“Us of America strives to present an America that is beautiful and dynamic, but also complicated and messy,” says co-founder Nicole Nodland of the magazine which features work by top photographers like Magnum’s Bruce Gilden, Alec Soth, Larry Fink and Charles Traub. “America is supposed to be the ‘Land of the Free’; a country where everyone has an opportunity to achieve their dreams. However, as pretty much everyone knows, the idea of ‘freedom and opportunity for all’ is unfortunately not the reality.”
Nicole, herself an artist and formerly Prince’s personal photographer, first set up Us of America with co-founder David Leppan to create something tangible that confronted and united all the “wonderful, sad, beautiful and ugly truths and stories that exist within America”. “With all the rhetoric of an America divided, I was feeling pretty dejected by my country’s state of affairs,” Nicole tells It’s Nice That. “At the same time, I felt the need to act. I wanted to start a conversation and break down boundaries, stereotypes, and prejudices.”
Now launching its third issue, the biannual magazine aims to captured lesser known American culture, through features on art, life, fashion, photography and music. Heavily influenced by magazines such as Twen, Nova, and Life and art directors like Herb Lubalin and Alexey Brodovitch, the magazine’s design is direct and to the point. But it’s the quality of the photography – from the double cover featuring Get Out star Lil’ Rel and comedian Jermaine Fowler to unseen photos from Charles H. Traub’s 1970s The Chicago Period collection – that really sets Us of America apart.
“It’s difficult to put into words [what I’m looking for in collaborators], but if I had to choose a phrase or two words to describe what catches my eye it would be: ‘Modern Nostalgia’,” says Nicole. “If you look at the photography of Joseph Szabo, Charles H. Traub or Larry Fink (all legends who we’ve been fortunate enough to work with), there is a timeless quality to their work. What was exciting and modern when first published still remains so years later.”
One of the most challenging shoots to put together for the latest issue was Bruce Gilden’s photojournalistic essay featuring sex workers from Opa-locka, Miami. “Its one of the most dangerous places in America. It’s so dangerous, in fact, that the police rarely visit,” says Nicole. Over a week Bruce and Nicole spent time with the sex workers, gaining their trust and asking whether they’d want to have their portraits taken for the magazine.
“It was an intense and heartbreaking experience. We were surrounded by so many women, of all ages, whose lives have been destroyed by addiction,” says Nicole. “In Bruce’s pictures you can see the effects that drugs can have, but it’s only when you get to spend time with people like Texas, Trisha and Kat, that you see the bigger picture. You hear their story off-camera, and witness an existence that, for me, seemed nothing short of tragic.”
As well as giving established photographers a platform to work on more experimental projects, Us of America also aims to nurture new photographic talent, launching its #MyAmericanVision campaign that allows amateur photographers to submit to the magazine through Instagram. “For our launch issue, we wanted to feature an amateur photographer’s work, discovered through our hashtag, alongside the likes of Martin Parr and Larry Fink among others,” says Nicole. “After the campaign’s success, and having seen so many wonderful photographs, we wanted to keep the initiative going.”
Given Us of America’s ethos is to shine a light on all of America, it was the logical next step to ensure that the magazine continued to embrace and showcase snapshots of America, from New York’s DUMBO and the Ohio State Fair, to countless motels dotted across the country. “It’s now been two years since we first introduced the hashtag and we haven’t looked back! We’ve discovered some amazing professional and amateur photographers, and established a real sense of community.”
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