Alexander Missen‘s photographs from ‘Q&A’ are a discussion between himself and us, a pondering on a place we know but haven’t been too. A questioning of the America of our imagination and the reality of place, of the power of the image and its impact on our relationship to culture. In particular American culture.
We have all grown up with American culture, the world has been dominated by it for nearly 100 years. In literature, film, art and music it has shaped our view of the world and of the country itself with its brash cars, stars and stripes, hot arid deserts, space missions, pick up trucks, motels and rock n roll. We all think we know it. And what Missen opens up is the space between our imagination and the reality of it. His journey an examination of cultural symbolism and how the motifs we associate with America have effected the reality of place and people, how we are unduly influenced by cultural tropes which in turn colours our relationship to it. Between what is real and what is imagined. Most importantly he seems to be looking for a place to begin. A starting point that will allow him into a new America, into a reality informed by what he actually senses on a visceral level.
So here we are. In Missen’s America of the imagination. Classical pictures. Formal images. Of flags and peach trees, trucks and desolate landscapes burning in the sun. Is this truth or what we expect truth to be? Are these images a riff on a stereotype or are they born out a personal relationship between the photographer and the people who inhabit this vast country.
It’s an interesting conundrum. Impossible to answer. Culture is multi layered, grows and flourishes through the perpetual re-appropriation of images and words, nothing is static. It’s always moving. We can never find the truth of a culture, the kernel is always buried deep. Its origin forgotten. America lies at the heart of our very being, everything is distilled though it whether we like it or not. And this project poses that question. That problem. That reality. Or as Missen puts it:
America fills me with questions. Some of these are basic curiosities about the place and it’s people, but the most jarring to me is: “What causes familiarity towards a place you have never been before?”
Travelling across the United States for the first time it soon became apparent that the visual identity of the place is inherently intertwined with the mythos of the country. We understand this place through cars, half-familiar faces and mountain ranges. As this identity is explored one becomes aware that the nature of this relationship between the place and its aesthetic is cyclical. To photograph it is to simultaneously record and create it. Like the performance of a rock and roll standard the experience has the dual nature of being both vital in its transience and archetypal in its foundations.