To further examine the themes highlighted in "Born in the U.S.A." and analysed in Part I of my gobbet, I decided to create a photo essay focused on exploring conceptions of America at home and abroad. While socially distanced, I photographed each of my participants and asked them to write a response to one or more of the following three questions in their own handwriting:
What do you think of when you think of America?
Has your perception of America changed from what it was ten years ago? If so, what was your perception of America ten years ago?
What do you view as the core tenets of the American identity?
Afterwards, I created collages that merged these responses with photographs of the respondents.
I was surprised by the sheer number of individuals that compared their perception of America now with their perception of America ten years ago. Similarly to Springsteen, I found that many of my participants felt that they were previously peddled an idealised version of America. As they came of age, my contributors expressed common feelings of discontent and frequently associated America with xenophobia, capitalism and inequality. Behind the scenes, most of my participants also expressed hope that someday America would align more with their ideals.
In closing, I will offer a Springsteen anecdote that struck me during my research. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and long before releasing “Born in the U.S.A.”, Springsteen debuted “Thunder Road”. In the initial verses of “Thunder Road”, Springsteen presents a haunting stanza, demonstrating acute awareness of what it means to be twenty-four amidst personal and political upheaval:
“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore.”
I have come of age alongside the friends featured in this photo essay. Like Springsteen, we have been intrinsically shaped by the personal and political events that have occurred during our young adulthood. We have supported each other through personal loss, racial violence, progressive disease and global catastrophe. As our conceptions of the world changed, we relied increasingly upon one another.
Someday, perhaps we will feel empowered to tell the raw, gritty details of these stories - to shed the uncertainty of “Thunder Road” and embody the boldness of “Born in the U.S.A.” For now, however, we are content to meet in the night for ciders at the beach to try to make sense of this changing world.
I'd like to believe that's enough.
New Delhi, India
"When I think of America, I think of 'capitalism'. My perception of America has definitely changed! It was a lot more welcoming ten years ago, than it is now"
Charlotte, NC, USA
Ten years ago I thought very little about America, as I was more concerned with myself. Nowadays, I am constantly thinking about America, and I have been greatly disappointed with the U.S. recently."
Nether Heage, UK
"When I think of America I think of a land of extremes. A place with top universities, scientific hubs and the very latest research yet also a place of misinformation and inequality."
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
"When I think of America, I think of American accents. I also think of the flag and capitalism."
Darien, CT, USA
"[When I think of America] I think of xenophobia and insane costs for basic human needs. 10 years ago, I thought America was an amazing country, but now not so much."
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
"When I think of America, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the media, the celebrities and the music, as well as the big cities such as New York and Los Angeles."