11 September 2010

USA Today After...

There are only a handful of moments in my life, compared to the total number lived, that I can recall with absolute clarity:

-sitting in 10th grade biology class and hearing the principal, Glenn Fisher, announce that the Space Shuttle Challenger had just exploded seconds after liftoff

-listening to our high school valedictorian compare life to a tossed salad

-getting married in a black tux with tails

-watching (or nearly so) my wife give birth to our two children

-driving home from work one September afternoon and thinking that the radio announcers must be joking about the twin towers falling to the ground

On each of these occasions I can remember where I was exactly, what I was doing, who was with me, even what I was wearing.

I've heard other people describe with uncanny accuracy the details of what they were doing when they heard about Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Nixon resigning, or man first landing on the moon - all events which, for the American psyche at least, were supercharged with emotion.

Coinciding with one of these powerful events, the anniversary of September 11, is a photo exposition hosted by the city of Lyon titled "US Today After". The exposition runs from 9 September to 4 November in selected galleries around the city.

The organizers of the exposition speak about the theme here. But because it's a translation from an original French text, and therefore mostly word-for-word (and not always so clear), I've summed up my own thoughts about it below:

The driving force behind the exposition is to explore that place where documentary photography meets contemporary art.

America's steps through history, though always moving forward, are often marked - and sometimes marred - by major events that are at odds with what we normally identify as American idealism or the American way.

The media's reactions in the wake of these turbulent events are continually pushing the boundaries outward, rendering the search for an American identity more complicated and at the same time, that much more necessary.

In this post-Katrina, post-September 11 America, we see a paradox of a disenchanting American dream, but there is also, always, the dream of a happy future.

The photos in this exposition, by these photographers, will explore these themes visually, no doubt in their own unique and artistic ways.

Intense emotional events - political assassinations, natural disasters, financial crises, terrorist attacks - leave their mark both individually and collectively. The ancient Greek philosophers referred to such moments as kairos - moments in time that signify opening and opportunity, the chance to manifest a future potential into the present reality.

The other side of a kairos moment holds the possibility of transformation. Go through it and you - and the reality you once knew  - will never be the same again.

If that's the case, America, like much of the world today, has had plenty of opportunity in the recent past to forge a new identity.  Will we still be struggling with the paradox of disillusionment and happy future on the other side?

Philosophers and scholars and artists can show us what they think.

But one thing is for sure: that reality is the responsibility of each one of us...and the experience of how we got there will be unforgettable.

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