Radek Burda blogging: How not to screw photography entirely.

Life of modern American nomads in photographs by David Gardner.

Radek Burda

There exists only one means of setting a score in the history of photography, according to a certain set of photographers and their admirers. You go someplace at the end of the world and find monsters there.

They don't actually need to be monsters in the sens of ugly people, on the contrary: photographers today are somewhat naturally equipped with "blueprint humanism" and so are in fact searching for beautiful human beings. However – no offense – they are still only "monsters", you know. For my part, I wouldn't want to find myself in the shoes of those "beautiful people".

Don Dorothy

This thesis is naturally very offensive to many people. After all, you can hear them saying indignantly, they are helping! After all, they point fingers at the cancers of society and with their work reveal the truth. After all, it is them who go to Afghanistan to tear down the mask of duplicity of burka! The reporter Ochlik died a brave death in a war that was not his but in which he took part in order to "deliver a testimony".

Some surely do. But believe me when I say these some is an unimaginably small group, counting only a few units. Business is what most of the others are after. Finely greased machine designed to make money out of emotion and fear and outrage and insult and scorn and disgust, or at the very least to bring glory. Pardon me, glory in quotation marks, for these scouts will never say to you that glory is their destination. They always have some kind of humanitarian considerations, something akin to the Batman jumping off a roof and descending to save the main heroine just prior to her being smashed to pieces upon the pavement.

This search for a "paradise lost" is simply a deeply rooted human myth and there is nothing we can do about it. If only … if only it were not a rather huge kitsch. There was an entire era of world photography which was touched by itself and by its global duty to show mankind "a man naked". However, this message of photography has died in the modern times. The era of great reporters, icons of war photography, is long gone and yesterday's glory is buried under a heap of sand. The need to constantly and at all times applaud the forever repeating images of "discoveries" lingers only with us and various lagging hunters of "human vaules".

The advantage of a kitch is that you don't have to think when looking at it. You will discover poor refugees crammed in tents without hot water: and you weep. You aren't expected to do anything above and beyond. You are touched by yourself being lovely touched by Africans, Afghans, enslaved Chinese and so on, and so on. That is why kitsch has more fans than serious photography. But that may also be why it is worth fighting against it.

Jim, Full-timer

Let us do so today in a positive manner. For there also exist "human" photographs taken right at the threshold of one's own house. There is no need to rush somewhere at the end of the world to find the wretched and the touching but it is still possible to "discover" something. And you don't even need to find terrrible tragedies such as floods, fires, street juvenile prostitution, child drug abuse, gipsy dens in Slovakia and all such similar trivial kitsches. Ordinary white people are enough, people who even use the WiFi and Skype and when you invite them to dinner, they might even take their shoes off and use silverware to eat.

Let's have a look at the collection by the photographer David Gardner: Life on Wheels, New American Nomads.

His project is quite ordinary, to be honest. Being a construction worker, he spent thirty years around people who have deliberately cast away the traditional lifestyle, meaning a house and the hoarding of property and chose a nomadic existence of living on the road in an RV.

It is neither an unknown, nor an entirely small group of Americans. Moving around was a usual social condition during the great Depression of the 1930s. It was typical for gatherers in the 1950s to migrate to where employment could be found, where crops ripened. One of the most beautiful books in the world, Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, is after all a testimony written with love to the life of this group of people.

This project resembles the book closely. The collection – in contradiction to "war photography", fortunatelly – doesn't agitate, it doesn't raise a warning finger, doesn't ask what about children, where they attend school, what about the inhabitants of these RVs, where they wash themselves and so on. It only describes the state of this subculture, which is not strange terms of habits, it is only strange in that people belonging to it don't own houses. It isn't Gardner's style of photography to look for hideousness or the opposite, a paradise lost. He only presents an account. Thus, he creates a collection which, thanks to this matter-of-fact style, has power unimaginable and so dramatically different from that of all the sensation hunters.

Keep your eyes open for you have in front of you modern and deep photography which is still unbelievably rare in our society.


Dry Camping


I thank David Gardner for graciously letting me publish his photographs.