Niko J. Kallianiotis’s new book “America in a Trance” (Damiani, 2018) is a deeply personal exploration of a once prosperous region of Pennsylvania now plagued by decay, depression and loss. The book follows in the tradition of “road trip” photography from the likes of Robert Frank’s “The Americans” and Stephen Shore’s “Uncommon Places.” Like Frank, Kallianiotis’s observations come from an immigrant’s or outsider’s point of view. Kallianiotis was born in Greece and came here over 20 years ago when his father relocated to the United States for postgraduate work, first to New York and eventually to Pennsylvania.
“America in a Trance” is realized with work of richly hued colors and keen observations. Kallianiotis is not interested in presenting us with a direct, literal gaze, as much as he is trying to leave us with his own personal interpretations and impressions of his adopted place of living. He’s also not interested in making any kind of political statement with the book. That is underscored by Luke Wynne’s introduction:
“Kallianiotis may have a political identity, but his photographs send equally ironic messages to the left and the right of the American political spectrum. In another two-page diptych, a semi-truck is used as a billboard for the Make America Great Again president-to-be, Donald Trump. Two blonde models, in matching red minidresses, are captured in front of the candidate’s photo and signs that read “Freedom isn’t free / Build the Wall”, “All Lives Matter” and “Close The Borders” as two policemen bookend either side of the frame. In the opposing page, a storefront campaign office for Hillary Clinton contains a cardboard cutout of the candidate peering out of the window and over the shoulder of a wizened senior citizen. The two page layout tells the yin and the yang of the American political season. No punches were pulled, and no one was hurt. Kallianiotis just came to the banquet, the tables were already set.”
In a statement provided to In Sight, Kallianiotis explains the origins and motivations of “America in a Trance”:
“About two decades ago my father moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was my second experience with the United States. In the late 70’s he took the journey from Greece to New York City to work on his postgraduate studies, which evidently led him to the Keystone State. Living in Pennsylvania and traveling through the cities and towns, long before I picked up a camera, helped me shape my perception of what America is, or isn’t.
In 2015 I started working on “America in a Trance” as I traveled across the state of Pennsylvania, a once prosperous and vibrant region where the notion of small town values and sustainable small businesses thrived under the sheltered wings of American Industry. A mode to promote American values, industrialism provided a place where immigrants from tattered European countries crossed the Atlantic for a better future. An immigrant and naturalized citizen myself, I had always perceived the U.S. differently, mostly from the Hollywood experience and the adventures of “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man”. The transition from Athens to New York City to Pennsylvania proved to be an invaluable experience, an education about America and its traditions, values but also its concerns.
This project is an ongoing observation of the fading American dream so typified in the northeastern Pennsylvania landscape but widespread across the United States. My subject choices derive from intuition and the desire to explore the unknown and rediscover the familiar. Through form, light, and color, I let the work develop organically, and become a commentary of place but also of self. I am not interested in how things look, but mostly how things feel, with the hues and light playing the role of a constituent of hope. The work is a product of love, for both the state and country I have called home for the last two decades; it is not meant to be political but it’s about the experience of being there, showing you what I see but mostly what I feel. While my interest is not in the depiction of desolation, at times it becomes necessary to the narrative. I search for images that reflect, question, and interpret life in the towns and cities across the Keystone State, and the yearning for survival. My interest is in the vernacular and the inconsequential, that which becomes metaphorical and a connotation to a personal visual anthology for the photographer but also for the viewer.”
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