The American Imagination: A Survey of Myths, Tall Tales and Legends in the United States is an in-progress project that visualizes stories from various American geographic regions as entry points to look at the complex tapestry of larger American culture. Images depicting a regional myth, legend or tall tale exist alongside documentary-style portraits, scenes and landscapes, allowing for a bridge between fantastical imaginings and the real, revealing a more nuanced picture of the American psyche. Stories — in particular, myths, tall tales and legends that incorporate elements of the fantastical and surreal — all contain fragments of truth, holding history, fears and hopes of a people. The fantastical allows for heady hyperbole in celebrating triumphs and provides a buffering analgesic in making sense of dark tragedies.
American stories have grown out of a vast and varied landscape, initially wild and unknown, home to monsters and heroes, real and imagined. The collective American imagination is expansive, borne out of blending and cross-pollination of global cultures and ancient Native American civilizations. Since the creation of the United States in 1776, American stories served as a way to hold on to continually receding individual heritage while also forging a new collective identity. Given America's youth as a nation, a palpable energetic quality to her storytelling endures still.
Human memory is imprecise, incomplete and reconstructive. The act of remembering is an ongoing sensory process that is continually informed by new experiences. Storytelling and remembering are inexorably entwined; like memories, stories are also malleable, constantly under revision as they flow from the past through the inhabitants of the present and into the future.
These are American stories.
Research for The American Imagination unfolds in two stages: ahead of each shoot much groundwork is laid, but there is a vast on-the-ground discovery phase that unfolds as well. Having worked for many years as a travel journalist, Kris Davidson draws heavily on the skill of 'structured curiosity' that the profession demands. The rough-draft writing and the photography portions unfold simultaneously; oral versions of the myth, tall tale or legend and related impressions from subjects are captured by recording device during shoots, mostly as digital notes, to be worked into formal writing later. The final writing will combine academic-style historical context with oral histories. In 2019 Kris will actively be searching for project co-creators — writers and academics — to give shape to the growing body of work.
Each regional chapter includes one or two anchoring fantastical images, depicting some aspect of the myth, tall tale or legend. These are typically on-site recreations made in a collaboration with willing locals. After the myth shoot additional digital enhancements and/or mixed media painting on archival prints may be in order. The bulk of the 20-30 images for each tale will be documentary in style, including portraits, details and landscapes, bringing in regional nuance and with occasional thematic references the grounding myth.
The project is being shot digital medium format cameras.