JTF (just the facts): Self-published by BB editions in 2019 (here). Hardcover, 126 pages, with 58 black-and-white reproductions. Includes an essay by David Campany and a poem by Vanessa Winship. In an edition of 1000 copies. Design by João Linneu. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: There is something brilliantly counter intuitive about going to a parade to photograph the crowd. For most of us, what’s obviously interesting about a parade is the parade itself – the floats, the marching bands, the politicians and military veterans riding in old time cars, the dance troupes, the fire trucks, and the countless other community organizations celebrating and showing themselves off. Aside from a few friends or neighbors we might randomly run into, the people who have gathered to watch the parade are largely an afterthought, or more likely an annoyance, as they are often blocking or interrupting our own personal view of the festivities. They do of course share common cause with us, as they’ve come to the same parade we have, but most often these other people hanging around are strangers, patiently (or not patiently) watching just like we are.
George Georgiou’s black-and-white photographs of American parades never show us any of the actual marchers, choosing instead to wait for the attractions to pass, so he can take a look across the street at the people assembled there. Taken in 2016, in the run up to the presidential election, his photographs document a total of 26 parades in 24 different cities and states, as part of a commission for The New York Times magazine. This photobook gathers those images into a single subject compendium, the page flips creating an interwoven aggregate parade of parades.
Georgiou has applied a typological rigor to the framing of these parade pictures. Each image is shot from ground level, with a small horizontal strip of pavement across the bottom. Watchers cluster behind barricades and along sidewalks, in dense crowds and loose clusters of just a few people; behind them lie a range of American backdrops – the urban canyons of New York city, small town storefronts and streets, quiet country lanes, carnival fairgrounds, bunches of parked cars, and an assortment of houses, businesses, churches, and highway overpasses. Because of the way the people push forward to get a good view of the parades, they tend to form thick lines of overlapped humanity, further contributing to the striped effect repeatedly found in the compositions.
When we look at a scenes like these, especially from afar, our eyes tend to focus crispy on just one individual or group, essentially singling out these people from the surrounding activity, which falls into blur. But Georgiou’s camera sees these moments with uniform clarity from edge to edge, creating a frieze of action frozen in time that feels almost unreal. Like Garry Winogrand’s famous image of people on a bench in Central Park, but writ much larger, Georgiou’s pictures feel intricately plotted, each small vignette rolled up into a much larger tableaux of complex expressions, reactions, and arrangements.
Given the diversity found in America, it comes as no surprise that the crowds attending the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Illinois, the Martin Luther King parade in California, the Mermaid parade at Coney Island (in New York), and the Rodeo parade in Arizona don’t exactly look alike. But whether the crowds are watching a July 4th parade, a Mardi Gras parade, a Gay Pride parade, or something more regional or narrowly-defined (the Marion County Country Ham Days Pigasus parade, the Cranberry Festival parade, the Defeat of Jesse James Days parade), the commonalities and shared experiences are there to be seen. There are multi-generational families, and sassy teenagers, and kids waiting for candy, and strollers, and folding camp chairs, and toddlers sitting in wagons, and dogs, all wildly different, and yet all somehow the same.
Georgiou’s photographs reward close looking, as there are dozens of quirky details and isolated moments to be discovered in nearly every frame. Worth searching out are the young girl with the bubble maker, the shirtless bowtie man, the Santa Claus on a motorcycle light up roof ornament, the Cyclone roller coaster and Wonder Wheel backdrops, the snowflake blanket, the paper parasol, the friends sitting atop a huge monster truck, the Jr. Ambassadors in sashes and tiaras, the Mardi Gras beads, the friendly handshake while walking a dog, the shiny wheel rims in the window of Ramirez Tire, the young boy fast asleep on a fold out couch in the driveway, the Hiring Superstars sign, and the train tracks receding into the distance, but there are countless other vignettes and personalities equally ready to be savored.
Since all of Georgiou’s photographs are horizontals and we want to see everything that is going on, naturally, they have been printed large and each been placed across a full spread. The genius of the construction of Americans Parade is that the “lost in the gutter” problem that plagues this approach has been eliminated by a lay-flat design. Each page turn feels discrete and separate, the images staying put and allowing us to see them, without pushing us to keep moving. This seemingly simple decision makes the experience of the book significantly richer and much more patient.
Americans Parade is an inspired example of the power of seeing something obvious from an alternate perspective. Watching the watchers turns out to be surprisingly compelling, and Georgiou’s compilation of disparate parade crowds offers an unexpectedly insightful composite portrait of 21st century America. This single subject photobook essentially catches us off guard, thereby documenting truths about who we are and how we behave that we might not have noticed ourselves.