Nov 092012

Craig Semetko

“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. 


E Pluribus Unum Craig Semetko

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.

“Betwixt the Torus and the Sphere.” Photo by Rob McKeever (photo courtesy of:

Before Fame

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.

Florida Day Care © Craig Semetko

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.”

E Pluribus Unum © Craig Semetko

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?

E Pluribus Unum © Craig Semetko

Funny Man

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 © Craig Semetko

“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.

  16 Responses to “Craig Semetko’s “E Pluribus Unum””

  1. Ooof. The new editor hasn’t taken a look at this one yet, has he? :-)

    You have “pluribus” spelled correctly in some instances and incorrectly in others (pluribis). Also, E pluribus unum is Latin for “Out of many, one” – not “Out of one, many” as in your image at the top of the article. Have a look at Craig’s Kickstarter site, it’s correct there.

    • Rob,

      I have seen Craig’s site, but thanks for the suggestion…its a typo. The editor is correcting articles from the beginning of the site to the front, so he has not proofed this article yet.

      And thank you for pointing out my dyslexia. I appreciate the shout out.

      Its not that I mind the corrections…usually they are quite helpful. What I find annoying is the finger wagging tone that I see on the internet. Most of which never appears on this site. People tend to understand the site is not a finished product, rather a sketchbook. If you want to make a correction, please leave it in the comments, or send me an email.

      If you want to show everyone that you picked out a flaw and would like to leave a snide remark…keep it to yourself.


      • Great article. I too dislike the finger wagging tone and appreciate assistance when given in a helpful light. I look forward to Craig’s project and as a contributor am thrilled that he achieved his goal. Thank you for the great read!!!

        • Hey Pam,

          I am with you on both accounts. Glad that we were able to see Craig hit is goal. Now its up to him to pull together the project. Cant wait to see the results.


  2. Craig started it, I’ve “kicked” it. Thanks for bringing my attention to it Adam. I find Craig so, accessible?, as an artist. His personality, his approach and lack of “holier than thou I’m an artist don’t you know” attitude is a welcome respite. Also happen to be a fan of his work.

    • Hey Duncan,

      Yes…Craig is very accessible. Not sure if you had a chance to meet him when he was in Germany, but he is the same in person. He has no pretense and is happy to discuss his work or photography in general with everyone from gallerists to novices. Its a great approach.


      • An approach not unlike your own Adam. Which is why I regularly pay you vast sums of money to tell me how shit my images are!

        (English sarcasm alert. About the “vast sums”, that is. Not about my shit images!)

  3. Hi Adam:

    Glad to see you did a post on Craig – it is a great article – and like you, I am a contributor to Craig’s project, although minor, since early in the Kickstarter campaign. I first met Craig over a year ago when i participated in his Unposed Workshop that he gave in Victoria BC in conjunction with Luz Gallery and Quinton Gordon. That workshop and the interaction with Craig and Quinton has lead to more workshops with Quinton, to research on Henri Cartier-Bresson and ultimately to you, your website and the articles that you have written not only on HCB and Craig but the various other subjects and ideas. Your articles are informative, make you stop and think and explore new ideas and artists. Keep up the good work and to those who have nothing better to do than ‘finger wag’ – it is the message that is important.

    • Wow Rob,

      Thats quite a distinguished chain of photographers that led you to the site and back to Craig again. What can I say, Craig keeps good company, haha. He had great things to say about Quinton too, though I have not had the pleasure of meeting him yet. Surely it will come in the next year or so.

      All in all, if the dialogue and the website leads to a greater understanding of art and photography, I am happy. HCB is so poorly written about 90% of the time. In fact, I am reading a book on Cezanne at the moment, where the author makes the same observation. Its not because people cant tell they like an artist, but the training for expressing why the images “work” so well, is spotty. So people are left with strong feelings and few words. Hopefully, after the site, you are able to articulate why HCB was a Master.

      And finger wagging is on the other end of the spectrum. It is neither informative or useful. Quite the contrary to HCB. It is indeed the message that matter.

      Thanks for the story.

      Best Adam

      • Hi Adam:

        We are in London at the moment and just back from Somerset House where they have an photographic exhibit “Cartier-Bresson – A question of colour” – 10 of HCB photos never before exhibited in the UK along with 75 colour photos from 14 other acclaimed photographers – all of the photos exceptional – take a look at the Somerset website to see the information on the show – if anyone is in London – well worth going to. Also viewed the Art collection at Somerset House including a number of paintings by Cezanne and other artists from that period – and understand the writer’s comments.


        • Hi Rob,

          I wish I could go to that show. Recently I came across a color landscape shot that Cartier-Bresson made that is out of this world. Please enjoy the show for me and let me know if they post the images online somewhere. Will be ideal that you can see HCB and Cezanne in one day.

          Any new images stand out to you, after the show?


          • Hi Adam:

            My wife and i actually went back to Somerset House to see both the paintings at the Courtauld Gallery – particularly the Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Degas and early Matisse and the photo exhibit. The Henri Cartier-Bresson photos were all black and white and all photos taken in the US while the 14 other photographers were all in colour. I particularly liked four of the photogarphers – Fred Herzog, Alex Webb, Trent Parke and Karl Baden. Each of the photographers in some of the photos selected made use of shadows – similar to HCB. For my wife and I the one that stood out the most was Herzog’s ‘Old Man crossing Main’ (bearded, hat, long coat and his shadow) which was positioned next to a HCB – simply entitled Brooklyn, but was of an older gentleman with his head down on a table. Also, Trent Parke – photo of 4 Emu’s and their shadows walking down a street – Alex Webb, photo of a cyclist on a bridge, the shadow of the bike and its wheel cast on the portal of the bridge and in the portal – a kayaker on the river below – real example of the ‘decisive moment’. I had to go back just to take it all in again.


          • Rob, I’m sure you’re aware but there is an Ansel Adams exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich if that wets your appetite.

  4. Great article and as always, awesome photos.

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