Corey Olsen‘s photographs from ‘City Island’ are a satirical play on a wholesome life, a waspish existence, an everyday American dream that aspires to a life of boating and clams bakes, soft soled shoes and pastel clothes.
They may look like holiday snaps taken in a New England fishing town. But they’re not. They hide a salutary truth. City Island is a place. Just not where one might think it is. Not Maine nor New England. But New York City. A tiny spit of land that juts out from the Bronx – one of the poorest congressional districts in the US.
This dichotomy is what Olsen plays on. His deliberately bland pictures an affront to our expectations. His carefully composed, beautifully lit images re-appropriating those cheap picture framed snaps of smiling locals and tourists, worn out piers and take away meals, boats and swans. They’re images of a non existent world, an illusionary place in which everything is perfect.
These pictures are both a play on an societal idyll and photography itself, his portraits a pretence, an unreality. They don’t depict a reality rather they construct a truth that we believe in. What we see is not a document of a specific place but rather a space in which people and places are interchangeable. What are we to know? We must have faith in the photographer to pull back the curtains and invite us in. To see what City Island is like to live in, to visit, to be part of. And it’s in this liminal place between fiction and documentary that Olsen lives. He plays on our ignorance, he exposes our need to believe, to trust in what he has to reveal about a place.
Our expectations are put into relief, the photograph saying one thing but revealing another. It’is a comedy of errors and an important lesson on the nature of photography. Each picture both refuting and celebrating an American wholeness that has been passed down through generations of people enamoured by a media lie.Here’s what he has to say about the series:
During one of my classes a teacher described City Island as a New England fishing town located in the Bronx where New Yorkers went to eat seafood. So I began to read about City Island online. I read that it indeed looked a lot like a small coastal New England town or an appropriate setting for a Stephen King novel. I also read that the native City Islanders call themselves “clam-diggers” and call the visitors “mussel suckers”. Having experienced living in a coastal tourist trap town in Maine, I am familiar with places like this so I’m currently exploring ideals of a “getaway” and the juxtaposition of the locals vs. the visitors. I’m also interested in showing how City Island seems to be a mix between a New England fishing town, a suburb of Long Island, and the Bronx.