Style, Design, And Prejudace
Several years ago while driving around El Segundo, I happened to notice this great little green house. Stopping to talk to the owner in the front yard, I mentioned that it is such an attractive home and I´d love to photograph it some day if I can find an appropriate concept. Dennis and Cindy the owners, mentioned that it was built in 1952 by Maurice Robertson, and it is a classic example of Mid–Century Modern Architecture. They even have original design concept renderings from that time. After they bought the home in 1995, and with substantial modifications to the yard and landscaping, the house truly "shines." I filed the home away in the recess of my psyche, keeping it in mind as a possible subject for a shot some day, if I can find the perfect "partner" to complete the look, whatever that might be.
About two years later, while strolling through The Automotive Driving Museum, which just moved into town, I happened to come across this really killer example of what was originally a classic American sports car, seemingly all grown up, and on steroids. This 1961 T-Bird, built by the Ford Motor Company, is much larger than the little sexy T–bird of earlier years. The car seemed a sort of futuristic / retro version of what the Jetson"s would have flown around in– from the cartoon series. The front end specifically, has that sloping rocket ship rake to it, with the addition of faux rocket exhaust nozzles and broad sleek fins built into the design, it completes the look of a futuristic personal transport device, (a car).
Right away I could see the connection between this car and that little green house in town, even the colors were complementary. Some how, the sum of the parts of these two objects were more than the individual car and house separately. In short order, I had permission from the owners of the house and the director of the museum to borrow both for the noble cause of making a statement of America from that era. This was at the beginning of the space race during the early sixties; even the small vintage jet fighter tricycle borrowed from a Hollywood prop house embodies that same futuristic vision of speed and flight. A final tweak was still in the works, to tell the story I was envisioning.
While thinking of what the story of the car and house would be, I envisioned a shot of "dad" coming home to his perfect wife and family. In my mind´s eye I thought of the typical "dad", questioning, what was his background, career, social status, age, etc.? Seeing, a perfect "dad", exiting the car to greet his wife on the front porch, I pictured him as being an ex-high school football star, wearing a suit, holding a brief case in his left hand and having a flat top or crew cut with blond hair. He was a white guy of course.
As I pondered more and more about the story behind the photo, it struck me as short sighted, these choices my own prejudices had led me to. Growing up on endless re–runs of Father Knows Best, and Leave It To Beaver, the propensity to contemplate my understanding of America myopically was certainly present. Maybe there are other reality´s equally as valid I´m ignoring. Was it only Caucasians in 1961 that had good jobs, nice cars, beautiful houses and killer wives? Obviously not! It´s time to switch gears and change the idea a bit.
While sharing with a close friend my new concept for the overall story behind the image, I explained how it would be an African American dad and family living in this "perfect world." His response, "That doesn´t make sense, it´s not stereo typical." From that point onward, I was confident the story is now more than ever a truer and more accurate reflection of all the diversity that was America in the 1960´ies. Maybe not stereo typical, but honest none the less, and I think under told in recounting of who we were then.
I have mentioned a few times before, that these photos often have a small trick or visual oddity built into the image. Usually it´s part of a larger story, or some little quirk that I include, mostly for my own entertainment. Maybe in this case, the joke´s on me, and to a degree, others who view the photo may have a sense that the photographer "goofed up." In this case the trick is not that the "typical perfect family" from 1961 is African American. Of course not, but rather that the viewer might think it A–typical that they are a black family from that time, living this perfect American dream.
Ultimately striving for a final photo as sedate and quiet as possible, words fail me now as I try to explain the sense of tranquility that is hopefully embodied in the shot. It was by design that there be absolutely nothing going on in the image. No movement or action, just a photo of a regular guy coming home to his wife and family after a day at the office– nothing special. This slice of Americana should be almost boring, and at the same time, not! Everything else, all my motivations, understandings of our culture, and emotions, weather perceived or implied might be just in my head. It´s interesting that with all the contemplation I put into these photos beforehand, I never know what the final photo will be about until I finally sit down to write these little narratives. Now, with the clarity of vision afforded by hindsight– the passage of time, I can finally see clearly that this photo is truly a love story in it’s heart and soul…
So many people deserve a thanks for helping make this photo. It was truly a collective effort from; Cindy and Dennis, the home owners who allowed a group of over 10 people to camp out in the front yard for the 10 hours it took to make the image, The director of the museum, Laurie Lewis, who allowed me to borrow one of there valuable and beautiful cars, Paul, a volunteer at the museum who drove the car to the shoot and did not get to drive home till well after midnight–thanks. To Kareem Lewis, a fellow resident in El Segundo who graciously offered to be "Dad, you were perfect and so very patient. Lastly, a special thanks to Tiffany Horn, the "Mom" in the photo. I know Tiffany from one of the companies I shoot with, it was Tiffany who introduced me to Kareem, and also arranged to have her young niece be present for the photo. Tiffany´s niece, Amya did not make it to the final version of the image, sometimes less is more.
I think I might have touched tiffany on an emotional level a few weeks ago when I was explaining some of the background of the photo and why I would like her to be in it, along with my motivations. In addition to all the reasons stated above, I explained that we are soon going into an election of historic proportions with Barack Obama running for president. My self-being a pretty conservative voter, I do however totally accept that if Obama wins the election, he will be our president fair and square, and that I would wholeheartedly support him one hundred percent as my President too. Maybe, especially now with all that might transpire, and the changes that would surly come, it´s time to broaden the spectrum of what is "typical in America." I´m not actually sure if I affected Tiffany during that phone conversation, with her slightly longer than normal pause of silence. Maybe it was just a transitory bad connection, or maybe it´s my prejudices kicking in again, assuming.