What happens when you ask ordinary people around the world what they think of America? Do we want to know? It’s not so bad actually, at least if you’re not George Bush. Photographer Lauri Lyons latest project, Flag International (2008), documents precisely this question through photography, HD video, audio and hand written text from a host of characters across the continent of Europe. As a follow-up to her first book project, Flag: An American Story (2001), which documented American’s ideas about themselves, Lyons decided to trek across 8 countries in 8 weeks to investigate a 21st century international perspective on America. With a backpack, camera gear, a few American flags, assistants found in local communities and trained on the spot and, a list of friends of friends, Lyons layed the groundwork for, Flag International.
(Images left to right: Lauri Lyons, The Flag International book cover photographed in Italy and a portrait from the book, photographed in England.)
Spontaneity was a huge element in Lyon’s creative process on the project. Subjects were approached on the street, asked if they would like to participate, handed a sketchbook in which to write their comments on America and then asked to pose with the American flag, however they wanted to, for a photograph. Sometimes it took a bit of convincing, debate or negotiation to get subjects on board, but collaboration as part of the artistic process is one of Lyon’s staples, “The intention of the Flag International series is to inspire a dialogue about cultural understanding within a global framework. Cultural understanding is not only how a people or a nation views itself, but also how the world views you.”
(Images left to right: Lauri Lyons, Portraits from Flag International, photographed in Italy and Germany.)
In Lyon’s travels she came across, children of Algerian revolutionaries, wealthy Muslim shopaholics, beer drinking Germans, Holocaust Survivors, European B-Boys and B-Girls, Indian, Mexican and African immigrants, and a host of others. The experience revealed a changing Europe. One no longer ruled by homogeneity and ancient history. Lyons notes in the Flag International book essay, “The new Europe is a dynamic, cosmopolitan, and ethnically diverse continent with a youthful push towards a unification of cultures and resources. The new Europe reminded me of the idea of America, which constitutes a vast array of people striving to create a new way of being. As I traveled throughout Ireland, England, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, I could not help but to wonder how the new Europe will deal with the same old challenges facing America such as nationalism, immigration, racism, fundamentalism, and apathy.” Check out Flag International to find out what our peeps overseas had to say about the good ‘ol USA!
(Image: Photographer Lauri Lyons, photographed in Harlem, USA.)
Buy Flag International! Listen/Watch the Flag International podcast/video! Images from Flag International are on view as part of the POSITIVITY show Curated by Jamel Shabazz at the Corridor Gallery in Brooklyn until July 26th.