It's the 4th of July and America is celebrating its independence. Stars, stripes and swathes of red-white-and-blue dominate our screens as jubilant reminders of this chapter of the nation's history. These bold and celebratory icons remain the most recognisable markers of the land of the free, but in Tom Arndt's collection of midwestern photographs, we get a quieter vision of the American life. There is still colour here, but it sings from a different place.
Cover: Conversation, Indian Days, Browning, Montana, July 2015, Gelatin silver print; printed 2016, Image size: 14 1/4 x 17 1/2 inches; Paper size: 16 x 20 inches
Flag Dancer, Parade of Bands, Benson, Minnesota, 2015, Gelatin silver print; printed c.2015, Image size: 14 x 17 1/2 inches; Paper size: 16 x 20 inches
World War II Veteran, Memorial Day Parade, West St. Paul, Minnesota, 2015, Gelatin silver print; printed c. 2015, Image size: 14 1/4 x 17 1/2 inches; Paper size: 16 x 20 inches
Arndt was born in Minneapolis in 1944, he studied there and then went on to have his photographs exhibited at a number of heavy-hitting galleries all over America. His latest show – Where I Live – features over 35 photographs of people living in his hometown, as well as North Dakota and Montana, all taken between 2015 to 2016.
The protagonists of the collection are everyday citizens – in coffee shops, on the street, and driving their cars. Within these photographs they are represented as familiar personas without being sacrificed as mere archetypes. Arndt knows these people. He respects and enjoys them, and invites the world to do the same. Looking at the people in the collection feels the same as meeting someone a friend has promised you'd get along with.
Kids, Demolition Derby, Owatonna, Minnesota, August 21, 2016, Gelatin silver print; printed 2016, Image size: 14 1/4 x 17 1/2 inches; Paper size: 16 x 20 inches
Within the collection, Arndt photographs traditional American events such as Memorial Day celebrations or demolition derbies. But although these occasions are specific to their region, the people that exist within them are living out moments familiar to all communities. A couple posing for a photo, children sharing fleeting conversations, families oscillating between boredom and complete relaxation. Arndt brings us closer to the day-to-day American life than we knew we could get – because it's basically our own.
Fans No. 3, Steele Co, Owatonna, August 21, 2016, Gelatin silver print; printed 2016, Image size: 14 1/4 x 17 1/2 inches; Paper size: 16 x 20 inches
Couple, Minneapolis, June 2016, Gelatin silver print; printed 2016, Image size: 14 1/4 x 17 1/2 inches; Paper size: 16 x 20 inches
Family, Bullhead Days, Waterville, Minnesota, June 2015, Gelatin silver print; printed 2015, Image size: 14 1/8 x 17 3/8 inches; Paper size: 16 x 20 inches
That familiarity strips away apprehension or disinterest and allows us to zoom in closely to these people, discover their more unique traits and personalities – the way they dress, their gestures, their body temperatures, the texture of their clothes and skin. Arndt reminds us that it is impossible to know a place, even to know a country, without knowing its communities. The title of this show directly refers to the place, but its subjects are irrefutably the people. Inevitably, the viewers are brought to the conclusion that these two things are one and the same.
Where I Live is on show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery until July 7th 2017, entrance is free.
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