Intimate spaces that others don’t see – like the inside of your bag, your pockets or perhaps even your email inbox – can say a lot about what type of person you are when not performing for others. For Virginia-based photographer Matthew Casteel the interior of the car has a similar power. While working with US army veterans over a period of five years, he became deeply interested in shooting these intimate spaces as an alternative method of portraiture.
“It is generally recognised that the condition of one’s dwelling can often be a signifier for one’s state of wellbeing,” Matthew tells It’s Nice That. But whereas the interior design of a home is executed with a degree of intentionality, the inside of a car is much more telling. “This leads to more spontaneous configurations, undesigned interiors, that may relate more to a particular frame of mind or serve as a form of situational consciousness,” Matthew adds.
In American Interiors narratives start to emerge from a seemingly random arrangement of objects. The mental health of the drivers, as well as their hopes and fears, are surprisingly tangible. From bibles and half-eaten cheeseburgers to painkillers and syringes, the portraits in American Interiors are incredibly evocative and often quite bleak. While a well-thumbed bible could equally be a sign of hope as well as despair, the detritus from drug and alcohol dependencies and breathing apparatus (positioned alongside a pack a cigarettes) speak of trauma following years in service.
“_American Interiors_ is my attempt to bridge a deep sense of rebellion and outrage towards institutionalised violence (via warfare and the American military industrial complex) with the empathy and sadness I hold for the people who have survived the military experience,” says Matthew. “The agglomerated ‘portrait’ is not a pretty picture, but it is an accurate representation of what I see and feel regarding the plight of the American veteran.”
The attention to detail and fascination in the everyday that Matthew has shown in the series perhaps stems from his childhood. Growing up in small-town Virginia he was obsessed with his mother’s Rolleiflex camera and how the world appeared in the viewfinder. “I remember walking around the house and yard for hours, looking down through the finder. Not taking pictures – just looking. This act of looking, and finding stories in the world around him, however easy to miss, is something that has stayed with him to this day. “While I enjoy making photographs, I don’t make pictures for fun that often,” says. “I’m not the type to travel to an exotic location for the sake of creating images. I want to see and share the lesser known aspects of what it means to be alive on this planet at this particular moment in time.”