By Fred Ritchin
do not always beget vision.
budget of the United States Government, located in Washington, D.C.,
is about three trillion dollars. The life expectancy of the people
who live next door, right there in the nation’s capital, is 72,
putting their prospects for longevity behind those of the people of
some 120 countries—fifty places behind Mexico and fourteen
behind the Gaza Strip.
pronouncements about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
hardly seem to resonate close by. (Whether they indeed resonate
farther away is the subject of many other books.)
which can only be done close by, is said to make the invisible
visible. The poverty, addiction, illnesses and homelessness that
pervade Washington, D.C., are all highly visible but mostly ignored,
if Washington, D.C., was considered a foreign country the media would
try harder to cover its denizens while suddenly realizing, as
happened in New Orleans, that we do not know our own.
Arnal, who is Venezuelan, decided to enter the shadows that rim
glitzy press conferences and sought-after soirées, amazed that
so many lives were festering away within a few minute’s walk of
transcendent power. They reminded him of some of the barrios in his
native country (Venezuela is eighteen places ahead of Washington,
D.C., on the life expectancy list). These are contrasts that are not
supposed to exist here, or anywhere, but certainly not at a
as a place of visions, now can add In the Shadow of Power.
shades of gray the murkiness is probed, fragments of anguish exposed,
painful contrasts fractionally illuminated.
the mid-1950s, during the Eisenhower years, it took another
foreigner, a Swiss, to make one of the most revelatory photographic
books about this country. Robert Frank’s The Americans
illuminated issues of race and class that many denizens had refused
to see. The book, now considered a classic, was almost universally
panned here when it first came out.
in this era of promised change Arnal’s photographs will
mobilize people and institutions to act locally, even in a globalized
world. Certainly they should make every tourist, American or foreign,
see the Capitol’s glory tempered with an underlay of
desperation, and ask how a government can expect to lead a planet if
it cannot properly help take care of its own.
was born in Washington, D.C., and left as a very young child. I never
had any strong feelings about my birthplace. Now I do.
ABOUT KIKE ARNAL