Matt Williams was born in Cleveland and grew up in the suburbs, Boston and Brussels, which were, at the same time, surprisingly similar and wildly different. This paradox and many others has informed his work from the beginning.
Williams received an MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design. His work has been shown in galleries such as ClampArt in New York City and Proof in Boston and museums including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He is currently at work on a new series of photographs about America and “America”. Williams teaches photography as an active and vital part of his artistic practice.
When I Fell to Earth
When was America Great?: Nostalgia and The Fetishization of the American Dream
The work in my current project was initially and still is my response to the rallying cry of the Trump campaign and presidency to “Make America Great Again”. It has expanded into a search for evidence of the American Dream that the slogan is celebrating and fetishizing.
I found myself asking, “When exactly was America great? Who was and who is America great for? When people work themselves up into a patriotic froth over the ‘good ol-days’ what specific things, situations, places and lives are they thinking about and talking about?”
Questions like these can often be easily and quickly answered through convenient narratives especially when driven by personal philosophies or political leanings. Narratives of convenience felt like more of the same kind of rhetoric that drives Make American Great Again-mania. I found it unsatisfying to say the least. I wanted to take a deeper look.
Through the work I want to challenge assumptions, my own and others, about the post-World War 2 generation and the America, as the story goes, they improved immeasurably. I want to see if I can find the country and way of life that I grew up being told was a paragon of accomplishment and achievement to be embraced, defended, emulated, and unquestioned. I want to see if it was ever really there. I want to see if I can find the American Dream in those it was written by and designed to serve.
Among other things I want the work to function as an acknowledgement and a critique of nostalgia. I have more questions. Is it possible to strip away the veneer of nostalgia and reveal it as a facile re-ordering of the past through the lens of the present? Can a medium historically tinged by an exercise that wears away many rough edges and ignores many inconvenient truths be a tool of criticism of that same exercise?
Things I am thinking about when making this work include but are not limited to: the often awkward interaction between humans and nature. The ways we humans try and leave our marks on the world. Communication. Consumerism. Capitalism. The industrial revolution. America. How a thing, a place, a person can be monumentally strong and terrifyingly fragile all at once. And the tension between those who believe “the more things change the more they stay the same”, those who think the end is near and those who believe in a brighter future no matter what.
To view more of Matt Williams’s work please visit his website.