Brad Feuerhelm's new photobook bids Goodbye America

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Born in Wisconsin in 1977, Brad Feuerhelm is a photography collector, dealer, curator, writer and artist. He is managing editor of American Suburb X, and is opening a gallery in Athens in 2017. His specialist interest is vernacular photography, and he published his first book of this work in 2012 with Self Publish, Be Happy. His most recent book, Goodbye America, collects together various slides showing the good life in the US which Feuerhelm deliberately damaged.
BJP: Why did you get into book-making?
BF: I collected photography books from 1996 until about 2004, when the Roth and Parr books [The Open Book and The Photobook: A History] made it ridiculous to continue. It was the cusp of when it became less fun to collect. I make books because they express ideas that I have and there is not enough of a chance to show my own works, so the book is a good option. Also I get asked, so I do.
BJP: How do you see yourself – as an artist, a collector, a dealer or as something else?
BF: I have been making work since I started art school in 1996, most people are not aware of that. ‘Collector’ sounds nicer and less antagonistic; ‘dealer’ is something that sounds helpful. But though I do all of these things, I am not limited by one categorisation.
BJP: Where did you get the images from for this book?
BF: I collect slides as well as paper photography and have a decent collection of highly nuanced images from which these are drawn. The collection has been put together over time. The slides were smashed by hammer – they did not arrive this way, I ‘intervened’. I am looking very much at the idea of iconoclasm at present and wanted to distort the notion of individuality and the American Dream. The latter is an easier metaphor for the violence my hand entrusted to these unique images and people.
BJP: How big was the archive from which you chose these images? How did you edit them?
BF: Perhaps 5000-6000. The archive itself is full of similar images, all very esoteric, bizarre or interesting.
BJP: How did you damage the images, and was it carefully controlled or more random?
BF: The slides were struck with the sharp side of a hammer. There was some deliberation about that first strike – negation of eyes, cracking a larger smile on the mouth etc – but there is a serendipity involved as the surface is quite small on 35mm.
BJP: Why did you choose to publish the book with Yard Press?
BF: At any given time, I am working on six projects that may or may not happen in my personal work. Having been in social media circles with the Yard guys, I realised we had similar taste in images and music, and that was a huge unlocking key for me. These guys have great taste. I had also seen their book with Massimiliano T. Rezza [Atem], which I reviewed some time ago. Achille from Yard got in touch one day as I was uploading pictures of some nefarious quality to Facebook and said, ‘Hey let’s do something’. He was interested in the archival material, but I floated Goodbye America and they saw the potential and the timing.
BJP: The subject matter and the title seem particularly prescient after the recent election. How deliberate was that? Did you think Trump would win?
BF: I knew either way that the result would be horrific. Hillary was the worse of the two for me because she represented Neo-liberal status quo and war-mongering, whereas I saw Trump as an impossible outlier. Either way it was the death knell of the American Empire for me. The Trump win is terrible – perhaps the Democratic National Committee should not have robbed Bernie [Sanders]. It is terrible in particular for Americans in the sense that racism is not being mobilised per se, but it is out of the closet. Perhaps it’s time America deals with its ugly reflection
BJP: Do you feel it’s time for photobooks and photography in general to take more political stances now? The essay by Ryan [Mahan, included in Goodbye America] is particularly political?
BF: Ryan is in a band called Algiers who are also taking the political fight to their art. I think that is important. We inhabit a similar mindset, though I think he/they are more pragmatic about change being with the people than I am. My point with this book is that I feel America, as an image – the image it has of itself as leader of the ‘free’ world – needs to be destroyed, as it is not the reality for the world nor most Americans any more. As with every empire crumbling under the weight of excess, the cracks in the foundation become more and more evident and need to be repaired or it collapses. It’s simply a comment on that as a self-hating American.
Goodbye America is published by Yard Press and priced €33.

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy