Art Dealer, Curator and Writer Charles Guice expands on his commentary from Nueva Luz volume 17:1, Transforming Destiny Into Awareness: The Photographs of Baldomero Fernandez, Thomas Holton and Alex Leme. For the conclusion of this blog series, Charles explores Baldomero Fernandez’s series In America: Traveling Through the United States in Search of Idiosyncratic Americana. This is the final blog post in the series. To read previous parts of this blog series, please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, or Part IV.
Transforming Destiny Into Awareness: A New American Destiny
The enduring legacy of the pioneering photographers Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Joel Meyerowitz is evidenced in the work of a new generation of artists: Baldomero Fernandez, Thomas Holton and Alex Leme. Capturing images that eschew explanation in words, their photographs of a new American reality seek to transform destiny into awareness.
Baldomero Fernandez’s photographs present another version of this new American reality, smartly and absent additional interpretation. In America: Traveling Through the United States in Search of Idiosyncratic Americana, a natural extension of his earlier project, Middletown, is a photographic survey of the country.
In Pigeon Forge, a beach ball sits unattended in the parking lot of a motel in the resort town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The motel’s brightly painted, orange walkways and stairwells draw attention away from the fact that ironically, like the set of a vacant movie lot, Fernandez’s tableau captures traces of human activity devoid of human presence.
As a photographer, Fernandez sees his role more as documentarian than commentator. Regarding Middletown, he wrote: “I portray the situations and objects that I encounter in my travels through middle America honestly and the viewer is left to endow them with a much deeper meaning.”
Born and raised in Miami in 1973, Fernandez began photographing at an early age. A graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, he moved to New York to pursue a career in photography. Recognized for both his commercial and personal work, Fernandez’s photographs justly reflect his cinematic aesthetic.
In Happy Hour, Fernandez photographs an empty banquette in a diner in Times Square. Outside the restaurant, however, life teems in motion.
A pamphleteer encourages passersby to visit a popular strip club close by; a woman looks to find her bearings; two men deep in discussion pass hurriedly by. Once again, Fernandez’s work serves only to document here, allowing the viewer to reach his or her conclusions alone.
The new American reality, perhaps, is the loss of the American dream; the sense of optimism, faith in the future and prosperity that many Americans one held and believed in has gone missing.
Fernandez’s photographs uniquely capture that sense of loss; in Tastee Swirl a man sits alone in a restaurant, expressionless, eating a meal; in Lower East Side a young woman styles her hair in a delicatessen window, seemingly oblivious to the woman leaning on a bicycle next to her.
The photographs of these three artists work to provide the viewer with a sense of awareness; they give shape and meaning to this new American destiny, a broad voluminous picture record of things American, past and present. Each of them shares their own view of a cross-section of a country and its society—the largely ignored, the seen and unseen—presented simply and “without confusion.”
Much like Frank’s, their criticism, if it may be considered as such, is not overtly critical. Rather, it is ironic and detached, principally derived from their own fascination and appreciation for their country. It is offered with little forethought for composure and unplanned. And decidedly, for each of these talented artists, as with their artistic forbearers, the true measure of their accomplishment is the indelibility with which their photographs become firmly imprinted on their viewers’ minds.
Previously, Part IV: A Disappearing America