Discover, dissect, and diverge.”
– Ann and Gould, Amerikants.com
Lo-fi and loose, the work on the Amerikants website is curated by Harry Gould Harvey IV and Brittni Ann DeMello and showcases a group of photographers and artists, chosen for overlapping interests and their DIY ethos. There isn’t an overwhelming focus on hardcore/punk/metal musicians or shows, but most of the photography on the site conveys shared attitudes, showing how the photographers and their friends live. DIY is a fairly broad umbrella and what’s notable here is the way in which the work of the twenty contributors intersects in style, subject and sensibility; collectively, they demonstrate a range of expressions of DIY.
© Stacy Kranitz
© Melchior Tersen
The contributors, some of whom are editorial or fashion photographers (and several of whom have been published in VICE), offer work that suggests varying degrees of self-consciousness about style. The photographs of Melchior Tersen and Stacy Kranitz operate within recognised modes of contemporary photography: Tersen’s edit shows a strong use of color and a clever visual assemblage that is both coherent and elusive. Kranitz’s pictures, drawn from several of her well-defined projects, here indicate consistent themes of masculinity and nature, and the ways in which men deploy cultural armor. Ryan Lowry contributes his voyeuristic project of photographing in the windows of homes, drawing attention to assumptions we may hold about transgressions of privacy.
© Angela Boatwright
Other work is more intimate. Chris Berntsen’s pictures reveal a closeness with the people he photographs. Whether riding the rails or standing in a bathroom, Berntsen occupies the space as much as his subjects do. Dana Lauren Goldstein’s and Harry Gould Harvey’s pictures feel diaristic, evoking the familiarity of a family album. The editorial work – actually, all of the work – is stripped of captions and context. Street photography, documentation and performance are all rolled together. Documentary obligations and the original intentions of projects are subsumed to the personal connections evidenced by the photographs. But rather than dissembling the more coherent, more carefully positioned work, it recontextualises it and levels all of the work, highlighting the acts of looking and seeing in all of these projects.
© Chris Berntsen
Nonetheless, a tension runs through the Amerikants site. Amerikants is interesting because it provides a framework for looking at photography and meeting photographers that is distinct from the photography art world and it feels honest and direct. But diaristic photography, snapshot approaches and the studied inspection of banality have become pervasive in contemporary art photography and many of these photographers are clearly influenced by or participate in these modes of mass visual language, as well as the specific languages of art photography. To the curators’ credit, the design of the site encourages the visitor to understand the photography in terms of the photographer’s engagement, but I can’t help wondering if the pictures look the way they do not as a result of that engagement, but because they follow art conventions. Amerikants gets its power from the same kind of creative energy that has gone into the creation and publication of zines. How do you refuse mainstream styles when mainstream styles have become characterised by the styles of refusal? How can a snapshot aesthetic critique the norms of visual communication when a norm of visual communication is to produce photographs that look like snapshots?
© Dana Lauren Goldstein
But Amerikants does work – the pictures feel direct, immediate, personal, and while earnest, they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Amerikants affords a space to engage with these personal projects where it is important to consider the positions that the photographers take – in relation to their subjects, to their surroundings, and to themselves. The curiosity and engagement of this extended group self-portrait is refreshing, and displayed in the company of friends’ work, the photography here has a directness that may be hard to access if it is presented first as “art”. Sometimes rejecting norms, and sometimes simply moving in a different direction, these works recognise that conformity cannot account for the messiness of the world and the unevenness of life; Amerikants celebrates the joy of acknowledging the disorder of the world. “Discover, dissect and diverge”.