Winter 2003

Snaps of Stereotypes on the Road

All American:

Travelling with Barbara Dijkhuis & Auke Vleer and reading with Tyler Whisnand
Artimo, $40

‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’

Some places have a life in the mind so strong that when you see them they are just as – and sometimes more than – you imagined. Arriving in Manhattan is like that, though Los Angeles is less of a rush since that particular myth is about a less tangible suburban ambience.

American art, mostly cinema art,

has created in us all a colourful Homeric America of goodies and baddies, sex and journeys, high cities and big views. The America of the mind is stuffed with mythic tableaux that are conjured from everyday images, so that even a motel room can carry the same mixture of déjà vu and delight as, say, the Chrysler Building.

But while many of us who travel around America have this sense of passing through the screen, and may come back saying it was just like it is in The Big Lebowski, we don’t all make a book about it. All American is a collection of real people, collected like tokens that approximate to stereotypes we all recognise.

So what does it tell us? Nothing we haven’t seen before. What All American shows is that the role of this kind of work should either be to create more perfect stereotypes, as in the case of Richard Avedon’s work, or to challenge them. The text is to writing what the Forth Bridge is to painting. The pictures disappear down the gutter.

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