Eight photos showing the United States in crisis

Bungalow Family with Last Ash Tree, Midway, Chicago, USA, 2018 (Credit: Paul D’Amato)

The 1969 book America in Crisis opens with a section titled The American Dream, devoted to photographs of the United States as it traditionally appears: a land of abundance and opportunity, of cowboys, barbecues and white picket fences. As the book went on to show, it was an ideal that often fell short of reality.

Nonetheless, Paul D’Amato’s photograph, taken in Chicago’s hugely diverse suburb of Midway, shows hints of that promise. A Latino family sits under a tree on the manicured lawn of their home; a man throws a toddler in the air; an older daughter stands next to her mother. The sky is clear, the evening light inviting and warm. Although they may not appear to be wealthy, they are clearly doing well, being part of the growing Hispanic middle class in the United States. “The American dream is no longer what it was in the 1960s, especially as portrayed in popular media,” Harris says. “It’s another way to show what it looks like now.”

The only note of concern is the expression on the face of the man in the center of the image, who is eyeing D’Amato’s lens warily. Is he hostile because we intrude on this bucolic family scene, or anxious that it might somehow disappear? In other words, is he living the Dream or is he still struggling to achieve it? “There are so many different narratives,” Harris says. “It’s kind of up to us.”

America in Crisis is at the Saatchi Gallery, London, until April 3, 2022.

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