In Search of America, a collection of photographs by David Graham at Silver Eye Center for Photography, might be better titled "In Search of Americana." The land spied through Graham's lens is bright, beautiful, indestructible and benign. The skies are blue, and any clouds that might blow by are pure white, soft, and cottony; no rain looms on these horizons. It's a world populated by happy people living wholesome, joyous lives, and even when they're hoisting a giant snake, there's no chance of any threat.
It's a decidedly one-sided view of the United States, and represents a country that could be. Inside these frames, there's no war, hunger, pollution, hatred -- maybe it's the America that could have been if the Chief Executive that the people elected was the one who actually ended up taking office. While Graham's isn't the country that most of us live in, it's a great one to look at, and stirs up longings for a convertible and the open road, with the guarantee of good weather and great companionship.
The characters that stride into the frame are just kooky enough, not too much so: a Marilyn Monroe impersonator reclining in the iconic, hot-pink "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" dress is gloriously exuberant, with all of the va-va-va-voom of her idol, and none of the tragedy that lurked beneath. An aged blockhead (carny patois for the sideshow freaks who hammer nails, spikes, whatever, up their nostrils) more resembles your goofy uncle with the crazy ties than the wide-open meth-tweaker often found on the carnival circuit.
Graham regards his subjects and portrays them with dignity, whether they're Civil War re-enactors resting in Gettysburg tents, floor red with Oriental carpeting instead of blood; Vegas showgirls; drag queens ensconced in rococo living rooms; or members of a Liberace fan club. Whatever it is, it's OK with Graham, and a marvelous time will be had by all. Even when there's no one around, the world's a lovely place. Statues of archers and horses smarten up the landscape, and the black-and-white patterns of a giant fiberglass cow are echoed in the dog that drinks from a puddle in front of it. Murals of sharks or wagon-pushing toddlers enliven buildings, and signs back up your musings on the sweet perfection of it all by proclaiming "Bring Your Camera!" and "Really, really good!"
Graham will speak at the exhibition's closing reception on Sat., April 12, from 3-5 p.m. Maybe his lecture will include directions to his America. I hope so, because it looks like a great place to visit -- and one I've never been.
In Search of America continues through April 12. Silver Eye Center for Photography, 1015 E. Carson St., South Side. 412-381-4310