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Shasta College photo exhibit questions the American dream

 by Boone Ashworth

Doug Rickard

Photographer and artist Doug Rickard

Not everyone gets to live the American dream.

That was the message behind the latest exhibit at the Shasta College art gallery. The collection, a selection of pictures from Northern California photographer Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture series, featured images taken from Google Maps’ Street View technology. The 48-year-old artist used the software to navigate through thousands of images, curating them to focus primarily on people living in places of extreme poverty.

Rickard said that he is interested in places “where maybe the American dream isn’t necessarily playing out.”

Rickard Gallery 4

During his lecture on campus on Sept. 15, Rickard displayed slides of his photos while speaking about his upbringing, inspirations and the process of selecting images for his collection.

As Rickard went through hundreds of locations, he paid attention to some of the most economically distressed places in the country. His pictures show people standing by deteriorated buildings or driving rundown cars. Throughout, there is a particular emphasis on impoverished African American communities.

The goal, Rickard said, was to focus on areas outside the common awareness of more affluent, predominantly white societies.

“I started seeing what’s feeding into divisiveness in our country,” Rickard said. “I was blown away by how many American cities were totally on hard times.”

Rickard Gallery 7Rickard grew up the son of an evangelical megachurch preacher, a lifestyle which he said he came to resent. He began his college education at Shasta College, where he took his first photography class. He then went on to study history and sociology at University of California at San Diego. It was there, he said, that he truly came to terms with some of the undersides of American society.

“All of this [education] left me with a type of empathy that I never had growing up,” Rickard said. “Especially studying civil rights and history, it totally altered me as a person. Like a hundred percent. I was cocky. I was arrogant when I was younger. … I had a level of privilege that I almost took for granted.”

The exhibit was hosted by gallery operators Andrew Patterson-Tutschka and Susan Schimke, with an artist reception provided by the Shasta College Foundation. The gallery displays six exhibits per year, each by different artists.

When selecting an artist, Patterson-Tutschka said he looks for someone “appropriate for the community and well received, but challenging to some degree.

September 15 artist reception

Sept. 15 artist reception

By that standard, Rickard fit the bill.

Patterson-Tutschka lauded the photographer’s concern for racial, class and economic issues. For him, there was also a deep community connection.

“I feel like the places represented in the photographs are not unlike parts of Redding,” Patterson-Tutschka said. “Given that this area has been really economically depressed for some time, I feel that … a lot of these issues are very relevant. I hope this exhibit contributes to the conversation in some way.”

According to Rickard, that conversation may already be happening, especially with younger generations.

“I think that we’re just coming into an era where our youth are not really wanting to accept a lot of prejudice or injustice,” Rickard said. “Because of the access of information, and the savviness and the intelligence that kids have to pick through what’s real and what’s not … it naturally makes it difficult for things like pure racism and prejudice to stand up.”

A New American Picture ran for six weeks at Shasta College. The exhibit has previously been featured in galleries in San Francisco, New York, Germany, and France.

Rickard Gallery 1

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