The Gringo Project (1997-2003)
Between 1997 and 2003 I traveled to many developing countries in Central and South America, North Africa and Asia to make portraits of Western travelers. I was looking for both an escape from the West and a search for its alternative. However, whether I was in the remote Himalayas or the jungles of the Amazon, I found that the West was everywhere: in fast food restaurants, name brand products, movies, and the Western travelers themselves. Where are these people from? What brings them there? How is the place and the traveler altered by this exchange? Seeing how ubiquitous traveling has become, I decided it was a phenomenon worth addressing.
These portraits are set in places that are perceived to be unchanged by the modern age. The search for an untainted past is one of the reasons we travel there. We are, however, another link in a long chain of explorers, merchants, missionaries, and conquerors that have left an impact on these cultures. This conflicts with the noble aspirations that guide the traveler - the desire to learn through encounters with the unexpected. How does travel - an act of freedom - relate to the history of colonialism, of which it is a by-product?
All the photographs in this series are full-length portraits. There is both tension and ease in the way the traveler and the setting coexist. This work addresses the paradox of traveling as being both personally sublime and culturally profane. These portraits act as signposts; all the ideas are reduced to a simple record of people in a place where they don’t belong. I believe this work is significant not only because it is a record of travelers all over the world, but it also reverses the old discourse on us and them. It presents a neglected aspect of our culture in its contact with the mythical opposites of the Other.