Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures was the Charcoal photobook-of-the-month for June 2020. I preordered Girl Pictures well before its release, and so swapped it out for George Georgiou’s Americans Parade. This was probably my fourth swap, and the process couldn’t be easier: Jesse Lenz and Charcoal Books are super easy to work with.
But this isn’t about Charcoal.
For Americans Parade, Georgiou spent a year (2016) going to parades in cities and towns all over the United States and photographing groups of spectators as they watched the floats pass by. 14 states, 24 cities, 26 parades, 53 pictures, all with groups of mostly (self-)segregated people, rarely singly, mostly in family groups or large crowds. I was shocked by the size of a couple of men pictured: two gentlemen look like friggen giants, with the next tallest person not quite reaching their shoulders. I was not surprised by the average girth: we’re not a slim population. And given the time Geogiou photographed (January to November 2016), I was surprised by the general feelings of unity and overall togetherness pictured.
Sure, some people eye the camera suspiciously; sure, some gesture or glare at something out of frame; but, overall, we’re all there together for some sort of celebration.
David Campany, in his introduction, reads this unity as a harbinger of the 45th presidency and all the strife and division in our political sphere. I don’t see that at all: I think about local parades here, the Homecoming parade that passed my grandparent’s house every year, the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Patchogue where a few friends and I played Jenga with the beer can tower that steadily grew from the recycling bins and garbage cans, the Fourth of July parade I shot slide film at some years ago. For all of those, for all of the differences between me, my cohort, and the other families and groups at the parade—not to mention the people marching or riding in the parade—we were all there together. Sorta like the DMV or Post Office or Jury Duty, parades are levelers: everyone goes to parades.* Campany, as a Brit, may not have the same experience of American parades, and so probably sees something different.
Sure, many of the people pictured probably ended up at BLM rallies or carried tiki torches at Charlotte or waved MAGA flags at the United States Capitol. But for the brief 1/500th of a second Georgiu captured us together, united. And it’s beautiful.**
Campany, a Brit, writing in 2019, probably had only Charlotte and MAGA on his mind; I, writing in early 2021, more have Covid on my mind. It’s sorta strange to see all the unmasked people, crowded together, no-social-distancing (or not much), and if the book came out now, if Campany wrote his introduction a year or two later, his emphasis on division and strife probably wouldn’t be there either. And, anyway, I look forward to going to some parades and fairs (and Six Flags) now that I and others are vaccinated and things are slowly starting to reopen and all.
Americans Parade is a nice, thought provoking, portrait of Americans. The pictures are clear and legible and the book is a size that invites peering in. The pages are strangely thick—I’m forever thinking pages have stuck together—and this allows each page to lay completely flat, with only a thin, barely visible fold line bisecting each. Given that each image occupies a full spread, I deeply appreciate books that avoid burying 1/3 of an image in the gutter.
Americans Parade seems to be the only book (so far) ever published by BB Editions (which doesn’t have a website) and remains available at Deadbeat Club and elsewhere. It’s really a lovely portrait of the American people. There is no judgement, positive or negative, no attempt to capture jokes or caricatures: it’s just us, at a specific moment in time, all together for a more or less common cause, if only for an hour or so. And if we can come together for an hour for a stupid parade, maybe we can get together on some more important things.
*Unlike the DMV, Post Office, and Jury Duty, though, people voluntarily go to parades.
**If the crowds weren’t so homogenous, it would be more beautiful, but I can’t have everything.