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What should be of fundamental interest to us, therefore, in regard to representations of people, is the way these representations help to determine subjectivity itself. Representation is a fact of daily experience which concerns us all intimately. We may tend to think that we were each born into the world as a little ‘self’, as well-formed psychologically as physiologically. Psychoanalysis, however, has built up a different picture: we become what we are through our encounter, while growing up, with the myriad representations of what we may become — the various positions that society allocates to us. There is no essential self which precedes the social construction of the self through the agency of representation. 

On the surface streets, the monotony of the highway has no home. I walked from predominantly white to African American to Hispanic neighborhoods where the Spanish language was the local currency. West of the Los Angeles River, these tightly packed neighborhoods were a mix of urban and suburban. I passed just north of the intersection at Normandie and Florence, the site of riots in 1992; two decades later, the external wounds were invisible in the neighborhood.

For the most part, the photographs are staged, often very elaborately (there are occasional candid photographs). This is especially true for the photographs that regularly make it on to the covers of Vanity Fair or Vogue. They are in colour, somewhat desaturated, typically each with a very specific overall tone. They resemble what we have come to expect from Hollywood movies or TV productions, which often use an overall blueish or greenish atmosphere. As a consequence of these colour choices, skin tones are, for the most part, very far from what real skin looks like. The photograph’s heavy artifice is apparent.

These photographs, now four decades old, seem clearly stained with a sentiment for the country, or at least the country-of-my-mind. Then again, aren’t they all countries of our minds? Isn’t that the issue here? The lands we ‘live in’, their meaning and narratives are mostly a web we spin, stories we tell ourselves of history, identity, heritage, ‘character’ — these are the cloth in which we wrap ourselves, to explain or justify entrenched attitudes and political viewpoints.