“E Pluribus Unum”
[ K i c k s t a r t e r ]
America might be at a
crossroads. Or if you
live on the east coast
America looks like it
is a flood zone. Change,
in all of its forms, can be
difficult to swallow, but
Craig Semetko is trying
to make sense of the
unsettled condition in
the USA. His project
needs your support.
Believe in the Artist
This article is about Craig Semetko, but I want to start it off in a different direction. How many of you are familiar with a sculptor named Richard Serrra? Even if you do not know him by name, you have probably seen one of his monolithic steel sculptures. Serra is a colossally successful artist, who is represented by arguably the wealthiest gallery in the world called Gagosian Gallery. How successful is Serra? Lets put it this way, he has worked himself into a position where collectors need to pay him $50,000 for him to consider a commission. Its non-refundable of course. So while money is not always a measure of success, Serra has certainly secured a nice slice of the art world for himself. But this was not always the case. He used to be a struggling draftsmen with an interest in lead and steel.
Serra will be the first one to tell you that he grew up wandering the California ship yards where his father worked as a welder. Part of his mystique lies in his connection with large pieces of steel since childhood. But if you asked Serra about the importance of his early experiences, when he was barely scraping by in New York as a young artist, they answer would have been less romantic. Serra was not always a superstar. Most artists came from dark days and transformed themselves into the notable art figures. These types of transformations are made possible by their hard work and a little support from others.
In Serra’s case, he likes to tell the story this way. He was working in his studio and he asked his wife to come by to see his new piece. When she walked into the room she saw four pieces of plate steel leaning up against one another, like a house of cards. They were not attached, had not been polished, and for all of her understanding, they were not a work of art. Many of us, confronted with the same situation might say the same thing. This is not art.
In the 1970’s, four pieces of steel might not have caused a stir in the art world, but the collector and gallerist Leo Castelli thought Serra was on to something. Castelli had an eye for young artists. He selected Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns from their downtown studios and catapulted them to art stardom, following Jackson Pollack. However, Castelli was not always right. He passed up Andy Warhol, early on. A decision he would live to regret.
When it came to Serra, Castelli thought the leaning pieces of metal were an indication of the promising future, in spite of their apparent simplicity. We can only imagine how a financial forecaster could never make heads or tails of this decision, but artistically and financially Castelli was right, and Serra’s wife was wrong. Within a few months she was demoted to ex-wife. He said he could never be married to someone who did not believe in his work.
Invest, even when the outcome is unclear
Wouldn’t we all like to spot a talented artist before they were adorning galleries around the world? For some of us, we would love to be the talent, for others we would rather be the backer, like Castelli. The interesting thing to note is that most people have trouble spotting work in progress. Not every project will work out perfectly, but artists and photographers depend on the investment of collectors, buyers and supporters to allow them the mental and financial space to grow.
If an artist spends all of their time concerned with the financing of a project, it can take a toll on their work. Believe me, I know about this first hand. Which is why I want to highlight Craig Semetko’s Kickstarter campaign “E Pluribus Unum,” latin for “Out of many, One.”
America in Transition
Craig chose a curious time to start this project. In 2010, America was hoping to be on the tail end of the economic disaster from 2008. Though for many people, things have not improved. And with the re-election of President Obama, many people want to believe that the country will turn around. But as the polls showed, about half of the country had a different plan in mind. Specifically one that did not involve President Obama. There are a number of questions that will naturally surround Craig’s project that we will all be curious about:
- Where will the US go from here?
- How will it affect Americans who would not otherwise garner the attention of the news?
- What does a country in transition look like from an insider’s point of view?
- Could the confusion of a nation be echoed in a photographer’s personal journey?
- Will “E Pluribus Unum” come to represent a particular time in American history?
For a photographer whose first publication hinged on spontaneous humor, this project represents an interesting departure for Craig. “E Pluribus Unum” explores the spaces between party lines, regional identities, and the overlapping ways in which America defines and negates herself through the actions of her citizens.
Craig is great story teller who never misses an opportunity to sprinkle a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor into a conversation. But when you spend time with Craig outside of an event, he loves to discuss politics. His well read take on the current and historic political climates balances the absurdity of American history. Unlike a wire photographer, Craig is at liberty to shoot the a story without an editor calling the shots. It will be interesting to see how his point of view shapes the outcome of his project.
Like any good photographer, he has been at the right place at the right time. He pulled into Chicago in a rental car because a suicidal deer ran into him at 75mph in North Dakota. Craig was not hurt, but the car and the deer did not do so well. But with the election coming down to the wire, he arrived just in time for the outcome. What I personally appreciate about this project is that the lead up to the presidential election was over a year and a half in the making. He did not simply show up at the end and expect results.
“E Pluribus Unum” embodies a dedicated quest to understand what is really going on in America. The United States does not feel like a cohesive body of states which share like minded values. Driving around, it feels more like a fractured set of disconnected colonies, where “Americanness” is becoming less clear everyday. Outside of the sensationalism, how do the decisions one American makes affect the greater population? Hopefully we can join forces to see this project to completion.
Lend your support to Craig Semetko’s Kickstarter Campaign today.