Imagine if you had the idea of exploring the meaning of democracy through the lens of a camera. Where would you go? What would you shoot?
That was the dream of Joseph Sohm, a student and teacher of American history turned photo-journalist who set out in the 1980s to capture the story of America on film.
Three decades later, he estimates that his images have been published half a million times. You’ve probably seen them in major periodicals, on television news, and in many public venues, including presidential libraries. (Sohm himself recently spotted seven of his photos in the Houston airport.) The State Department displays his work in embassies worldwide.
In 2009, he selected 1,300 of his pictures, wrote 21 personal essays, and published them in “Visions of America: Photographing Democracy,” a lavish tabletop book which won an IPPY gold medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. It has sold 18,000 copies through the Reader’s Digest edition alone.
On Thursday (April 9) at 3:30 p.m., Sohm will be at the Arizona Senior Academy to tell his story and present his widely acclaimed multimedia version of “Visions of America,” which is narrated by Clint Eastwood and features a musical score by Roger Kellaway.
Sohm’s photographic journey to every state and corner of the country reveals the diversity of the American experience. He found rich material in the small towns—“where so many of us came from,” he says; in our iconic natural landscapes; and in the aspirations and rituals that unite and define us as a people.
And Sohm’s photographic travels aren’t over. “Visions of America” is an ongoing multimedia project that keeps recording a changing America. Democracy, after all, is an unfinished business.
Written by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer