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Lauri Lyons: Flag International

January 18 - March 25, 2010

photograph by lauri lyons

For one brief second the girls began to laugh, but I didn't know why.
When I turned around I realized [there was] a huge crowd of
people stopping in their tracks to watch what was going on.


What is America?

Defining America is a challenge because the country continually reinvents itself. Growing up, I viewed America from several perspectives: Black, female, first-generation American, former military child. Always being on the move made me curious about how people come to formulate opinions about themselves and others. While in college during the Gulf War, it quickly became apparent to me how little my peers knew about the military’s activities or the symbolic power of the American flag. This realization, coupled with political polls and sound bites voicing the American psyche, made me question the validity of the media’s representation of facts.

From 1995 to 2000, I traveled via train across the United States photographing and interviewing people with the American flag. Culminating in Flag: An American Story (2001), the project reveals what is beneath the surface of the American dream by looking beyond statistics and into the minds of ordinary citizens—native-born and naturalized—whose feelings about America not only tell what the country is, but also what it should be. Through each subject’s photographs and hand-written statements, we become aware of the beauty, violence, racism, hope and inequity that created the American cultural fabric of the late 20th century.

During the summer of 2007, I went to Europe to investigate how the international community views the United States in the 21st century. I traveled throughout eight countries via rail, bus and ferry. Each subject was approached on the street and handed a sketchbook to write his or her views of America. Each was given the American flag, and people posed however they felt comfortable.

Flag International, a multi-media documentary project that incorporates photography, video, audio and handwritten text, seeks to foster a dialogue about cultural understanding within a global framework. Cultural understanding is not only how a people or a nation views itself, but also how the world views you.