Still Making Sense

Via American Way

By Christina Patoski

American Way: Not many people know you as a photographer and might be surprised by your new book. When did you first get interested in photography?

DB: Right after art school – I was taking Polaroids of friends. And I would stage Polaroids that were fake UFO evidence. With mirrors and sheets of glass you could make it look like there was a fuzzy object in the sky.

In Strange Ritual, you use the phrase “Twenty-first Century Multicultural Fever Kitsch.” Would that be a reasonable way to describe the collection of your photographs in the book?

To me they’re all like shrines. In our society, a lot of consumer goods are displayed as if they’re sacred objects. The most obvious example would be a jewelry store window, like Tiffany’s window, where it’s like a little box with a light glowing in the dark as you walk by; inside, all the light seems to be coming from this little piece of jewelry or trinket. The implication is, if you buy this it’s going to make your life better. It’s the same as with a religious object, but in a material way–the religious aspect of consumer society. Consumer goods are made, almost pushed, into a realm of the sacred, of having that kind of power.

You write, “With so many of our cultures being made up of bits and pieces of other cultures, our sense of self becomes confused with our sense of ‘others’ who have joined us…” You suggest that we are moving toward a global culture. Do you see that as a good or bad thing?

I think it’s obvious from this book that I kind of enjoy it. But it’s also obvious that for a lot of people it’s very traumatic. They have the feeling that the rug is being pulled out from under them. Maybe at one point they had a clear idea of what it meant to be an American, and now that definition has been changed. The same thing is true in lots of places in Europe and in other parts of the world. At the same time that people are mixing together, you also have things like Bosnia, where people are splintering apart. In a way it’s the same process, like two sides of the same coin – one results in bloodshed, the other in people coming together.

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