Leah Frances: American Squares
According to John Tierney of The New York Times, “The act of reminiscing has been shown to counteract loneliness and anxiety, while also promoting personal interactions, and improving the longevity of marriages. When people speak fondly and lovingly of the past, they also tend to become more hopeful for the future. By recalling the past, they look forward to what’s to come.”
I’m not sure if this was the case for Leah Frances, but her project, American Squares, does make us look back lovingly at relics and architecture that were once part of the zeitgeist and allows us a bit of time travel. Leah brings an outsider’s delight to American iconography and has created a massively popular instagram that has received significant attention. Growing up in Canada, in close proximity to American culture, Leah spent her childhood saturated by movies and television that influenced her adult exploration of the American past. She has just released a book of this work through Aint-Bad and will be signing books at the Silver Eye Book Fair, Pittsburg on Oct 4-5th and the Boston Art Book Fair, Boston MA, Nov 8-10th.
Leah Frances is the eye behind American Squares, an Instagram photography project that documents American cultural relics, iconography and identity. American Squares has over 21,000 followers and was recently mentioned by T, The New York Times Style Magazine, in their “Five to Follow” series. Frances’ work has been published by The New York Times Magazine, Us of America Magazine, the SFMoMa blog, Subjectively Objective, Feature Shoot, frankie magazine, Hemispheres Magazine and more and has been exhibited nationally and internationally.
As a Canadian-born photographer raised on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, her early proximity to the United States along with a steady diet of mid-century American cinema instilled in Frances a fascination for commonly-held concepts of “Americanness.” Now living in Pennsylvania, she carries a deep interest in identity—its roots, and its perceptions within a culture and across time. Photography, as her vehicle through this exploration, allows her to focus on small, striking moments and to create images that carry a persistent, quiet optimism. She uses her lens to capture relics, icons, and traces of cultural identity as a means of engaging in the distance between these ideas and the reality of daily life. Frances unearths a certain tenderness in our present by examining idyllic notions of America’s past.
From 2013 through 2019, I explored America’s real and imagined images of itself through the lens of my camera. Interested in the distance between commonly held ideas surrounding “Americanness” and the actual reality of daily life in this country, I examined these constructed perspectives, taking road trips to document traces of American cultural identity across as much of the country as I could reach. I found that the way I chose to frame the content of my photographs: to leave out what I wanted but also to include what I wanted could create a sort of displaced experience, an alternate reality both for the photographer doing the composing and for the viewer doing the looking. The resulting image could become a portal for the viewer, allowing for a flexible experience of time.
“This woman photographs the past” — 20 Minuten (Switzerland)
“The American road in all its recalcitrant splendour: large cars, large signs, large spaces, large dreams and promises of freedom now abandoned. Leah Frances… catalogues this suspended mythology; a departure point for dark and dreamy stories.” — double-decker.org.uk/
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