Amongst newspaper headlines and dated magazine photos, the Hulk has Captain America locked in his vice grip, forcing him to concede defeat. Just a small snippet of Will Steacy’s monumental collage work, the comic of the star-spangled hero is allegory for an America that is struggling to recapture the vitality it once reveled in, one that Steacy aims to expose in his exhibition, No Job No Home No Peace No Rest at the Silver Eye Center for Photography.
Located in Pittsburgh’s South Side, Silver Eye is interested in photography as an expressive medium and as a socially engaged practice that can inform as well as engage. This current work strikes these chords, as Steacy considers his work to be “both a chronicle and a critique of a nation where a once-attainable “American Dream” has been replaced, for so many, by a desperate effort to survive.” Steacy, a Philadelphia-born photographer from a long line of newspapermen has had work in a slew of major publications including CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek, among others.
The exhibition borrows its title from The Ghost of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen, who in turn borrows the emblematic figure of Joad from John Steinbeck’s novel, Grapes of Wrath. Steacy’s work takes up Joad’s mantle, channeling that same overwhelmingly fervent nostalgia for an America where an honest day’s work will bring a better life.
The 170-foot collage installation dubbed “The Beast” overwhelms, submerging the audience in a deluge of images and words, harnessing a relentless march of newsprint to evoke the daily struggle of impoverished, distressed Americans. Through the barrage of media, the audience can find scraps of text that belong to the author’s pen; quick, emotional responses to expressions of Steacy’s sociopolitical thoughts, and, slipped below a slew of cut out images of jailed terrorists, three innocuous slips of paper, each brandishing a lipstick smear and the words “I Miss You”. The result of this sensorial maelstrom is the notion that nothing is entirely political or personal, but rather, the America in the media is a real place with people struggling to get by, against enormous odds.
Given the sense of personal attachment in the collage, there is a quietness and detachment in the prints in the rear room. In glossy, large-format prints, thirty-two works from three series, Down These Mean Streets, All My Life I Have Had The Same Dream, and We Are All In This Together are intended to capture the truths about distress and poverty, exposing the places where grit and visual poetry collide to detail critical issues in the American inner city. The portraits scattered among the evidence of decay are remarkably honest images, but they document existence without divulging narrative. Liz, Philadelphia, 2007 is a striking shot of a windswept young woman, but devoid of any context, she becomes anonymous, another emblem of a depressed America just like the crumbling buildings with which she shares the gallery walls.