore, years could be counted by the daily, unsightly tumbleweeds rolling across my floors while I hunt them with the swiffer.  By taking another look at this dirt and turning my camera on it, it has become a visual symbol of the unavoidable routines and ugly realities of daily life.  The image of the dust ball represents flaw and the losing battle of attaining perfection.  It also stands for anger and disappointment to me. 

            Interpreted from another angle, the photograph, shot at the ‘dust’s level,’ is an ironic and silly picture.  By photographing the dust, I have come to accept its presence: flaw is apart of the human experience.  I resolved to give the hairball respect, making it beautiful, delicately outlined in cool light.  The dust bunny is visually transformed to remind the viewer of the fragile balance of life.  It brings the illusion of the iconic successful American man next door down to reality. 

            The unattractive facts of modern day life are often swept under the rug by the fantasyland the media creates.  The concept of paying thoughtfulness to the ugly realities of life has redirected my perception of how art can be intertwined with any aspect of life and realistically connected to personal growth and experience. 

            Two towering black marble columns decorated with nine fierce gold lions’ heads are the subjects dominating the final image in the sequence.  Cultural status similar to that of the successful bubble-headed man is found in the icons of the metallic lions.  They represent power, money, and success.  They are also a historic symbol dating back to Egyptian times when cats were sacred and stood for protection.  However, pictured here with sharpened contrast, they appear superficial, small, uniformed, manufactured, and gaudy in decoration as symbols of American emptiness and corruption. 

            This sequence, Intent To Swiffer, questions the American dream and the idea that material success makes one happy in life. 

            At A Ripe Age (fig. 7) starts out with a page from a home decors catalog highlighting outdoor furniture covers.  Chairs, a table, grills, and an umbrella are pictured.  The objects are transformed into tents over mysterious forms by the protective coats, which calls to mind Man Ray’s photograph of a seductive looking cloth-covered sewing machine from 1920 titled The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (fig. 2). 

Figure 7:  At A Ripe Age, Kelly Frank, 

2006.  Digital photographic collage. 

 

Figure 2:  The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, Man Ray,

1920.  B&W photograph.

 

            The issue of materialism is brought up by the sequence At A Ripe Age.  Who needs outdoor furniture covers, especially deluxe or reversible, to protect ‘outdoor’ furniture against weather they are meant to withstand?  Americans buy silly, unnecessary products impulsively.  ‘We are what we own’ resonates throughout our culture.  “More children here than anywhere else believe that their clothes and brands describe who they are and define their social status.  American kids display more brand affinity than their counterparts anywhere else in the world; indeed, experts describe them as increasingly ‘bonded to brands,’” describes Juliet Schor in her book titled Born To Buy (13). 

            The first image in this sequence speaks of the excessive commercialization of American lives.  Only a minimal percentage of the population can reasonably afford these types of goods, but it is worthy of concern that luxury products are what the majority strives for. 

            The visual appearances of these green cloth-covered objects on the advertised page are particularly symbolic.  The covers are products that hide what is underneath them like the curtains pulled over our eyes and minds which lets us believe the illusion commercial companies create: that we need their product. 

            The color green references money and greed, and it makes me think of the planet’s natural resources, like trees, that are being so carelessly consumed too.  The pointy army-green topped umbrella is our new tree.  Ironically, the covered furniture also looks like early historical shelters, which reference our past less technologically advanced and smaller brained ancestors.  We should be smarter about the use and waste of our environment. 

            At the same time the cloaked forms are mysterious and seductive.  The grass is always greener on the other side; we desire what we can’t have, what is left is a mystery for us to fantasize about.            The sophisticated written descriptions of the products bring me back to the reality that these flat images are for sale. 

            The second photograph is a snapshot of a little blonde haired girl clinging to the side of a small stonewall.  This picture continues the idea of survival and vulnerability sparked in the first photograph.  She is a symbol of innocence and susceptibility in her bathing suit and awkward stance, exposed by the camera’s flash light against the darkening night’s sky.  She represents the future of America, where our values and rapidly increasing consumption will lead us, but she is also just a kid messing around. 

            In the image her hunched over position visually signifies the weight of the world on her shoulders and the pressures of being a female in America.  Still, her image is beautiful to look at; she is a sign of hope, strength of individuality, and perseverance. 

            I read the art supplies pictured on the wall next to her as symbols representing appreciation for the value of art and other meaningful practices, including drinking coffee, referenced with the near by coffee mug, as important ways people cope and enjoy the routines of daily life. 

            The girl’s hair is a similar color to the golden warm hue of the fabric covering the purse buckle in the next image.  This picture was also derived from a magazine advertisement, scanned, and re-pictured with my interpretations.  The detailing on the buckle is luxurious with little flowers and leaves hinting of natural splendor.  This image signifies surface beauty and extravagant possessions.  It compares the little girl to an object, a product. 

            I recognize the patterned metal tongue of the buckle as a phallic symbol, and the picture then quickly turns into a sexual image, uncomfortably juxtaposed to the child.  In fact, there is a repeating visual reference in this sequence to sexual innuendo and subliminally violent images like the sharp umbrella, the buckle clasp, the pin-like bare trees, the juice covered knives, and the cut up melon flesh. 

            In making this collage, I was not at first aware of the culminating sexual and aggressive implications; my subconscious played a part in this effect, and my awareness of it grew over time.

            Optical illusions hidden in advertisements or any visual material are called subliminal embeds and are meant to influence the viewers without them knowing it (Bullock 14).  “Subliminal messages of this kind have been commonly used in media for the last five decades,” states researcher and writer August Bullock, and most often they hint at sexual and aggressive implications (14 and 34).  This power, we are mostly unaware of, is staggeringly scary, but I am intrigued to learn more because of the disguised symbols in some of my photographs.  In the future I am also interested in using subliminal messages of my own in images to make them more persuasive.   

            What does it mean that I intuitionally combined these five images together?  Using psychoanalysis, I question if I was expressing the threat of American culture imposing on me, and jeopardizing my ability to live outside the effect of the media and cultural norms like stereotypical roles of women.  I fear what American society values and alludes to glamorize in the media.  

            The fourth photograph in At A Ripe Age, taken from a rock ledge looking out over a valley of dead trees, represents fear and hope.  This was a picture I took on a family trip to Yellowstone National Park when I was young.  The rock ledge the viewer looks out from in the image I compare to the stonewall the girl is holding tightly to in the second image, and together they imply an edge to fall off of.  Falling to the depths of a forest of sharp tree trunks paints a bloody image of death to me.  But this landscape photograph is beautiful in traditional photographic terms, and the spring glow of baby grass signifies a new beginning and hope for tomorrow. 

            The texture of the dead trees could be sharp and prickly or soft like peach fuzz just like the final picture in the sequence, which is a still life of a white cutting board on my kitchen counter with light skimming the surface of two knives lying on the board.  One big and one smaller knife lay parallel to each other, their wet blades reflecting white.  Pieces of juicy, orange melon sit quietly next to them.  The chunks of chopped up melon meat could be seen as delicious fruit or jagged disturbing shapes. 

            Again, this last photograph could signify materialism and spoil or the simple act of cutting natural fruit to nourish your body, replenish, and treat yourself.  This image brings to mind Tillmans’ photograph of common objects, Still Life, Talbot Road (fig. 3), from 1991, portraying homemade coffee with a strainer and mug, a dish of fruits, and a plastic food container among other objects on a window sill.

Figure 3:  Still Life, Talbot Road,  Wolfgang

Tillmans,  1991.  Colour photograph.

 

 

            All five of the images in this sequence have a raw quality, and they portray the concept of danger and survival: essentially bringing the human race back to its animalistic roots.  These things add up subconsciously to a critique of society digressing.

            Interpretation of the sequences is an intrinsic part of my artistic process.  Everything I photograph is symbolic in my eyes, but other eyes may see things differently.  My work is very much about making meaning on a personal and cultural level with all the symbols and information we have as Americans and the confusion storming around that unconscious process.  I am interested in what my audience reads from the sequences, what narratives, metaphors, and queries resonate for the viewer.

            My photographic project presents questions.  As an exercise of American freedom it is imperative that we question and critique our society politically and culturally to keep it in check.  In my work I also aim to celebrate the power images hold in shaping our perceptions of reality and, today, constructing our identities.  With the expanded availability of tiny digital cameras with delete buttons, the popularity of reality television, the rise of MySpace.com, photo blogs, and expansive visual advertising we define and begin to understand three-dimensional life through flat photographs (Garret 74-5).  Photodiarists, myself included, have a mania for capturing everything and anything that resonates with emotion in hopes of illuminating their own lives (Garret 72-3).  On this personal, inward gazing level, I question myself and the meaning in my life.   

            Many artists now are involved in critique and observation of contemporary America’s cultural climate.  The young painter Justin Faunce commented, “Contemporary manifestations of power come in the form of popular imagery.  One has to subsume oneself to the power structure in order to play any meaningful role in its success or demise,” (Herbert 52).  His description seems to nail the position I take with my work and why it is pertinent to our times. 

            My art is about the entrapment I feel between rejecting and embracing aspects of American culture like materialism and stereotypical roles of women among other things.  On the other side of the critique, is the normalized and integrated point of view I have toward commercial and consumer culture being a child of the eighties compared to even one generation before me. 

            Evidence of these effects can also be seen in the art world with the trend of artistic expression taking shape through the medium of manufactured products and branding (Walker 30).  New subcultures, including artists, are protesting the power of gigantic corporations using their techniques; another mutation of the American dream is turning yourself, your beliefs, and the lifestyle you’re passionate about into a brand by making T-shirts, bags, hats, or whatever to support yourself.  “This is the quintessence of the postmodern brand rebel, hop-scotching the minefield of creativity and commerce, recognizing the categorization, satirizing it, embracing it and commoditizing it all at once,” wrote Rob Walker for the New York Times Magazine on the idiom of today’s alienated youth turning themselves and their ideas into products (29, 31).  

            These two perspectives on questioning contemporary culture illustrate the multiplicity of experiences and attitudes swarming through American life and a movement toward trying to understand it all: the realities and illusions, our freedoms, the control of our minds, and how to provoke change. 

            The greater context of my artwork has been revealed and a path to better understanding illuminated through the description of the symbols in my photographic sequences, the ideas behind them, the deconstruction of my compositional organizations, along with a summary of my artistic process, interests, and interpretations.

            My photographic sequences realize and present hope and disappointment, failure and success, flaw and perfection, understanding and confusion, the natural and artificial, and many of the contrasting ambiguities of contemporary American life through visually symbolic metaphors.

            I am excited by the universally human and simultaneously ornately personal quality of these sequences.  With this project I strive to make sense of the confusing and contradicting information and messages in the routines of everyday American life.  I intend to provoke awareness, thought, and question from my audience, beyond the superficial encounter of my art, about the illusions and realities in American society.  But most importantly, through the complexities, I aim to inspire appreciation for the small beauties in life and hopeful perseverance to all with these sequences.    

            American is a dust ball.  ‘Dust to dust’ is a common saying in our culture, and it speaks of the constant cycle of life.  The myth of the American dream seems like a concrete goal of success to work towards, yet this myth is also like a ball of dust.  It can dissipate before our eyes, or float away just when we think we have our hands on it.  There are problems behind the illusion of the American dream, success is not always fulfilling, and America is not always a fair place, making it extremely challenging and sometimes seemingly impossible for some people to achieve the dream.  America is the melting pot of human affliction.  We live in a flawed society and can only do the best we can to cope, change it, and find real happiness in the end.    

            “What distinguishes successful snapshots is also what makes good poetry: sensibility,” (Garrett 74).  Like Bukowski’s simple prose I hope my photography hunts through the grand agonies of American life to expose the tender habits and pleasures getting us through, day by day.

 

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© 2011 Kelly Frank. All rights reserved Email. kellyfrankart@gmail.com