How the public consumes the news has been at the centre of public debate since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke a few weeks ago. Basel-based designer Ludovic Balland, however, has been investigating the public’s relationship to the media for far longer. Having worked on cultural projects throughout his career, Ludovic’s latest publication American Readers at Home is an insightful exploration into America’s news culture. During the US presidential elections in 2016, Ludovic travelled 13,000 miles across the States, conducting 55 interviews and taking 400 photographs that documented how citizens received their news.
Ludovic had previously exhibited work – titled Day After Reading – in San Francisco, which also centred around the public’s relationship with the media. In 2014 and 2015, he conducted interviews with San Francisco citizens asking them about their news habits, transcribing their answers onto large-scale newspapers and plastering them on the gallery’s walls. “Something simple occurred to me at that point. Day After Reading approached the news through the eyes of somebody else. It was not about the news events themselves but about the readers’ perception of them. The idea of being in somebody else’s head and trying to understand why they are reading particular articles was a catalyst for American Readers,” the designer tells It’s Nice That.
The American Embassy in Switzerland contacted Ludovic following the success of his San Francisco exhibitions, asking him to produce similar work in the context of the 2016 American presidential election. “I organised everything on my own. I started the road trip in September and finished in December, spanning the two months before and after the election,” Ludovic explains. During this time, the Swiss designer was both working towards curating a large body of work for his book as well as compiling a few selected interviews into an insert to accompany Switzerland’s national newspaper Les Temps. “That was great because Le Temps helped me print and produce the newspaper in the States. I was the designer, the interviewer, the editor – I was completely exhausted by the end.”
American Readers is the finished product and combines various formats; photography, text and newspaper clippings. Ludovic likens these to different rooms under the same roof. The first ‘room’ is filled with coloured photographs, which trace the routes that Ludovic travelled. The second is made up of the black-and-white photographs that the designer took of the interviewees in the privacy of their homes. The third is made up of the written interviews. “You can move between the rooms and see how Americans perceive their country through different lenses. They reveal these people’s reality, how they live, how the news impacts their lives and how they reflect on America.” The various formats fold into one another and, in so doing, uncover the underlying layers of our relationships with media.
“The more I travelled, the more my visual language changed. In the beginning I focused on the interviews. I spent my time researching, preparing questions, meeting people, transcribing the interviews, editing them. At the end of the day I only had about half an hour to walk around. By the end of the journey, however, I spent more time photographing and investigating the cities. You can see that in the book. Towards the end there are less interviews and more pictures,” Ludovic says.
Most striking to Ludovic was the news’ integration into people’s everyday lives, not only as information but also as entertainment. “I remember one person telling me that he was asked to prepare a presentation about a news piece when he was about five or six years old. This was right after John F Kennedy was assassinated so the guy wrote some poetry about John F Kennedy’s death. Can you imagine this little boy of about five standing in front of his classmates communicating his feelings about a news story? It made me think about how impactful the news must be in America,” Ludovic explains. American Readers at Home captures the diverse and subtle ways in which news stories and reportage photography shape everyday lives, informing our imaginations of the world and our conversations with one another.
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