"American Beauty" might seem like an odd title for this photograph. Actually it isn't. I made this photograph in September while walking through a neighborhood in Chicago. I was just walking along, intent on seeing things I hadn't seen and perhaps meeting people I didn't know. I do this frequently in Chicago, believe it or not, and haven't once been shot at, knifed, punched, kicked, or threatened. To the contrary, I've met a lot of wonderful people. It's actually part of the beauty of America. Although it's a hidden beauty to those who only dare to know what is familiar, and only believe what they hear from their favorite politician, or see in the news, or read on Facebook, or hear at the local beauty shop or corner bar.
There is great beauty in America, not only physically, but in our people. I found this man chatting over his fence with his neighbor as I walked along the sidewalk. Both he and his neighbor greeted me with a smile. I smiled back, and soon we were chatting. As it turned out, his neighbor grew up in Indianapolis, and this man had relatives living in Nashville, Indiana. We were all surprised to discover we shared a connection to Indiana.
After talking for awhile, of course I asked to take a photograph. He obliged, sitting on his front porch step, an unlit cigarette in his hand and his coffee cup nearby. A true American Beauty. Beauty in the sense that he welcomed me, a stranger, into his space, not asking if I was Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, Protestant or Jew, immigrant or American. Because that used to be the beauty of America -- we were the nation that welcomed the poor and oppressed and the strangers. We were concerned about the world, not just America, because America was, and still is, a melting pot of many races, ethnicities, and religions.
I can't tell you how many people in Indiana are horrified at the thought of me walking about in Chicago taking photographs and meeting people. "You might get shot" is a common theme. That doesn't get very far with me, as someone who experienced a person walking into my home in rural Indiana in 1961 and going on a killing spree with a shotgun. It can happen anywhere. But that still doesn't mean there isn't American Beauty. There is. And it can be found in the most unlikely places.
I challenge you all to put away your politics and your prejudices. We've all had enough. If you have a knife or a gun in your hand you're going to tend to be looking for an enemy. If you have love in your heart and peace in your mind, you're going to tend to be looking for a friend.
American Beauty is something we can all aspire to, and it is something the world needs now more than ever.