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Dan Burn-Forti The rich and varied culture of a bygone America was being swept aside

Earlier this year, London-based photographer Dan Burn-Forti found himself in the US with a couple of weeks to spare. He decided to put it to good use, and rented a car in New York to drive down through America to catch his flight home from Miami. What unfolded was, “a marvellous drive full of oddities and churches and bacon and guns and churches and more bacon” which he lovingly documented with his camera.

“Growing up as a child of the 1970s, America and its rich pop culture was always an exotic and wonderful idea to me,” Dan explains. “The music, the movies, the cowboys, the spaceships. From Hotel California to Neil Armstrong, Monument Valley to The Harlem Globetrotters, Kiss to Richard Nixon – it all seemed so exciting, brash and technicolour.”

His trip began underwhelmingly with Dan mooching round Atlantic City in the pouring rain, before going on to Washington DC and some serious sightseeing. Then it was into the Southern States, where Dan avoided the motorways as far as possible to get an up-close-and-personal perspective on small town America.

He made a few special stops too, from the Kennedy Space Center to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood and The Holy Lands Experience in Florida, a religious theme park with “continuous piped hymns, endless Jesus statues and bogus so-called relics.”

Growing up as a child of the 1970s, America and its rich pop culture was always an exotic and wonderful idea to me - it all seemed so exciting, brash and technicolour.

These places became some of the most memorable images in the series, but in the course of 3,000 miles, what really struck Dan was how similar so many of the towns he encountered were.

“Every town was ringed by the same fast food chains, the same motels, the same mini marts,” Dan says. “When I ventured to the traditional town centres with their Back To The Future style squares, there often seemed to be a forlorn sense of disrepair and neglect. It felt as though no one was there anymore.

“The rich and varied culture of a bygone America was being swept aside and left to decay whilst plastic facsimiles sprout up everywhere, with their convenient pastiches of the real thing.”

When I ventured to the traditional town centres with their Back To The Future style squares, there often seemed to be a forlorn sense of disrepair and neglect.

But that didn’t mean that creatively speaking, these experiences were a let-down. “Quite often I find that it’s the places that I’d least like to visit for a holiday that provide the most interesting subject matter – the more alien the better.

“I’m simply looking for the things that appeal photographically, even if I’m not sure why. I can’t claim to work with any masterplan or intellectual mission when I’m taking these pictures, just a response to what I stumble upon.”

True to form, Dan is being very modest. He has built a reputation as one of the best portrait photographers around – both of people and animals (no, really) – but increasingly he is drawn to creating this type of observational documentary series. His eye for the unusual and the unexpected, and his ability to be funny and thought-provoking but not sneering or patronising is a rare talent he deploys faultlessly.

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