The American Guide reinvented: a new take on US travel
please note this post is not by Jay Clapp Photography but from the photography news at the guardian for your viewing pleasure please feel free to use the share buttons at the bottom.
The original series of the American Guide provided a written and visual record of the US in the 1930s and 40s. Its social media-driven revival hopes to deliver an equally powerful project
America’s greatest self-portrait came out of its hardest times. You can still see the Great Depression – the faces and farms, factories and streets – even though you weren’t there, because the federal government of the time documented those people and places to keep a record for future generations.
The American Guide Series was an Encyclopedia Americana: a group of tour books and pamphlets published in the late 1930s and early 40s covering every state from Alabama to Wyoming. Thousands of writers, photographers and editors, including soon-to-be-greats such as Saul Bellow, John Cheever and Zora Neale Hurston, were employed by Franklin D Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) to gather material for the guides.
Then, as now, government stimulus was controversial. Federal writers going through New Mexico were known as El diablo a pie (the devil on foot – and a pun on the letters WPA). But with nearly a third of Americans facing unemployment, the programme provided out-of-work writers and artists with a regular pay cheque and a national purpose. As the country slowly recovered from the Depression, the series encouraged people to travel and spend money to boost the struggling economy.
You wouldn’t turn to the guides for a hotel rating or a restaurant review. Instead, in every state, people and tradition coloured the storytelling. You would find descriptions of soapbox orators in Harlem, New York; South Dakota’s grizzly bear-wrestling mountain man; a gumbo recipe for Holy Thursday in New Orleans; and folk songs for Los Angeles fiestas.
Some of the guides are still in print, and while they are fascinating reads, the descriptions and driving tours are often ghost maps of things that were and places that used to be. Outside of a few valiant local efforts to continue cataloguing our way of life, the US really stopped looking at itself the way the guide series did.
We think it’s time that changed. Which is why we started The American Guide, a project inspired by the spirit of the original programme. In 1940, the WPA guide to Oregon said that the endeavour was “the product of many hands and minds working joyously”. The same is true today. The American Guide is the effort of a Tumblr community; they are photographers, writers, and artists from across the US. They are also small business owners, teachers, skateboarders, and architects, to name a few, engaged in the process of sharing the country they know.
Your guide writer to Tennessee, Tammy Mercure, takes you to the temporary encampment of fans surrounding the annual Nascar races in Bristol. Through her images and words, you’ll meet the mayor of Jelloville, Jesus, and his Pennsyl-tuckians, and a group of (Nascar driver) Dale Earnhardt lookalikes.
Photographer Michael Cevoli brings you to Warren, Rhode Island – one of the smallest towns in the country’s smallest state – where shipbuilders have been producing vessels since before the American Revolution and now practise their trade on hulking steel by the light of arc welders. Out west, James Orndorf and Amadee Ricketts drive you around the Four Corners region of the south-west, unearthing its history and unleashing its staggering beauty through their camera lenses. These are just a few of about 40 regular contributors and a number of guest guides producing an ever-expanding record of America, documenting people and places both pretty and hard. It’s for the tourist and the local; a view inside the windows you pass every day, as well as required reading for your road trip.
Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of The American Guide
• For more information on holidays in the USA, visit DiscoverAmerica.com
via Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2013/may/25/reinventing-the-american-guide-us-travel Thanks for reading Jay
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