Jesse Rieser: Christmas in America: Happy Birthday Jesus
I have to admit that I’m not a religious person, but I’m all in when it comes to Christmas. The lights, the decorations, the tree, the fantasy of Santa and the reindeer are wonderful distractions from politics and the end of the world as we know it. This is the third time I’ve featured Jesse Rieser’s terrific project, Christmas in America: Happy Birthday Jesus, first in 2013, then again in 2016. The good news is that this is an 8 year effort and it just gets more delicious with each year. He completed the project this year with work made in New York. His perspective of examining this holiday/religious/commercial event from the outside, makes us see the folly and the magic of saying Happy Birthday to Christ.
Jesse’s project, The Retail Apocalypse: The Changing Landscape of American Retail, is being featured on UPI’s The Fence, which is opening soon in Houston, Seattle and Calgary, CA.
Christmas in America: Happy Birthday Jesus
Beyond the glowing green and red lights, past the shimmering silvery tinsel, around the fragrant pine boughs, another Christmas lingers, a Christmas of contradictions. This is a Christmas where carved foam soldiers guard Santa in the parking lot of a church just before a holiday parade. This is a Christmas where thousands of Santas run in an annual fundraising race, a sea of red hats and performance apparel. This is a Christmas where garages and homes are transformed into elaborate, festive wonderlands. This is a Christmas where Christian families reenact the birth of Christ, where Santa plays pool in a bar and where more is more is more. This Christmas is complex and at times, uncomfortable. It’s awkward and sometimes bleak. But it is also sincere and celebratory, colorful and creative.
This is the Christmas I have grown to love during my 8-year photographic exploration of the biggest event on the American calendar. I grew up in a secular home and at times felt like a Christmas outsider, never connected to the holiday’s religious importance, or its more extreme cultural trappings. But in these photos, I become a Christmas insider, working to discover and reveal what holiday magic, or mania, compels so many to devote thousands of hours to hanging lights, to carving and painting figurines, to building miniature villages, to converting their homes, yards, garages and cars into monuments to merriness.
Initially inspired by the absurdity of a four story inflatable Santa who appeared to be guarding a tree lot, I have launched this survey of uniquely American Christmas traditions. Christmas in America is an unvarnished examination of the ways people mark the holiday’s meaning.
Jesse Rieser’s exploration and celebration of the mundane and humorous elements that often go overlooked can be traced back to his Midwestern upbringing in Springfield, Missouri. At Arizona State University he majored in photography and art history while attending the Herberger Institute of Art and Design. Now working and teaching between New York and Phoenix, he continues his curious exploration of subtleties paired with his signature style of light and color.
Rieser and his photographic works have been featured in The New York Times, Time, Architectural Digest, NPR, Buzzfeed, It’s Nice That, Refinery 29, Wired, Fast Company, The Guardian, The Daily Mail and has collaborated with AT&T, Amtrak, Coca-Cola, Disney, ESPN, E* Trade, The Ford Motor Company, NBA, New Mexico State Tourism, NFL, Procter & Gamble, United Airlines, Warner Brothers, and Visa.
His personal fine art work, editorial assignments, and advertising commissions have been celebrated by the Communication Arts Photography Annual (2X), PDN Photo Annual (5x), American Photography Annual (12x), Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50 (Top International Fine Art Project)(3x), Center’s Review Santa Fe 100, 2011 Art Director’s Club Young Guns (Top International Emerging Creative Under 30), Luezer’s Archive (200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide) and a recipient of the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward award in 2012 (Top Emerging Fine Art Photographer in North America and U.K. Under 35)
His works have been exhibited internationally, a frequent guest University lecturer, and he has twice been a judge and panelist for the One Club & Art Director’s club Young Gun’s program- identifying the top 30 creatives under 30 working around the world.
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