If you ask yourself the deep questions before your morning coffee, head over to Cafe Grumpy on 193 Meserole to get your cup of Joe and slice of America while Jeremy Fink’s project The American Lens is up. What makes an icon? Where is this country headed? What’s happening to immigration reform? Am I really eating a biscuit made with kale + pinenuts + gruyere?
Yes, to the biscuit, I think, but I’m unclear about everything else. At first glance, The American Lens reminds me of Coca Cola’s much-discussed Super Bowl ad, America, The Beautiful. In both, a group of people are united by a common, instantly recognizable standard—Coke’s slim glass bottle in the former, and Old Glory in the latter. But is this where the similarities end? I shoot an e-mail to the photographer, and we arrange to chat about the project on a Thursday afternoon.
GPers: Where are you from?
GPers: When did you move to New York City?
Jeremy: I’m a college student, and I had an internship at St. Martin’s Press, designing books this summer. I was living in Chelsea.
GPers: Where did you take the photos? Are they all New Yorkers?
Jeremy: I shot in Delaware, Boston, Albany, Woodstock, and in New York City since I was there in the summer, which is nice because it’s so diverse. It’s a really dynamic place to be a photographer.
GPers: How do you pick people to photograph? Are they strangers? Friends?
Jeremy: Well, I’ve probably met thousands of people doing this project. And most of them said “No.” I’ve had days where for every one person, I’d get ten “Nos.” I think if I used a cell phone to take the pictures, people wouldn’t question it. But because I have a real camera, instead people ask, “Do you work for the government” or “Are you a cop?” I had a few goals when doing this project: to learn about and understand people…I’m curious about how many people I can meet and about how people react when you give them a unified image. I’m really interested in what makes something iconic.
GPers: The description of your project mentions both Marilyn Monroe and Kanye West as American icons. Isn’t it a little to early to list Kanye? Plus, what makes an American icon?
Jeremy: In today’s world, where we are constantly seeing all these images, the icon is someone who has the ability to stay around at all. For me, the icon is someone who can cut through all the rapid images that we’re constantly being inundated with. I’m interested in staying power, and what gives an image or a person the ability to hang around. I think that Warhol said that everyone will get their fifteen minutes of fame, so the question is what makes something last more than that metaphorical fifteen minutes.
GPers: Your project is called The American Lens. So, what does being “American” mean to you?
Jeremy: It’s about equal opportunity…It’s kind of hard to answer, “What does it mean?” To me, it’s the word “diversity,” and the reason why I’m doing this project about this country. There’s a certain energy and turmoil to it—that
America is on the cutting edge. For me, this project is more about the American people and not the country.
GPers: Do you have a favorite NYC hang out spot?
Jeremy: The Chelsea Piers at 6 in the morning. You see working people and people running…I think it’s a nice, unique moment away from everything else.
For more photos from Jeremy Fink’s The American Lens, follow him on Facebook here or on Instagram (@jeremy_R_fink).