Greta Pratt has said that her photographs of Americana are motivated by an interest in “understanding how Americans remember the past, in order to understand what is revealed by the events we choose to celebrate as history.”
The words “ironic” and “wry” are appropriate when describing Pratt’s images, but looking at her photographs isn’t all that amusing. Are we actually supposed to find these images funny? We need to ask, What, exactly, is being celebrated and portrayed in these portrayals? Pratt’s work claims to be dealing with memory and using history, but it raises the question: How are we using history? And who in these often static, staged-looking portrayals is constructing this version of events and vision of history? Greta Pratt has said that her photographs of Americana are motivated by an interest in “understanding how Americans remember the past, in order to understand what is revealed by the events we choose to celebrate as history.”
The photographic series on Abraham Lincoln brought her notoriety—According to Pratt, “Those portraits share a muted palate of colors that binds them together as a group suggesting a communal identity. The background, a softly focused landscape, references historic portrait painting and connects the Lincolns to the vast American wilderness where the common man was able to build a new life. These photographs are a continuation of my quest to understand how I, and we, remember history. My intention is to comment on the way a society, composed of individuals, is held together through the creation of its history and heroic figures.
In the Using History, Nineteen Lincolns, and Flag a Day series, Pratt’s focus had been on the consumption and production of national myth. In the new Liberty series, Greta Pratt examines the faces of ordinary people employed by the Liberty Tax Service. She is interested in these persons as individuals and makes photographic portraits of the “wavers”–day laborers who are dressed as this American icon. The workers stand on street corners, dressed in Statue of Liberty costumes, waving and dancing in an effort to entice the public into the tax offices. According to Greta Pratt, “I was first drawn to the wavers, as everyone is, by the unexpected sight of someone dancing on an urban street corner dressed as the Statue of Liberty. But after hearing their stories I became interested in them as individuals. I found that all of the ones I photographed are thankful to be working. Most of their prior job experiences have been in the service industry, from customer service at Wal-Mart to fast food cook to motel housekeeping. Some are disabled and at least one is currently homeless. All of them are struggling to make ends meet, particularly in the current economic crisis.”
Curated by Elaine A. King
Greta Pratt received her BFA in Photography from the University of Minnesota. She attended the State University of New York where she obtained her MFA in Intermedia Design. She has been part of two published books of photographs. She teaches photography at Old Dominion University.