The USA is a vast country, diverse in both its landscape and its people. Since the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016, the country’s politics have been thrust onto a world stage more than ever before and the social and political changes taking place are evident, even from afar. An Anthology of Common Conversation is a long-term project by German photographer, Philipp Gallon, that explores these changes, from a European perspective through years of work.
“The idea for Anthology came up in 2014 on a visit to the US,” Philipp tells It’s Nice That. “I had done a similar project in the Middle East and thought it would be interesting to apply the same concept to the US.” The concept “is to photograph a place focusing on subjective experiences and individual encounters rather than on documentation,” he continues, “the actual project started in 2015 and will continue until 2020.”
So far, Philipp has been to the US four times, visiting 31 states. The aim is to visit all 50, with one or two visits a year until the end of the project. “For me, photography is this constant process of collecting and organising and deconstructing,” Philipp explains, “also, the kind of work I do is really independent of place. I don’t need a studio, what I can do I can do wherever,” he remarks of his projects which, although diverse, often gravitate towards themes of personal geographies and queer identity.
Far more interested in the process of his projects than their visual outcome, it’s the notion of collecting which plays the biggest role in An Anthology of Common Conversation. Each of Philipp’s visits to the US lasts around a month and sees him deliberately getting lost. “I go on these long road trips through the rural part of the US, only equipped with an analogue map and see where I end up,” he explains, “it’s this idea that, if you do not have a specific destination, everything becomes potentially interesting.”
The series is, therefore, an amalgamation of random encounters with people, places and situations. “It’s hard to pick one,” he responds when asked if there are any standout moments. However, he does recall a time while in Graceland, Memphis, he went camping alongside a host of “retired Elvis impersonators in humungous RVs.”
Although a series which could clearly have political leanings and a strong tone of voice, this is not Philipp’s intention. “I’m not interested in a journalistic or documentary approach,” he remarks. “I try not to be biased as to the outcome of the project and to approach everybody with the same amount of curiosity and respect whether they’re a Trump voter in North Carolina, a transgender person in Pittsburgh or teenagers in Texas.” As a result, An Anthology of Common Conversation – which is in the process of being published as a series of newsprint photo books – charts the mass polarisation of a country through subtle and small interactions. The photos present small moments, not huge rallies or protests, in an attempt to slowly build a visual archive of a country and its people.
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