This is a confession that exudes from the scars of a naturalised Asian American who grew up in the Midwest (USA) and went back to live in Asia. The collection of analogue and digital images confesses the contradiction and the alienation of what it feels like to be an American who never felt accepted in the “land of the free” and in the land of his birth.
How’s the Water?
How can one even begin to define America? Alluding to David Foster Wallace’s parable about water, a fish would have to be removed from water to know what water is.
After the American Civil War, “Carpetbagger” was used by US Southerners as a pejorative term, referring to the carpet bags which many US Northerners carried. The term came to be associated with opportunism and exploitation by outsiders. From Wikipedia.
One way to know America is to leave America for a while. And, when we leave America we should also leave behind our carpet bag of myopia, stereotype, and bias. Then, hopefully, we can go back with a fresher set of eyes. This is what I did.
Looking for the Banal
I discovered that one antidote for stereotype is to see things through a mundanely objective lens. Collectively, these photographs are a meditation on this premise. Here, nothing is staged, and the pictures are void of people. Only raw and naked starkness permeates.
Out of Place
Just like being the only Asian set against an American working-class backdrop in the 1970s, juxtaposition is inescapable.
As a child, being odd, standing out, and not looking like everyone else was terrifying. But, that was just scratching the surface.
After living in Southeast Asia for five years, I returned to America for a visit. It was an opportunity to reconnect with the roots of my love affair with banal settings. My roots run through Phoenix Arizona, the California Bay Area, and Northeastern Ohio.
In 1984, I enlisted in the United States Air Force. I did one tour-of-duty to save money for University. Our slogan was ‘Aim High.’ I earned a marksman ribbon for shooting a perfect score in my first qualifying round for the M16. My WWII veteran father was proud. In my group of friends and family, I am the only one who “served” his country.
I lived near Washington DC when 9/11 happened. Right after 9/11, I didn’t feel safe living close to the nation’s capital. And, it wasn’t because of any potential threat from abroad.
Birth of the Rust Belt
In the late 1970s, the predominate steel industry in Northeastern Ohio began it’s decline after operating since the early 1900s. I remember ‘Black Monday.’ The air smelled different. Literally, there was something in the air–actually a lack of it. The smell from the smelting process from the steel mills was gone.