Russian-American photographer Anastasia Samoylova was selected earlier this year to produce a new body of work for MPB in collaboration with 1854 for the Shoot the Sequel: Then & Now America campaign. The resulting images form the final part of her triptych on Florida, providing a sobering look at the state.
In 1954, at the age of 56, photographer Berenice Abbott set off with her Rolleiflex camera on an ambitious journey along the US Route 1. Concerned about the impact cars were having on the landscape, Abbott aimed to capture the people and places – from Florida motels to Maine vegetable farmers – that formed the fabric of the East Coast. Nearly seven decades later, inspired by Abbott’s voyage, and with a similarly environmentally focused mission, Miami-based artist Anastasia Samoylova took off in her own car to produce a vivid portrait of Florida’s “Forgotten Coast”.
“Abbott’s work got me thinking about the road trip genre and its possibilities. I wanted to see whether anything new could be said in it,” Samoylova recounts. Realising that there are still so “few women photographers involved in the genre”, Samoylova set herself a challenge to see whether she could revive new life into the field with a female perspective. From Robert Frank’s The Americans to Walker Evans’ photographs in The Mangrove Coast – another huge inspiration for Samoylova – the American road trip is traditionally and continues to be, a distinctly male-dominated genre. But Samoylova is no stranger to breaking down barriers through her work: “I knew that I wanted to work against stereotypes”, she explains. The road and its capacity to “open up your literal boundaries” afforded her the perfect opportunity to do so.
The photographer drove 675 miles with a 50mm size lens provided by MPB – the world’s largest reseller of photo and video equipment – from her hometown all the way up the peninsula to Pensacola, to the westernmost city on the border of Alabama. It was on her 2-week-long loop back home that she began her work for the Shoot the Sequel: Then & Now America campaign. Launched in collaboration with 1854 for MPB, the commission tasked Samoylova and another selected photographer with capturing the iconic narratives of America in a new light.
Visiting a variety of establishments in the town Seaside, a “predominantly white area”, Samoylova’s images from the post office, the pool, the picket fence and the petrol station, amongst other town staples offer insight into the current state of suburban America. While the omnipresence of red and blue invoke Republican and Democrat colour-coding, her emphasis on colour points to further binaries within the story of America. “Everything is really condensed and people who are at polar opposites, politically and economically coexist together,” she asserts. To demonstrate her point, the photographer recalls coming across two totally unique and contrasting individuals within an hour of each other while driving through the small lakeside town of Mount Dora. One, captured in Woman in mask, Mt Dora, is a 27-time skydiving champion wearing a facemask with the words ‘Trump 2024’ emblazoned across the front; while the other who can be seen in Ryder, Mt Dora, is an alternative podcast host with a mohawk and thigh-high leather biker boots.
“It’s so perfect there it’s kind of dizzying”
Samoylova’s investigation into the polarisation of Florida finds an apt setting in Seaside, a small resort community and the location for the cult-classic film The Truman Show. “It’s so perfect there it’s kind of dizzying,” she says. “But it’s perfect in the sense that it feels like you’re walking into a brochure. It’s absolutely polished.” The perceived perfection, which is exaggerated by the sheer brightness of many of Samoylova’s images, acts as a reminder of the emptiness of the American Dream. Behind the glossy cars and pristine white municipal buildings in her photographs, there is a hollowness that lurks in the empty swimming pool and the stunted palm trees. Undoubtedly, this is underpinned by Samoylova’s approach, which she believes requires a “deeper insight” from the viewer. “It’s never what it seems at face value, with my photography. I like to keep the mystery of photography because this is what drew me to it in the first place,” she comments. “Photography doesn’t tell you the whole story at all; it’s about your perception.”
Though the images at first glance appear to be traditional observational documentary, they are expertly crafted – a distinctive quality that unites all of her work – thanks to her background in architecture and design. There’s an alchemy, to her framing which, in combination with her loaded depiction of colour makes her choreographer of the image. “I think the splicing of realities has to happen via framing,” she explains. Her deft manipulation of frame is in part, a homage to the work of Walker, whose photographs she carried with her “like a Bible” throughout the trip. “Florida is just so lush and so dense and it could easily fall into a subject of cliched representation yet [Evans] easily circumvents that with the way he frames things and his choice of subject. That’s a direct juxtaposition to me,” she explains.
The influence of Walker’s photographs on Samoylova’s trip responds directly to the commission’s search for photographers who engage with the different ways America has been captured by generations of their peers. As a platform for used equipment, MPB’s commission explores how familiar tropes can be reimagined through different lenses. The company recirculates more than 300,000 items of used kit every year (extending the life and creative potential of photo and video equipment for creators all over the world), promoting a more sustainable industry and allowing storytellers to capture America in new contexts.
Reflecting on the impact the commission had on her, Samoylova says in all earnest that “it really opened [her] eyes to how complex Florida is.” While she has been living in and photographing the state for some time, the Forgotten Coast was new territory and the trip gave her ongoing Floridas project a new dimension. “It made me sympathise and understand where a lot of this community was coming from, especially after visiting some of the events and seeing just how insular and cult-like some of those structures are. Most of that region is highly conservative, it’s a very pro-gun county and there’s no progressive message anywhere. But it’s nonetheless complex and there’s this need for understanding.”
The photographer’s goal is to have these images published in a book and exhibited later this year alongside two other series she has done on the state that also address fragile landscapes, the boom and bust of its cities and the diversity of its citizens. This final chapter as you will, adds to her everyday observations on the character of American culture as a whole, reminding us of American life in its present moment with a recognition of its complex past.
Alice Finney is an arts and culture Editor and Writer, based in Berlin. A graduate of the Central School of Ballet and Sussex University, she specialises in writing about dance, design and popular culture. She has written for titles including SLEEK Magazine, INDIE Magazine, Mixmag, gal-dem, HuffPost UK, and Dezeen.