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The collective spirit to question

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Tiana wears a Development dress from Za Za Zsu, and suede slouch boots from Urban Outfitters. Makeup for the session by Trisha M. Overacre; session shot at the 305 South Anti-Mall in Durham; costumes provided by The Electric Blender. - PHOTO BY REX MILLER
  • Photo by Rex Miller
  • Tiana wears a Development dress from Za Za Zsu, and suede slouch boots from Urban Outfitters. Makeup for the session by Trisha M. Overacre; session shot at the 305 South Anti-Mall in Durham; costumes provided by The Electric Blender.

The prolific New York Times columnist Frank Rich, who provides steady commentary on a distinctive and developing American politics of fear, pronounced nearly a year ago that the era of America "fearing fear itself" is over. Perhaps this is indeed a historical time whose characteristic feature is the inauguration of a culture of fear. It seems, though, that the real concern in this American moment is not the alleged authority of the current bombastic political phrasing ("war on terror," "homeland security") but the ability of the reigning discourse to hamper the collective spirit to question, and the relegation of the popular imagination to political despondency. For if it is true that we live in a period when the propagation of collective fear runs rampant, it is also true that there can be an intervention in this narrative, a collective rejection that we are the inevitable victims of this fear.

Tiana and Shanna wear Edun T-shirts from Za Za Zsu and LUX shorts from Urban Outfitters. - PHOTO BY REX MILLER
  • Photo by Rex Miller
  • Tiana and Shanna wear Edun T-shirts from Za Za Zsu and LUX shorts from Urban Outfitters.

Perhaps we are experiencing something similar to the affect of The Lost Generation of Gertrude Stein's 1920s. Then, at the height of American modernism, as now, we are living through material prosperity, affluence and economic success, which is also accompanied by a general deterioration of ethical priorities. And so in this inconsistent climate, we are compelled to reassess what it means to be American, to act American, and to comport oneself as American. What does it mean to slip into an American identity today? What does it means to fashion an American subjectivity sensitive to the political demands of the present, but also attentive to the imperatives of the future?

Jeffrey wears a T-shirt, belt and Cheap Monday jeans, all from Urban Outfitters; Jeremy wears a Triple Five Soul T-shirt and jacket from Urban Outfitters and his own jeans; Shai wears a Harlow tank from Za Za Zsu and cargo pants and belt from Electric Blender. - PHOTO BY REX MILLER
  • Photo by Rex Miller
  • Jeffrey wears a T-shirt, belt and Cheap Monday jeans, all from Urban Outfitters; Jeremy wears a Triple Five Soul T-shirt and jacket from Urban Outfitters and his own jeans; Shai wears a Harlow tank from Za Za Zsu and cargo pants and belt from Electric Blender.

The interruption of the grand narrative of fear comes in the form of questioning predictable symbols of comfort. In a recent shoot, we dressed our models and outfitted them with signs, physically taking a stance on such huge issues as corrosion of the environment, the chronic debting of private and public economies, and the general militarization and hostile territorialization of our world. Model Tiana's prompt for us to "Engage" is more a plea than a command.

Jeremy wears a Triple Five Soul T-shirt and jacket from Urban Outfitters and his own jeans; Shai wears a Harlow tank from Za Za Zsu and cargo pants and belt from Electric Blender. - PHOTO BY REX MILLER
  • Photo by Rex Miller
  • Jeremy wears a Triple Five Soul T-shirt and jacket from Urban Outfitters and his own jeans; Shai wears a Harlow tank from Za Za Zsu and cargo pants and belt from Electric Blender.

John Dos Passos' John Andrews, a soldier as well as a musician and a dreamer, poetically asks in the WWI novel Three Soldiers: "Would not some lightning flash of vision sear people's consciousness into life again?" The quote compels me to think differently about the custom of ceremonial fireworks. Curiously, fireworks are not only a tribute to a familiar American tradition, but a visual signal of transformations yet to come. The familiar and sustaining sense of patriotism is perhaps always already ruptured: The overstuffed quality of American life and the inflation of current political language erupt in fireworks this Fourth of July. Deafened by sound, as the noise dissipates, maybe we will begin to listen again.

Rashawn wears a T-shirt, camouflage dog-tags and bag from Urban Outfitters and his own jeans; Shanna wears LUX tank and striped skinny jeans from Urban Outfitters. - PHOTO BY REX MILLER
  • Photo by Rex Miller
  • Rashawn wears a T-shirt, camouflage dog-tags and bag from Urban Outfitters and his own jeans; Shanna wears LUX tank and striped skinny jeans from Urban Outfitters.

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