Poised For Greatness

Ground-Level Views from the Once Blue Flyover State of Kentucky, with Sprinklings from Neighboring States, the Deeper South, and the Mid-Atlantic

The beginning of this series dates back almost a decade, when I began to take small roads on my way home from various jobs. Occasionally, I would stop to photograph a scene that, for whatever reason, caught my attention. I filed the pictures under generic headings and soon forgot about them. On one occasion, I came upon the burned-out store next to the Corbin fire station. The image was too good to consign to oblivion. While thinking about what I might do with it, I discovered that I had already others on file to complement it. This is when the idea of a more comprehensive roadside series was born. That it wouldn’t be about diners at sunset was immediately clear.

There are hardly any people in the pictures. This is not because I deliberately excluded them but because I have few face-to-face encounters on my outings. There are cars and trucks everywhere, even on the remotest country lane, but their occupants tend to remain locked up inside. Yet the stuff that people put up or abandon by the road suggests a lot about them and their lives. It just leaves out what they look like.

It is the foreigner’s privilege to see aspects of American life in sharper relief than they appear to the better adjusted native. This privilege comes with a felt obligation to report back favorably. Knocking or poking fun instead would seem to be a most ungrateful betrayal of trust and hospitality. As a born German, I don’t want to be ungrateful to my adoptive country. But as a “naturalized” U.S. citizen, I feel that nearly thirty years of living here, mowing my lawn, and paying my dues have earned me the native privilege to skewer the place with impunity. The “greatest country in the history of mankind”, in the words of my immigration judge, can surely take it. What worries me, of course, is that my irreverent look at how the American way plays out in the hinterland may put off some of my audience. All I can say in my defense is that I didn’t make up anything. It’s all out there in its strange beauty. And lest the gentle foreign visitor to this site feel egged on to mount his or her favorite anti-American high-culture horse, let me say that I have begun work on similar projects in Germany and Norway.