Scenes of Abandonment

American Artifacts
, Phil Bergerson
(157pp, 24.95, Black Dog Publishing)

There is something about viewing a scene of abandonment where the subject matter has been laid to rest and deserted in favour of a more fashionable ideal, which echoes the notion of a disposed past. This is no more evident than in the work of Phil Bergerson in American Artifacts where he meticulously analyses and documents a social and cultural  transition into the 21st century capturing the discarded items of yesterday that fell victim to the search for the American dream.

Whilst looking on the shop windows laden with out-dated stock, the worn graffiti expressing that individuals antiquated opinion, to the scrapyards showcasing domestic relics and old cars that not  too many years ago would have been someone's pride and joy. These degraded objects that are found give an impression of being stripped of all their meaning, as if their presence and claims are directed at a bygone audience, worthless within today's society. Items that were once carefully advertised in window displays now appear preserved within their glass frontages as if now presented in a museum to depict a former glory day.

Bergerson mentions that American Artifact
s is a search for the remnants of the American dream, this expresses a recognition of these lost possessions, ambitions and dreams as a stepping stone towards societies pursuit for their own American dream, presenting  what is left behind as culturally insignificant within the idea of each individuals search for betterment.

One thing evident within Bergerson's work is just how much advertising has changed over the past 20 years. Margaret Atwood explains within the excerpts from her book Payback
, featured within the opening of the book just how much the trends of advertisement  have changed. She recalls how she used to ride the bus in the 1950s, from which she would be able to see all the billboards displaying consumerist campaigns selling items from girdles and brassieres to deodorant and mouthwash. Advertising now seems preoccupied  with a health and debt conscious society where efforts are focused around reminding us how bad smoking is, the very real risk of heart disease from a bad diet and how in only 15 minutes you could be approved for a debt consolidation loan! It appears that we are now required to be constantly reminded how most things will give us cancer and how poor we all are.
The general consensus is that the majority of advertisement is focused around acting as a big brother to society letting you know what you should or shouldn't be doing. This is reflected within Bergeron's condensed American autopsy and shows just how little  ideologies are time honoured; representing the fickle nature of our own desires as they themselves change as quickly as the circumstances in which they emerged from.

One thing that I do notice has a running theme throughout the series of images is a religiously driven level of personal expression on show. Examples such as on page 3 where in Orangeburg, South Carolina it which shows a selection of pickets nailed to a  tree stating that 'Sin will kill you' and 'Sex without marriage is death', which shows how strong  and unwavering beliefs have been and can still be expected of people throughout many parts of America. I find this particular factor to be unsettling from my  atheist perspective and although many things change with time, it reverberates on the unchanging presence of control within religion still evident within society.

Although these images show a continuing ideology through time, the image on page 41 from Houston, Texas implies just how far we have come in recent years as it depicts a shop window with an image of a white woman labelled 'fixed' and an image of a black man labelled 'coloured'. It was only at a second glance that I realised this was a photography printing shop and these were merely post production processes, that said it brought to mind just how far racism has decreased within America over the past few decades  and indicates how change can indeed be for the better and not everything left behind should be cherished.

I find that the final excerpt within Bergeson's book, 'Sequencing' by Nathan Lyons excellently expresses the role of artistic conduct within a world so saturated with imagery. It addresses how by having so many images already at our disposal, whether the reality of such visual documentation has been lost in favour of a personal or technical representation from the person creating the photograph.

This is better explained within a quote by Jean A Kaims who insists that 'photography has pervaded our whole existence to such an extent that we are no longer aware of its influence'. I agree that we cannot turn our heads without being faced with a photograph  of some description, but as I see it, within Bergeron's exposure to the part of America that is not always made readily available by mainstream advertising's de rigueur approach, is instead presented in an unpretentious and informative context, systematically  bringing to light the footprints left behind from our own success, spanning the length of an unseen America.

    David Pearce 2014