Some may think that America’s greatest days have past – back when you could still trust your neighbor, life was good, but now it seems the American Dream may have disappeared right along with black and white TV.
To prove the cynics wrong, the Daniel Azoulay Gallery, in conjunction with the Aperture Foundation, brings to Miami American Pictures, A Contemporary American Visual Odyssey. This exhibit showcases pictures by Jeff Dunas, a former expatriate who photographed America and found the dream long-thought-dead.
After spending seven years traversing this nation, cutting through California, Oregon, the Southwest, and the Dirty South in search of the America of old, the pictures on display tell a tale of how he found it. His work is spectacular in its honesty. Sort of like that plastic bag blowing in the wind in American Beauty, these photos show how much splendor, struggle, and yet still, hope there is in America.
Dunas photographed everything he saw, from people sitting on their porch to children playing beside a swimming pool to classic 1950s cars residing outside their picturesque 1950s house. His journey makes him the photographer version of Jack Kerouac, madly rediscovering America city by city with no time to stop, connecting with the people he met, and finding himself along the way.
By shooting in black and white, Dunas does an incredible job of encapsulating the mood of his subjects and of bringing that old-time America back to life. Some of the pictures are so serene you can almost sense Opie Cunningham is going to come running down the street.
Other shots depict a slightly darker mood, reflecting the rise and fall of the American economy and how, during the years that Dunas was shooting, some folks just happened to fall on hard luck. One of the most striking photos was of a dilapidated old house that could be likened to that one home in your neighborhood that had all its cars collecting in the front and backyards.
Outside, a dude wearing an Army jacket carries a beer in one hand, while his wife looks at the camera and smiles hesitantly, unsure of why someone would consider taking their picture.
Next to them is their quizzical son, wearing the same expression as mom. However rural this scene feels, Dunas brings to light the reality of the situation, a typical American family that just has to deal, no matter how hard.
A more spirited photograph entitled “Ed Kacenda” shows an old hippie still stylin’ in his tie-dyed shirt standing before his camper van. Resembling one of the original Merry Pranksters, old Ed’s picture stands out the most. It took Dunas seven years to find the America he thought was gone and here Ed stands, still living out his version of the American Dream.
Perhaps that’s what it is. Corporations, brands, Bushes, radical rightists, consumerism and lies have gradually tarnished this country. But here, America, through the eye of a cogent lens, never looked so beautiful.
American Pictures, A Contemporary American Visual Odyssey is at the Daniel Azoulay Gallery, 3900 NE 1st Ave., through November 15th. Call 305-576-1977 for more info.
Sarah Giusti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.