Amidst the cacophony of a bitterly polarized political environment in the two years running up to the 2012 national elections in the United States, Brian Dailey embarked on a multifaceted project that defies easy categorization. The visually compelling photographic mosaic that emerged constitutes the culmination of this timely and poignant project about democracy, political diversity, and personal identity. It serves as a color-coded time capsule of the myriad faces of the U.S. populace situated literally and symbolically against a backdrop of the contemporary political landscape.

What began as a modest undertaking in the artist’s studio in Woodstock, Virginia evolved into a project comprising over 1,200 individual portraits taken in twenty states across 20,000 miles of both rural and urban America. Personal acquaintances and total strangers were invited to “perform” before the camera as a way to reflect who they were politically and to voice their character and identity. They were asked to express their political identity through the selection of colored backdrops symbolic of their affiliation: blue and red for the official political parties—Democratic and Republican, respectively—gray for Independent, green for Green Party, and yellow for those who can’t or choose not to vote.

Employing a Spartan setting, full frame, and symbolically colored backdrops, Dailey created space for the participant to construct his or her own personal identity with minimal intervention. While each of the portraits in America in Color is captivating on its own, it is the cumulative project that makes Dailey’s series so compelling. In its hybrid forms—individual portraits, gridded panels, pairings across the pages of a deluxe publication, and life-size video format—Dailey’s project offers a contemporary take on portraiture, translating this genre into a twenty-first-century idiom. We are encouraged through this series to make our own connections with and between these individuals and challenged to look beyond the surface, examining entrenched notions about the relationship between appearance and personal values. 

A selection from this larger series is seen here.

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