America, the Artificial

Are we really living the dream? Akron photographer Andrew Borowiec takes a look with his exhibit at the Akron Art Museum.
Growing up overseas, Andrew Borowiec developed a vision of the United States that was grounded in Dick and Jane, apple pie, picket fences and Norman Rockwell paintings.

During the past 26 years, though, he’s photographed a lot of places — from sprawling suburban Midwestern cities to historic blue-collar towns along the Ohio River — without ever finding that ideal America.

His favorite scene, in the photograph Locust Point, Ohio, shows a neat modular home with a tidy backyard and the Perry Nuclear Power Plant cooling tower looming in the background.

“I see [Locust Point, Ohio] as a sad picture,” says Borowiec, a 53-year-old photography professor at the University of Akron. “It is very much about the idea of the American dream and the compromises that we have to settle for.”

The photo is one of about 37 included in an upcoming exhibit, Looking for the American Dream, opening Feb. 20 at the Akron Art Museum.

Borowiec was born in New York but spent nearly all of his first 18 years in Paris, Algeria, Tunisia and Switzerland. He didn’t live in the United States until he entered college in 1974. He moved to Akron in 1984 and has been photographing Ohio and the Midwest ever since.

“One thing that has become increasingly apparent to me is how little safety net there is here compared to Western Europe,” he says. “We are more like a Third World country, with huge disparities of income and vast difference between rich and poor in access to health care or even a decent standard of living.”

The exhibit includes his first work in color and digital printing. Images of homes in new cul-de-sac subdivisions, big-box retail developments and lifestyle centers, including Easton Town Center in Columbus, dominate the collection.

Borowiec decided to work in color because it was the only way to show the “artificial newness” of America’s new heartland, he says.

“New developments are designed to evoke some other era or place, but they get it all wrong,” he says. “The developers just borrow various architectural motifs and design elements from different periods and styles and cobble it all together. The result is something that looks so clean and new as to seem wholly artificial.”

Borowiec says he saw these developments after the election of George W. Bush — an increase of the division between rich and poor that was reflected directly in architecture.

“The poor shop at strip malls and live in ordinary, wood-frame houses,” he says. “And the rich shop at ‘lifestyle centers’ that are designed to look like some fantasy of luxurious consumption while living in wasteful mini-mansions where all the architectural elements are fake.”
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