Book Review: American Psyche: The Unlit Cave by George Elsasser
Walt Whitman, 1819 – 1892
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.
American Psyche: The Unlit Cave is a project developed around a selection of photographs taken by George Elsasser from 2005 to 2019, within the United States. The idea arose from the author’s need to reflect and make people reflect on how far the American people have detached themselves from their ideals, the same ones that Whitman interpreted with “extraordinary perfection” in his poem “America.”
The work is divided into 6 sections (accompanied by 4 drawings by the author) where the photographs are visual metaphors that reflect the artist’s reactions to the best American ideals of inclusion and freedom (see the LIBERTY section) but also to the negation of his darker tendencies born from fear (see the PREDICAMENT section), to colonialism and related persecutions of natives and exploitation of African slavery (SCAR TISSUE section), to the reluctance of the population to face the country’s problems such as climate and violence and integration (CURRENTS section), to the need to consider the collective unconscious (INNERSECTIONS section); but also to the discovery of those gifts that “allow people to see beyond or through the surfaces of life” (INTERFACE section).
The shots (Abstract but also Street and Urban) contained in American Psyche: The Unlit Cave work very well in single, but not only. I can mention the abstractions in the form of “entrance,” in which a “lunar” chiaroscuro is combined with a material context; “Puncture & clouds” which combines, in tone and cut, the atmospheric image of the sky with the reflections of an interior; the juxtaposition of the meaning of “settlements” with “collections,” in which the relationship of form of the first image follows the second very well despite being in strong contrast with it; the combination of “attachments” and “flags & guns,” in which a water pistol is followed by the detail of a policeman and the holster of his weapon; or even the eye of a little girl peeking out from the shadows of “hind sight”, in the background the view of a canyon towards which the characters of the shot are turned. However it is clear that, considering the saturation and contrasts of the selection of images, this is a much more complex work.
George Elsasser, started out drawing, and later discovered photography at the age of twenty-one and, freeing it from its traditional uses, found it perfect for his artistic intuitions. And this work testifies to his being a visual artist, before being a photographer. But above all, to have always been interested in the theories of Carl Gustav Jung that fit transversely, together with poetry and philosophy, to the body of the photographic work, letting the real project emerge from the darkness of the “dark cave.”
The theory of synchronicity (of “coincidence” and “deja vù” and “destiny” and “randomness”) and the theory of the collective unconscious and archetypes (which states that the importance of a coincidence lies in the meaning it assumes for who lives the experience; that it is we who establish a non-casual link between our inner world and what happens outside, in objective reality. And that all this is possible because, for Jung, there is a sedimented patrimony of symbols (archetypes) internalized over the centuries and common to the peoples (collective unconscious) to which the individual psyche, therefore each of us, is connected), filtered by the author’s experience, settle in a work on the collective anxiety of the American people and on how these kinds of conditions are warning signs of something that is about to happen. The work brings attention to the existence of a collective unconscious and a commonality of archetypes that Elsasser believes are capable of giving hope to the original ideals of the American people.
And, in my opinion, Elsasser is successful in his aim. With all the complexity of the case.
American Psyche: The Unlit Cave
by George Elsasser
published by Daylight Books