My project “EUSA” is a reaction to the homogenization of European and American cultures. Globalization has made the uniqueness of a particular country less significant, creating an indistinguishable common world community. Being enthralled by another country’s way of life does not make for an accurate portrayal; rather, this mimicry is a sentimental and idealized depiction, an homage to a heritage that isn’t one’s own.
In America, these “European” venues resemble lands of make-believe. Like places out of a fairy tale, they are magical, whimsical and quaint. On the other hand, Europe is fascinated with the America of the past—a time when the US was considered glorious and free, a country full of fresh starts and opportunities.
There are many sites throughout the US and Europe that attempt to imitate their vision of the other country. These locations were created to honor the “other,” but what was once characteristic has now, ultimately, become a caricature. They are perceptions of fantasy, a sense of what the other wishes reality would be.
My goal with photographing these various maudlin locations was to illustrate the enthusiasm we have for each other’s cultures—but also to demonstrate the universal phenomenon that is a reaction to the homogenization of our cultures. These exaggerated reconstructions are not authentic, but are rather perceptions of imagination. And yet through this spirit of camaraderie, if only for that moment, the participants are granted membership to another culture.
I began this project in June 2008 with my photographs of High Chaparral, a wild-west theme park in southern Sweden. Since then I’ve visited over 25 locations on both sides of the Atlantic: “Indian” festivals in Germany; a Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa; an American Civil War reenactment in the Czech Republic; a Maifest in Leavenworth, Washington; numerous Oktoberfests around the United States; and a variety of “Cowboy and Indian” amusement parks throughout Europe.
Kehrer Verlag will publish a book of photos from “EUSA” in fall 2017.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like one of these previous features: American Flea, portraits of the vendors and customers at flea markets in the rural southeastern United States; Rzeczy (Things), photographs of the eclectic collections found at markets in Krakow; and Homegrown, seemingly idyllic scenes of domestic life that are tinged with unease.