The American landscape defies definition; there are simply too many. Perhaps it is a matter of representation and the images that have, through the decades, shaped popular imagination and our understanding of what America looks like, even if it's impossible to capture it in one image. What interests me in the photographs of Stewart Craig is that, although he has been living in the United States for the last several years, he is from Scotland. How does someone who is not a native of this country view its landscapes? How does he interpret American architecture, or its natural features? Or the peculiar shift in how one interprets distance in America as opposed to the United Kingdom? It's interesting, as an American, to look through Craig's images and imagine that for the first time I am seeing red brick buildings, derelict shopping centers, Tex-Mex restaurants, and the yellow Southwest sun.
For me, as viewer, these images present the dichotomy of the American image in that it is all very familiar, and yet so very unfamiliar. A parking lot or a building in the background may resemble any number of similar places near my own home, but for example, I've never heard of "Good Gas", there are no palm trees where I live (and certainly no cruise ships), or mountains, or boardwalks for that matter. But there is a balance of the generic and the specific in Craig's work, like "Custom Auto Repair" and a standard white van with "The Enterprise" inscribed on the side. This is a specific place, but it could be just about anywhere. I've never been to El Rayo Taquiera, but I've been to plenty of restaurants like it. And this, essentially, is how an American landscape is best portrayed: by illuminating one little dot on the map that hints at the larger picture.
Craig's interest takes a hold in capitalism, the great American institution. In his statement for the two-part series American Beauty, he writes:
I adore the absurdity, both subtle and outrageous, found at every turn. As an outsider looking in, I seek to capture the ironies in the consumer landscape that Americans may otherwise be blind to.
Perhaps many (most?) Americans are blind to this -- one who has traveled might be able to see things as they are, but even if we are aware of it, we take it for granted. When one is in the place most familiar to them, they don't often stop to ponder how large a parking lot might be, or the glaring highway billboards, or the empty strip mall. It is simply... the way it is.
On a personal level, I enjoy Craig's photos from a backwards-travel perspective, as I often thought, when I was living in Scotland, that if I interpret their architecture and geography so differently, then of course someone in the States would feel the same. But how? Maddeningly, it only goes one way. It's like wondering what your accent sounds like to someone else -- you'll never know.
Stewart Craig is a self-taught photographer, originally from Scotland and currently residing and working in Cambridge, Massachusetts. More information and images from different series can be found at stewartcraig.com.