Mike Peters photographs – The Dream – Living images of our post-9/11 World
[CRC Director’s Note: Continuing our vital theme of the uses of the imagination, we are pleased to present the visionary, timely — and unsparing — images of our energetic colleague, photographer Mike Peters. Follow this link to see the photographs and then read Mike’s eloquent explication below. Let us know what you think. — N.B.]
I began this project as a search in which I didn’t know what I was looking for. All I knew for sure was that I was deeply unsettled by many of the events that seemed to come right after the turn of this new millennium. The terror of September 11th had left its indelible mark on our national psyche and there seemed to be some confusion as to how to move forward. I felt greatly unsettled and was interested in photographing what it looked and felt like to be in this place, at this time.
As a response to the preoccupation by the media with those at the extremes of the social order, I was most interested in photographing those people who were in stuck in the middle. The people with the most to lose and least to fall back on, those who make and do, the “grunts” whose behind the scenes efforts are integral to this daily theater we call life.
I decided to keep my photographic wandering within a part of the world that I knew intimately, places that were all within a few miles of The World Trade Center site. I grew up in Kearny, NJ, a place where people settle for a little while, on their way somewhere else. Coney Island is the playground of the working class, whose only constant seems to be change. Ridgefield Park seems to be a place where change is slower; and, because of a deep sense of connection and pride, people stay.
Throughout my journey, I found faces, which led me to questions. I wondered what each face had seen throughout its life, and how it had been transformed by the experiences and emotions of the person behind it. The faces I saw made me imagine the stories that each could tell, stories far more fascinating, complex and challenging than can be found in any work of fiction, or supermarket tabloid.
Despite the difficulties of the past ten years, or maybe because of them, it seemed that there was ample evidence that people were still expressing “The American Dream” through the things they did in public. Working; playing; raising a family; being with friends; showing allegiances; living the ordinary life of an average American. For the people I’ve photographed, life has not gotten any easier in the past ten years, and I suspect that the next ten will bring little relief. I get a sense that there is still hope for the future, but it is tempered with the fear that our best days may be behind us. Moving forward, the true test will be to see if the winner of this national struggle will be the brightness of hope or the darkness of fear.
As a creative exercise, I wanted to do more than just show what was in front of me, and realized that I could not separate what I saw from how I felt and who I am or where I come from. In each person I photograph, I recognize something of myself, an aspect of that person to which I can relate and understand. My goal with these images is to be honest about what I see and how I feel about what it is to be an American in the twenty-first century.