Photo Journal Mondays: Hein-Kuhn Oh
Project: 'Americans Them'
Once in the past, I met a Japanese collector of Walker Evans' photographs. In quite a solemn manner he unveiled an original print from a leather case that looked as old as Evans' pictures. As I expected, the photograph was of an old church. I remember that the photograph felt quite heavy as the weight of its time. As if impatient to wait any longer, the collector began a lengthy and serious explanation about the value and the background of this original print.
The only thing left in my memory of our conversation, however, is the simple facade of the church which creates ambiguity because of its obviousness. But the church is just a church and the photograph is just a photograph.
Last summer, I had deja-vu with so many churches I saw and Evans photographed while traveling in the Eastern part of the United States. In 1990, I once went past a place similar to a place which I knew of in the Ohio country side, same old freeway, Mcdonald restaurants, a shabby gas station with rotten pumps . . . Won't there be the same festivals, auctions, and parades that I used to see in the Ohio countryside? Perhaps after ten years there will still be the same festival beginning with a parade car with a big Burger King logo and a nearby local school brass band and ending with the solemn salute of old veterans from the American Legion.
There might still be a Chinese or a Japanese photographer like me, who gets perplexed with confronting the empty faces of Fargo while looking for 'raw' figures of Arbus or Weegee. Regardless of whether they use a scarred Graflex or a brilliant digital camera, won't they be confused about the curious identity of American culture if they see Walker Evans's old church standing in a surreal mood in the same place? Then they will experience Americans as 'them', as perpetual others.
April 3, 2000, after finishing American Them...