Immediately upon entering the Silver Eye Photography Center, you come face to face with The Beast.
A 170 foot collage of newspaper clippings, advertisements, and pages torn from the artists’ journal, this piece presents Will Steacy’s investigation of the problems underlying American culture.
This piece dominates the current exhibit at the Silver Eye Photography Center like a many-headed monster, presenting different issues in the form of headlines, which jump out at the viewer much like headlines in an actual newspaper do: ‘Betrayed!’, ‘Immoral’ ,‘Fraud’, ‘Heartbreaking!’. Steacy’s clippings range from stories involving gun violence and poverty to pop culture, featuring The Monopoly Man, a blood-drenched Carrie, and Freddy Kruger. Recurring motifs such as skulls and guns create visual touchstones, illustrating the connections Steacy has made between various topics.
Steacy does not believe that ‘The American Dream’ is a myth, as most critiques do. Instead, he believes it was ‘stolen’ from the people, by big businesses and greedy politicians, and traces the trouble to very specific origins lying in Reaganomics.
Steacy makes his stance on this history evident both through the wall text and the excerpts from his journal, included throughout. His journal entries as well as the wall text (which states that he “comes from five generations of newspaper men”) clearly show that he identifies himself as part of the downtrodden masses currently suffering through the economic downturn. His personal presence in this piece strengthens its message, rather than weighing it down with personal bias. His identification with the everyman is also shown through his idolatry of heroes such as Bruce Springsteen and Charles Bukowski, to which small homages are built within the collage.
The relationship between ‘The Beast’ and the photography, however, is less successful. In a way it seems like Steacy’s photography is a variation of his collage-work: the same message in a different form. The photographs are taken from his projects Down These Mean Streets, All My Life I Have Had The Same Dream, and We Are All In This Together. Steacy photographs in the same way that he collages: culling moments, places, and people from the cultural landscape to bring the economic and social problems of our country to light. These works seem to be most successful when they portray objects such as storefronts or fading advertisements, such as the text “Someplace Else” spray painted onto a wall in Detroit. These images become almost poetic when taken out of their environments and placed in a gallery. However, when this gaze is applied to people, Steacy’s portraits feel empty and place-less. These pieces offer no specifics or context to their subject’s circumstances than what the viewer can glean from their personal appearance, and from the wall text.
The disjointed nature between the front and back rooms created a sense of imbalance in the exhibit, as though Steacy had said his point much more forcefully and clearly in The Beast than he had in his photographs. Though in both cases, Steacy definitely achieves his goal of bringing the hardships endured in America to light.