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Book review: America Series by Florence Montmare

Devotion Trailer, California © Florence Montmare

Florence Montmare‘s book America Series provides an honest and intimately personal, yet widely relatable depiction of a nation in flux, all happening against the backdrop of a changing physical and social landscape.

Montmare is an artist and photographer whose work in America Series somewhat follows the tradition of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Richard Avedon. As a female immigrant (Swedish-American-Greek) artist, she shares a different viewpoint on the country than the views portrayed prominently over the 20th century by those three male photographers.

“Their portraits had such an impact on me; however, they were of a certain era and created by men,” Montmare says. “The time is right for a new look at the country, and this is from a woman’s point of view.” Montmare’s work in America Series almost immediately reminded me of Avedon, with the black and white photos, white potrait backgrounds and intense connections with her portrait subjects. But I wouldn’t disrespect Montmare’s work by labeling it as ‘derivative’. (Plus I get the feeling Avedon wouldn’t have changed many variables at all or let his entourage of assistants stray too far during a shoot). Montmare makes her distinctive mark a number of ways – by darkening the skies either in camera or in printing, she uses blur as a technique, plays with scale, etc. She got out of her car in the dark of night to photograph a Waffle House; that’s some real photo cred right there. I’d bet Avedon didn’t eat waffles.

Christian, New Jersey © Florence Montmare

Jessie, Virginia © Florence Montmare
Jessie: ‘We moved around a lot when I was a kid, but Girdletree, Maryland, is the town I claim. Last census it was around 112-120 people, so very small, pretty fields, and mostly tight-knit. A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, barely scraping by, and it’s been that way for a long time. People work very hard for very little, and lately they are scared of not being able to survive. Values are changing, and people are scared of that change. It’s such an insulated area’

Vida and Prince, California © Florence Montmare

“When I arrived in America over 25 years ago, I thought I understood this country,” Montmare says. “There are many people with fundamentally different views on democracy, human rights, religion, abortion and gun laws.”

During 2021-2022, in the wake of the pandemic and with an electric vehicle doubling as a makeshift studio, Montmare embarked on a road trip through nearly 30 states, from New York to California and back. The westward journey via Route 66, the “Mother Road,” speaks to America’s historic western migration – a road of hopes, dreams, and opportunities. “Like a throw of the dice,” Montmare jests, “it was left up to chance who I would encounter along my 7,000-mile round trip across the continent.’

Sky Red Hawk, New Mexico © Florence Montmare
“There are many different secrets and lessons hidden in every tree, every rock, and every leaf. They are our relatives who teach us things, just the way it used to be among the Native people.”

Katriel, Nevada © Florence Montmare

While recharging her vehicle, she met and photographed people from all walks of life. Against the backdrop of a uniform man-made landscape, with the repetition of shopping centers, endless parking lots, and advertising billboards urging people to consume more, Montmare witnessed the economic differences in America. “The great divide” we hear about in media and politics may be real, but her experience also points to how each meeting would reveal how many more similarities than differences she sees in others.

She encountered homeless young men in New Jersey; young girls competing in a beauty pageant in Pennsylvania; and Cheyenne and Arapaho social workers looking to find safe homes for Native foster children in Oklahoma. 

“There is something radical about an encounter with a stranger,” she says. “In the meeting between the eyes, all things external seem to fall away. The reveal: each person standing against the same blank canvas illuminates how in the end, more connects us than divides us. This may be what helps the intrinsic fabric of America from being ripped apart.” 

Waffle House, Pennsylvania © Florence Montmare

Death Valley, California © Florence Montmare

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America Series
by Florence Montmare
Interviews by Florence Montmare, introduction by Sam Samore
29.8 x 24.1 cm | 11 3⁄4 x 9 1⁄2 inches 128 pages, 131 b&w
Published by Damiani Books – https://www.damianibooks.com/en/products/6208806

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About Florence Montmare
New York and Stockholm-based artist and photographer Florence Montmare creates photographs, films, performances, installations, books, and commissions while exhibiting her work internationally. Previous projects include Scenes from an Island at Fotografiska New York (2020-2021), Helsinki Photo Festival (2020) and Bergman Center Gallery (Sweden 2019); Illuminations (New York 2014, 2015) and It Happens in the Meeting (Sweden 2017). She was an artist in residence at Ingmar Bergman Estate (Sweden 2015, 2017) and is represented by Ivy Brown Gallery, New York.


About Cary Benbow

Photographer, Writer, Publisher of Wobneb Magazine

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