Offering a glimpse into the idea of enduring freedom, this body of work reveals a gap between the fiction through which most Americans consume war and the realities from within the ranks of those charged with its prosecution. These pictures chronicle the final deployment of the storied 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment otherwise known as the Band of Brothers during the final throes of this nation’s longest war. Tales of the unit’s heroic contributions to conflicts since World War Two have inspired many to join the ranks to serve their nation. These stories of men at war are heavily edited and designed to do just that. They are also myths that perpetuate a sickness in society about the nature of manhood and even war itself. These myths leave most Americans no more understanding of the cultures left in ruin than what is asked of American soldiers during the prosecution of their wars.
Shades of Grandeur
These images are an attempt to tell a story of a superpower amidst the death of its industrial revolution, when ambitions of empire and the specter of hubris pull at a nation in transition - one at odds with itself and gasping for compass beyond the precipice of shifting paradigm. The pictures are a product of a pilgrimage to rediscover things shown in the light of the present reflected through the looking glass of history; values which have stood the test of time and some for which the American dream has left behind.
With little global competition as a result of having the only industrial complex to have survived the World War Two, the United States was ushered through a period of unprecedented growth and unsustainable profits. The generations raised during this time of plenty were indoctrinated by a false positive of what was possible for the American dream. Before boom turned to bust, stigma associated with wearing a blue collar replaced the honor once held by working with ones hands. For generations since, the American economy has strained to outrun an inevitable correction to societal expectations and way of life.
The American experiment was a monolith of human achievement, however the society must now learn to cope with a legacy of power and dominance - of greed and short sight. If this story is symbolic of a country’s misspent youth, then the revelation of peak oil, climate change, and the long overdue correction to the bubbles that formed following the Great War mark the harsh wakeup call that is adulthood. This recent economic volatility casts an ominous tone over the rise of a great many civilizations with aspirations of American opulence. What remains are apparitions of empire - haunting, seductive and alive with ghosts.
Sudan: The Cost of Silence
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to stand by and do nothing.” - 18th century parliamentarian, Edmund Burke
In the wake of nearly three decades of brutal civil war, the population of South Sudan lies shattered and strewn across the Central and East African landscape. More than two and half million people have been killed and another five million have been internally and externally displaced by the conflict. As of July of 2011, South Sudan has achieved its independence, seceding from its oppressors and has become the newest nation on the planet.
Since January of 2003, however, a new exodus flooded the western border region of Darfur in Sudan with displaced persons fleeing the same regime responsible for the southern tragedy. Despite the fact that the United States has formally labeled this diaspora genocide, the killing continues unchecked, threatening to shed blood on every grain of sand. In the words of former U.S. President Clinton, “If the horrors of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of remaining silent and paralyzed in the face of genocide.”
Notwithstanding pleas from the victims and advocates around the world for cessation, systematic scorched earth campaigns continue in Sudan. As a documentary photographer, I have covered displacement in the aftermath of this aggression wielded by the ruthless Sudanese Government. Their efforts are a bid to consolidate wealth and power in their region.
These are not the ruins of Rome, nor the tombs of Egypt. While the echoes of the past resonate, this community is extinguishing in the present. The story of Detroit is one of the most significant representations of a nation in transition. As a photographer, it is the place where I began an anthropological exploration in the spring of 2009, and continue today through a kind of architectural archaeology. This is a story about things left behind painted with a heavy heart - a story told amidst the death of the American Industrial Revolution.
Like the structures depicted, the photographs are intended as artifacts of beauty, time, and consequence. For that reason, I chose to capture this body of work using film and cameras that, like their subject, were built without any planned obsolescence. Ironically, both have found themselves in a world that struggles to justify practical uses for them. I find this turn intriguing and discover solace in knowing that some of the last images made of these buildings will have been created with an archival permanence in mind through a medium and mechanism befitting their vintage. Nearly devoid of the human form, these photographs leverage the language of anonymity and metaphor to unveil the Arsenal of Democracy as it remains in the wake of unsustainable business practices following the aftermath of World War Two.
For generations, the American society has attempted to outrun a much-needed correction to its expectations, economy, and way of life. Short-term thinking and its consequences has caused the country to prematurely end to its industrial revolution leaving behind a systemic stigma that there is little honor left in working with one's hands as an American. If this story is symbolic of a country’s misspent youth, then the revelation of peak oil, and the long overdue correction to the bubbles that formed following the Great War mark the harsh wakeup call that is adulthood.
Detroit was a monolith of human achievement. Few cities have had more influence on the growth of a civilization. Few cities have so rapidly fallen from grace. As an economic bellwether, she now lives a cautionary tale for all those great cities that danced to Motown’s lead, and are most likely doomed to follow in her footsteps. What remains is a drained and evaporated city landscape.
Ryan Spencer Reed is an American photographer, who focuses on long-term documentary bodies of work. The issues depicted are typically captured over years in the field, with equal dedication to the processing and editing of each image and collection. The resulting culmination of photographs read as a poignant representation of critical social issues. Reed is well known for his work, Sudan: The Cost of Silence, which covers the Sudanese Diaspora of both South Sudan and Darfur to Kenya and Eastern Chad. While exhibiting and speaking internationally on the subject, Reed began an extensive domestic project on empire and hubris amidst the twilight of the American industrial revolution. With a chapter of this work, Detroit Forsaken, currently touring, these themes are more broadly examined as Reed continues to document the American social and economic landscapes. His most recent completed project covers one Army battalion through training, deployment to Afghanistan, and their return home. An exhibition of this work was launched at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in 2014.
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