Jonathan David Wagner

American Spaces

American Spaces is a photographic exploration of contemporary midwestern life as an epitome of American culture. Using my car and my camera, I navigate the enigmatic terrain of the American heartland. My work is a reflection on the homogeneity and conformity of the American standard of living and how we all buy into a similar idea of the American Dream. We move through our daily environments without noticing the inherent strangeness and familiarity of our surroundings. For this reason, I photograph banal structures, billboards, interior spaces, comfort food, and other repetitive subjects. With these photographs, I challenge the viewers to question why we have adopted certain patterns of living and how we have become accustomed to commodified landscapes that shape our nation.

I created this body of work using both digital and analog mediums. Using a digital camera, I made photographs influenced by the realistic and objective style of straight photography. This approach involves minimal cropping and editing and is simply about representing the world as it exists. Paradoxically, I am also influenced by surrealists such as Man Ray and Max Ernst, and how photographs can be deceitful. Inspired by this idea I created screenshots of commercial Midwestern locations from Google Maps (cattle farms, agriculture fields, etc.) and inverted them into photograms in the darkroom. After developing, I scanned those photograms back into the computer and printed them as large abstractions of shape and repetition. As such, American Spaces goes beyond mere documentation; it urges viewers to rethink the spaces they encounter daily and to face the unsettling familiarity that lies within them. I hope that this can contribute to the broader discourse on American life.