American Document is a database documentary situated in a master narrative that invites the audience to consider and assess New Deal era history in the context of a dynamic storytelling platform. The master narrative is expressed by an indexed database of 2,500 archival photographs characterized by embedded text and captions, and a paradigm of thematic expository text. Each archival photograph appears accentuated by theme, photographer, year, and state, and is juxtaposed with its original caption. In certain circumstances, the variable unknown appears as an indicator of where categorical data could not be fully ascertained. American Document is actualized by random algorithmic modulation and may be navigated from any of the four junction points (theme, photographer, year, state). With each activation, an archival photograph is selected at random from the database, and a new narrative path enabled. Through the subtleties of thematic pattering and algorithmic modulation, narratives form and seemingly disparate photographs find communion. The thematic expository text functions to annunciate the artist's voice throughout the modulation of the database, and provides spaces for contemplation that conjure allusions to iconic characteristics, beliefs, and morals in American culture. The themes include: The American Dream, Liberty, Commerce, Christianity, The Road, The Everyday, Government, World War II, and Race. In sum, American Document is a database which reveals a distinct economy of information of value to our understanding of New Deal era history.
American Document is also a composition of voices which expresses a collective choral voice. The collective choral voice is revealed by a synthesis of the thematic expository text, embedded text, and captions, and deployed using the third-person plural narration technique. As the audience engages the database, the choral voice is expressed at various tones, and at various lengths. Over time, seemingly disparate archival photographs coalesce, and salient historic values and new meanings are sung through repetitive designation. As recognizable evidence is exposed in an unexpected fashion, defamiliarization provokes attunement of the realities and truths expressed. American Document is a latent body of evidence punctuated by a choral voice steeped in irony and paradox; the potential for narrative twists and epiphanies abound as the history of the New Deal era is questioned and recast.
The American DreamLiberty Commerce Christianity The Road The Everyday Government World War II Race
The American Dream
The American Dream is the tone of utopia. America is a mythic land of sorts, a studio of infinity steeped in legendary triumphs and catastrophic endings, where man's overriding courage faces the perils of destiny and self-fulfilling prophecy in the spirit of a vigorous individualism. Change comes at painful costs, where the balance of what is fair remains unknown. The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, where the idea of freedom includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success. The American Dream and the Declaration of Independence are inextricable, chiming the same tune that all men are created equal, and are endowed by the their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The American Dream is a place of historic values and storybook ideals, which power the hopes and aspirations of Americans as they strive for a better life through hard work and fair ambition. The American Dream is a place of dreams transpiring in an era of catastrophic uncertainty, where economic crisis and war are known by all, where lives are burnt with yearning, where inflated expectations and sorrows go hand in hand, and where heroes and sinners live together in a land, clearly dislocated.
Liberty is the tone of freedom. Liberty is a moral principle that identifies the condition in which human beings are able to govern themselves, to behave according to their own free will, and take responsibility for their actions. Liberty is also one of the most treasured values in American culture. Throughout history, Americans have defined their idea of Liberty in the context of authority, property, social justice, equality, the right to privacy, and the pursuit of personal freedoms. Liberty is a place where ideas of freedom are expressed in words, revealing a voice which lived between 1935 and 1944. Liberty is also a place of looming evidence, where the pulses of individualism and resistance question the freedom of the common man, and the belief that America is being saved from itself.
Commerce is the tone of independence. The principles of American Liberty have long been evidenced by the achievements of the independent free market economy. The free market is imbued by the spirit of vigorous individualism, and buttressed by the unfettered transmission of knowledge. The people who propel the free market value themselves, their communities, and the principles of Liberty. During the New Deal era, the Roosevelt administration centralized many of the valued free market functions by imposing an experimental planned market economy, on an unsuspecting people. Commerce is a place of declaration, that between 1935 and 1944, the American people continued to realize their independence through private ownership of the means of production, the creation of goods and services for profit and income, the accumulation of capital, competitive markets, voluntary exchange, and wage labor.
Christianity is the tone of communion. The Founders of the United States drafted the Declaration of Independence with a Biblical God in mind, although they advocated religious tolerance. Since the founding of the nation, the people have remained permissive of those who seek to practice their beliefs as they see fit. Nevertheless, some still say that it was the Christian religious foundation that made America exceptional. From the Evangelical to the Episcopal, to the Quaker, Christianity beams as a guiding principle, across the regions, and throughout the individual states. Christianity is a place where the Great God Saves on Sundays, where beliefs and morals are heard and shared by a spectrum of believers. The dominion of divine providence, nature’s god, and other such heavenly forces tread along close by.
The Road is the tone of transformation. The Road is paradoxical America, in all her turbulent glory, known by those who know her liberation. The Road is a metaphor for man's existence, composed of inward journeys of physical rebirth and decay, transcendence, and metamorphosis. The Road is a poetic indicator of crossroads and intervention, where each turn imposes its own mores, and where the brave decide their speed. The Road is a location, furnished with all types, running with the cadences of life, where the rural and urban never harm the other, though they recognize their differences. The Road is an allusion to America's proclivity for migration, obsession with cars, deeply rooted yearning for all that might be, and distrust of power wherever it occurs. The Road is a fortuitous place of consciousness, where darkness, violence, and light are entwined with myth and irony. To the beholder, the Road is a place where messages are communicated and perceived along the way; sometimes there is a detour, and sometimes it dies.
The Everyday is the tone of pathos. The Everyday is the quotidian world of our existence, steeped in all that is beautiful and mundane, where the quietude of harmony also knows foreboding. From the Oklahoma Panhandle to the Appalachian Mountains, The Everyday is a place where you see the faces, and read the words of lives lived between the years 1935 and 1944. The people welcome you to their stage. Here you see a panoramic portrait of things, and perhaps most lucid is the plurality of a humanity, transpiring in a land of great American frontiers. From the disparate coasts of Maine to California, man is a cog in the machinery of life, constantly on the threshold of something new, raw, and possibly territorial. The Everyday provides transparency to earthly morals, dreams, dust bowls, whims, and certain things, which are simply better left unsaid, so to absolve them from some customary label.
Government is the tone of constraint. The Government of the United States, for all its majesty, was envisioned as a Government of limited powers. It was during the New Deal era, that a watershed in the growth of Government power occurred. A state of economic crisis and the Great Depression were used to justify the expansion of this power, where an exorbitant number of experimental policies and alphabet agencies were deployed to mediate inflation, unemployment, and the exigency of human suffering. It was also during this time that the Democratic Party stylized the use of propaganda, in a nationwide effort to champion the common man and restore hope to the nation, while imposing a planned market economy on an unsuspecting people. Roosevelt's revolution began in 1933, with his inaugural address, which left no doubt about his intention to seize the moment, and harness its worth to his purposes. Best remembered for its patently false line that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," it also called for extraordinary measures in the form of emergency governmental powers. Government is a place where socialist planning, political realignment, and big city machines encounter conscience, Liberty, and The Everyday. We give thanks to the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration for documenting this unforeseen change in the American political landscape.
World War II
World War II is the tone of tension imbued with freedom. Fundamental to Americans' sense of themselves as individuals, and as a nation, is the idea of freedom. This central term in American vocabulary is deeply embedded in the documentary record of the nation's history, language, and everyday life. In 1941, Roosevelt famously defined the elusive word in his Four Freedoms speech, where he proposed that people "everywhere in the world" ought to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. It was also during the very same year that the Japanese made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, an event which officially catapulted the United States into World War II. To the American people, December 7th, 1941 is a date, which lives in infamy, for better and for worse. The idea of freedom supported Americans, both overseas and on the homefront, throughout the duration of the war. In their righteous might, the people triumphed over all adversity, and saw their efforts through to absolute victory, conquering their wartime foes for the cause of freedom. World War II is a place of tension and uncertainty, where the dissolution of preordained notions of everyday life serve as salient reminders of war's unexplained nature. In a world ravaged by oppression, World War II is a place which embodies the Four Freedoms, where The Everyday is colored by a booming war economy, price controls, war bond drives, victory gardens, rationing, the rise of women in the labor force, and unswerving acts of courage under pressure. We give thanks to the Government's nationwide propaganda campaign, and especially the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information, for popularizing and documenting the war effort, on the homefront.
Race is the tone of struggle desirous of harmony. In the United States Declaration of Independence, the self-evident premise that "All men are created equal," was immortally declared. Immortally declaring the equality of man did not prevent the widespread intolerance of diversity, nor did it inhibit the diffusion of racially structured institutions. The story of race relations in America is one of dire complexity, steeped in darkness, irony, and anguish. The forbearance of those who have been affected remains astonishing. One might say that America is a racist land, but hardly anyone would utter such an abomination. Between 1935 and 1944, Race is an unfair place, where bigotry and shame speak of a chilling indifference in society, and where crimes are committed in words, and in the dead of silence. In the shadow of endurance, man is tagged and segregated as a visible and undesirable convention. If this place causes you discomfort, then you have felt the suffering.
Clem Albers, Philip Brown, Esther Bubley, Paul Carter, John Collier, Marjory Collins, George Danor, Jack Delano, Sheldon Dick, Royden Dixon, Pauline Ehrlich, Walker Evans, Andreas Feininger, John Ferrell, Albert Freeman, Edward Gruber, Fritz Henle, Howard R. Hollem, Joseph A. Horne, Fenno Jacobs, Theodor Jung, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Howard Liberman, Edwin Locke, Martha McMillan Roberts, Carl Mydans, David Myers, Alfred T. Palmer, Gordon Parks, Walter Payton, William Perlitch, Marion Post Wolcott, Ann Rosener, Edwin Rosskam, Louise Rosskam, Arthur Rothstein, V.B. Scheffer, Ben Shahn, Arthur S. Siegel, Roger Smith, George C. Stoney, Roy Stryker, John Vachon, and Paul Vanderbilt.
19351936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944
Alabama, Alaska Territory, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii Territory, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Virgin Islands, Washington, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The archival photographs reproduced in American Document are drawn from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection.