The formula seems straightforward enough — give your project a lofty, established and ‘controversial’ title and set out to prove or dispute it.
Either way, the end result is going to be interesting.
If your images are contrary to your title, then you can say that you were, from the start, open to the ironies.
So the question is — Did she set herself up for failure? Maybe.
But then again, can anyone blame her for wanting to pay homage to a fellow foreigner transported to an alien-land called USA? At the very least, I think Schmidt went out to find out for herself what are the American Dreams.
No doubt, Schmidt’s America Dreams and Frank’s The Americans bear similarities, be it the familiar icons that keep popping up, as well as the photographer’s gaze – seldom engaged, but often amused. Schmidt, I think, is more deliberate in asking, “Are you sure that is a dream and not a nightmare?”
But they are also different.
Schmidt is way too polished as a photographer to make the technical mistakes Frank is often criticized for. Her frames are always well-constructed and her pairings immaculate.
Frank’s, on the other hand, dazzle with rawness, much in line with his emotional state then.
Perhaps it is unfair to keep comparing the two because they were done in different periods where the appreciation and tolerance level of What’s American were quite different. Some dreams have also changed with time.
Unfair to some but maybe Schmidt was also trying to ‘perfect’ some of Frank’s iterations and therefore she knew what to avoid/incorporate.
Another way of looking at this is to see Schmidt’s is a continuous effort by image-makers to make sense of this crazy phenomenon called Americana.
That fascination, fortunately, will not stop with her.