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Agenda: Steve Prezant's Flag-Waving "Americans," This Week at "Projections"

By David Schonauer   Monday September 23, 2019


What does it mean to wave the flag?

Who does it mean you are?

Those questions are raised in a personal portrait project from New York-based photographer Steve Prezant in a series called simply “Americans.”

And they couldn’t be raised at a more appropriate moment.

“In these turbulent times, we have diverse opinions and beliefs, now amplified by media and social networks,” Prezant writes of his personal project. Divided by values we hold dear and politicians who amplify divisions for their own ends, we nonetheless all metaphorically wave the same flag, notes Prezant: We all want a better America.

“Most people have some sort of inner belief as to where they think they fit in on the political spectrum. It’s important, but very often, going to work, paying the rent or getting pizza take precedence,” he writes.

In his series, Prezant presents a variety of Americans holding a small, cheap American flag — one made in China, he notes. We are left to look at these people and wonder: On which side of great American divide do they reside? What kind of better America do they want?

“Over the course of doing this, I found that while people may be on opposite extremes, they all care about America,” says Prezant, who will discuss the project on Wednesday evening  at ThePhotoCloser “Projections” series in New York.

The event takes place from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm at The Back Room, 102 Norfolk Street, in Manhattan. GO HERE to RSVP.

In part the series grew out of Prezant’s own background as the child of immigrants. “They loved America. It save their lives,” he says. “And they instilled that in me.”

The work was also an outgrowth of his long career as a commercial and stock photographer: One of the props he often used while shooting stock, he says, was a small American flag. Shooting stock and advertising can also introduce you to a wide variety of Americans: A number of the people Prezant photographed for his series were people he’d met through shooting commercial work. Among them, a hand model turned massage therapist.

“I’d used him years and years ago for an ad for Benedryl and stock,” Prezant says. “I loved him in a way because he was so interesting.” Other subjects for the series came to him through recommendations from friends, or because they’d heard about the project themselves.

The images, notes Prezant at his website, are set up to reflect certain American archetypes.

After a year or so of photographing people for the series, Prezant decided to interview them subjects as well. “I devised a series of questions, like, ‘What are your dreams for the future?’ and ‘Do you believe that America an idea or a country?’ or “How does holding the flag make you feel?’”

What emerged, he says, were surprisingly nuanced answers. “They show how people you don’t really know are thinking and feeling. We’re so used to hearing from the loudest voices,” he says.

At his Projections presentation on Wednesday, Prezant will show his images and read excerpts from his interviews.

Besides Prezant, photographers Liam Sharp and Rafael Fuchs will also be making presentations.

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