Americana redefines the American experience


In late September, Darren Ching curated the photo exhibition Americana at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center. The exhibition features images hand-picked by Ching from photographers around the US. The CPAC’s vast display room now houses roughly 30 photographs that capture what it means to be an American in 2017.

However, the American dream has changed, and Ching has no problem with that. The difference between today’s lived experience and the society Americans imagined 10 years ago is astonishing.  The dissipation of the white picket fence does not mean that the American dream has dissipated as well. It’s just changing.

“Americana, in its broadest sense, can be defined as a means by which to encapsulate the essence of America—as a place, a people, a time, a culture, and an ideal,” Ching said. “It’s commonly associated with pervasive nostalgia, filled with optimism, innocence, and a rose-tinted view of the past.”  

The images span from high school girls laying on a beach towel on the greenest grass, to cellphone towers disguised as crosses in the Midwest. Arguably, in the current political climate, Americans are so divided that it is sometimes difficult to talk to one another without feeling offended or inferior. In the nick of time, Ching released the photographs as a way to remind Americans that we all share this country and many of our youths have embedded themselves in American culture. The mental image of America is changing, and now the tangible image has changed as well. It’s not just baseball and cold beers anymore. Ching presented the new images of America as so much more than that. It’s a young boy sitting in the pool with an Optimus Prime helmet on. It’s a sign in English on one side with a Spanish translation on the other. It’s a homeless man with tattoos of skulls and a syringe poking out of his pantleg. Whether or not the viewers actually share the same experiences as the featured young boys, Spanish speakers, or the homeless, they all share the same home.  

One image in the exhibit portrays men wearing shirts that say, “Stomp on my flag and I’ll stomp on you,” while drinking beers on a board walk. Nearby hangs a photograph titled, “Foliage.” The image depicts four Asian-American women waving the American flag with glowing smiles on their faces. “I live next door,” artist of the piece Kathryn Mussallem said.  “I am your neighbor. I am the same but different. You fascinate me. I am scared of you but I love you all the same.”

“These patriotic ladies exuberantly fight to be the stars of the photograph eclipsing their veteran husbands from long past foreign wars in the background,” Mussallem said about the piece overall. “This is the America I love.”

Ching assembled a myriad of images that seemed unrelated to one another. The stark difference between images shows the audience that differences are in fact what everyone has in common. Home is wherever people can feel like themselves, and for everyone living in the United States, America is their home.

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