Many Americans travel to Europe to experience its distinctive culture, history and tradition. So they might be surprised to stumble upon a rockabilly festival in Hungary, or a Civil War reenactment at the Czech Republic, or a Wild West theme park in France.
Photographer Naomi Harris seen them for her show EUSA. The project documents cultural appropriation on both sides of the Atlantic, with American-themed events in Europe and Europe-themed events in the Usa. It is a funny look at how a country’s culture can go worldwide, while at exactly the exact same time losing precious nuance. “Being enthralled by another country’s way of life doesn’t mean it is always an accurate portrayal,” states Harris. “Instead it becomes a sentimental and idealized depiction–an homage to a legacy which is not one’s own.””
Harris is one of many Americans with remote European origins: Her “great-great-great whatever” grandfather on her mother’s side was allegedly Mayflower captain Myles Standish, and her daddy’s Jewish ancestors emigrated from Poland to Canada. But the majority of the family’s cultural traditions are completely gone. Harris grew up in Toronto shopping at GAP and now lives in Los Angeles in an apartment filled with Ikea furniture.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York, Paris or Frankfurt, we eat the same foods, wear the same clothing, and speak on the very same telephones,” Harris says. “We are a part of an international community hard-pressed to be unique and stand out from one another.”
She noticed this for the first time in 2008 after stumbling on the half-timbered German stores of Helen, Georgia, which boasted a disconcerting stock of Black Forest cuckoo clocks and Confederate flags. Weirdly enough, the artificial Bavarian village does not have some German heritage –all that gingerbread was only a ploy to bring in tourists. Harris was curious, and started seeking out places in the US and Europe with misplaced cultural tributes.
During the next seven decades, she visited 26 events in the us and Europe. She watched watched locals parade around dressed as Vikings for “Danish Days” in Solvang, California and individuals sporting cowboy hats, calico, and firearms at a frontier theme park in Kulltorp, Sweden. Each occasion, she wandered about with two light stands, portable strobes and a Mamiya C330 camera, making portraits of festival goers and chatting together. Some attendees handled the events with extreme seriousness, painstakingly sewing costumes as well as ditching their phones for historic accuracy’s sake; others just threw on a lederhosen t-shirt and called it a day.
In both the US and EU, lots of the folks had never actually visited the country they were observing, though that did not prevent them from observing the thought of the nation–and Harris’s sun-washed photographs capture precisely how unabashedly bizarre those ideas could be.
Harris is raising funds to flip EUSA into picture book on Kickstarter until October 7, 2017.