The PhotoBook

July 27, 2010

Mathieu Lambert – Fake Tales of America

Copyright Mathieu Lambert  2010 published by French fourch (photographers co-op)

Mathieu Lambert in the title of his DIY photobook, Fake Tales of America, provides what seems to be a very straight forward way to read his book in that he is taking us on an imaginary journey.  That the photographs may appear that they were photographed in the various cities in America, but in fact they are not. As an America photobook reviewer, I find I read a lot more into this fictional travelogue.

I read this as representational of the stereotyping of societies and cultures portrayed as “factual” by the various modes of media; movies, print advertisements, television stories, the various news channels including newspapers, magazines, television and last of all, the great source of all “truth”, the internet. We obtain our impressions of what it might be like to actual visit and experience a far a-way destination by the photographs found in the various media. There are the glossy “everything looks perfect and we wish you were here” advertising photographs to lure you to a specific region which are off-set by the seemly dark underside stories frequently portrayed by the news and press about all that is wrong with a given region. In fact it may be very beneficial to know that when you travel to specific regions, within certain boundaries you can be safe, but beyond those boundaries you will be at much greater peril.

With the constant input of information received daily, if not hourly, individuals become both sponges and filters, accepting some information as truth and others discounted as not realistic, but most information once viewed becomes integral to our memory. Nevertheless, our active memory is similar to focusing a camera lens and framing a composition, we select what is within the frame and what is excluded. That can also be said about the symbols we chose to represent a given geographical region.

While Lambert has never been to America, which he explained in our discussion a couple of weeks ago, he does want to visit and take a tour of America. His girlfriend at the time did visit America and with Lambert having some documentation issues, he had to remain in France. So instead of joining his girlfriend and directly experiencing America, he created an imaginary tour of America as reconstructed from found place and symbolic situations.

There is a caustic irony in these photographs that hint at the dark side of what is perceived of America, perhaps not running as deep as Robert Frank in his seminal photobook The Americans, but enough.

That Texas can be represented by a wall of guns, seemingly for sale and a black & white tattoo on the back of a man of a firing handgun could represent perhaps someone from a gang in El Passo, New Mexico (actually El Paso, Texas), Lambert makes his point about the implied violence that is perceived to be present. That in contrast Little Falls, Minnesota, in what appears as the country landscape is simpler, brighter, open, rural and appears more upbeat if not plain and mundane.

I think in many ways, Lambert does get some essence of these areas correct enough to make me uncomfortable. That perhaps his symbolic photographs are not that far off from my perception and perhaps others within America. Most Americans have not traveled to all of the cities on Lambert’s tour and how many of us are also falling victim to the “fake” representation of that region by the media?

Another aspect of Lambert’s photobook I find fascinating is his attempt to investigate a distant place without ever going there. To envision what it might be like to experience a location by tapping into memory and perception, to study the available symbols and clues, yet not really walk the place, smell the air, feel the heaviness of the air of that place. It is to investigate the limits of imagination.

The stiff-cover book is bound by saddle stitching, and the front cover has been die-cut to allow the insertion of an accompanying photograph. Nice.

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