The United States relies on a celebratory, rather than critical history. Myths have been created through the romanticization of the landscape and American progress. Justification is utilized to separate the U.S from the terror caused towards the indigenous groups. The Myth of Discovery, critiques the praising of Columbus for the “discovery” of America and highlights his genocidal violence and “othering” through religion. The Pristine Myth investigates the landscape of the Americas and looks at the blatant disregard of the advanced Indigenous society of the late 15th – 18th century, where at the time it was perceived as barren and up for grabs. Lastly, the Myth of The Promised Land, which has been used to create justification through religion as the Pilgrims and Puritans believed God had sent them to this land and believed they were rulers of it. These inaccurate narratives have been used to justify the violence, corruption, and oppression in American history.
McKees Rocks, PA, a small borough a few miles outside of the city of Pittsburgh, has a prominent Native American history. It can be viewed as a sort of “terrestrial paradise”, a common theme found among the inaccurate narratives because of the rich nature of the landscape with many natural resources, wildlife, fruits, as well as vegetation. These benefited the many generations of Native American groups such as the Adena/Hopewell, Shawnee, and the Delaware. The Adena and Hopewell peoples built a burial mound on the land of the McKees Rocks Bottoms, it was the largest mound in Western Pennsylvania, that is until it was fatally destroyed, and then allegedly used to pave the roads of McKees Rocks. Before it was destroyed, a young boy named James J. Westwood, stumbled upon the mound and found a skull and kicked it into the Ohio River that borders the area. Westwood went on to live a life of corruption, greed, power, and violence. The Adena/Hopewell people’s burial mound, the life of Westwood, and McKees Rocks are connected to the myths created through American History as embodiments of these myths through the character of Westwood and the landscape of McKees Rocks.
The photographs in Violent Histories take the viewer through the story of James Westwood’s illegal undertaking that took the form of defrauding, election crimes, and murder, while questioning the justification of violence in United States history. The use of the landscape, the burial mound, the road, the money, the staircase, the window, the bullets, the lock, the boat, the water, and the bed, are clues in this critical investigation of the narratives. They metaphorically embody corruption, greed, theft, violence, and power surrounding many violent histories.
The Gilded Cage
The Gilded Cage resurrects the history of Sewickley, a landscape that has never let go of the past. Obtaining their prominence from the Gilded Age, a time in which the industrialists in Pittsburgh flocked to the palatial community. A search for something extinct is underway. The steel industry collapsed and so did Sewickley. Leaving behind “cultural artifacts” like forgotten pillars, scattered stone rubble, one remaining cottage, stone walls, gates, as well as the pastoral nature of the area. These "artifacts" are used to justify the division that Sewickley has made between classes. Even the untamed landscape is a part of Sewickley's "character" and what Sewickley fears losing most, is what the working class wishes to obtain. Prominence. Acceptance.
The tale of Sewickley’s birth brings attention to the fantasy of the “American Dream.” A false pretense that America swears by. A fantasy, just like Sewickley. With this view of Sewickley, many ironies come into play throughout the images. They serve to question the ultimate “character” of Sewickley, and the viewer should consider the following questions as they view the images. How are these “cultural artifacts” perceived outside of Sewickley? What does one think when remnants of past structures are found in a working-class community? What about an untamed landscape or overgrowth? These questions will lead you through the fantasy that Sewickley is trying to live through.
The Gilded Cage examines the landscape and history of Sewickley and takes on themes of rejection, division, preservation, wealth, and insecurity as these images push to uncover a sort of fantasy living that Sewickley has tried to hold tight with a firm grasp. But, in the end, Sewickley might not be so high and mighty anymore.
Safety & Seclusion
Whether a community is gated or not, the inhabitants of a wealthy community believe they are safer and will always appear to be perfect. After traversing the middle-and-lower class spaces where the “outsiders” are meant to live, I began to examine affluent communities. These spaces offer something peculiar to the outside world: the inherent notion of safety and the creation of utopian environments through the use of the natural world. These affluent communities that are situated around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania also show the exclusivity and secluded nature of these environments. The camera becomes a catalyst in the examination of the geography of these spaces and how they were inherently built, but the closer one looks, the more imperfections one sees. Whether it be a fence that has a gap in the bottom, as if someone escaped or entered by force, the overgrowth that occupies that unused land in these areas, or an abandoned home these imperfections bring the communities back to reality and re-root them back into the rest of society.
The concealed nature of these homes and communities, their walls of trees, shrubs, concrete, and gates propose a larger issue among the rest of society: the barricades confront outside visitors with force as they are activated in such a way to keep people out. Using these objects as a signifier of wealth and power among the societal classes creating a divide among social classes. The use of a wall or natural barrier indicates a space only the wealthy can inhabit—it’s a utopian environment where the wealthy have control and are given the power to decide who is granted permission to venture past these barriers.
Dealing with themes of security, wealth, community, and geography. These images explore and document the upper-class society
-- creating a utopic environment of safety through the natural world and peering into the idiosyncrasies and imperfections that ground these spaces back to reality.
Like Father, Like Son
There is no "off switch" for my father. He doesn't stop working just because it's the weekend. My father uses this time to get more work done, primarily around the house. Ever since I was a child, there has rarely been a weekend where he wasn't mending something in our home. Whether it be replacing the carpet, building a shed, or fixing a roof, there was always something to be done. These photographs captured some of the process and tools used as he indulged himself in ripping up our floor and replacing it with vinyl tile.
As I continued this body of images, I began to see how similar we both were. He loved the work he was doing as he repaired our house constantly and I didn't care for it at all. For the longest time I believed us to be polar opposites, but I came to realize we are one in the same. We are both workmen, even though an artist is more than likely to be erased from this category by most. We just work in different mediums and use different tools. We are both constructors, him of steel skeletons and I of photographs. Through the process of photographing him I was able to connect and grow a lot closer to him.