First a little background on Rockwell Camera's Phone...
Rockwell's Camera Phone is the creation of Joseph Lapin, a writer and poet based in Los Angeles. The Rockwell blog asks us to imagine if Norman Rockwell had a camera phone. Norman Rockwell, as many folks probably already know, was an immensely popular painter of the early 20th century whose works captured idealized and nostalgic representations of American culture. So the question is: If the man were around today, walking around with a smart phone or a pocket-sized digital camera, what kind of moments and scenes would he capture?
Other questions apply as well. Is the kind of Americana that Rockwell painted still to be found in the United States today? Did it ever really exist at all? Is there a new vision of Americana waiting to be captured and rendered into art, albeit using new technology? Can the folksiness associated with Americana coincide with the sophistication of 21st-century technologies? Can "camera-phone art" measure up to painting and other traditional forms of art? What are the themes and dreams of America and Americana that persist, that still catch the eye and haunt the minds of Americans even more than 30 years after Norman Rockwell's death?
Rockwell's Camera Phone is an exploration of this 21st-century vision of American culture, the new Americana. The blog features photos and other work, such as flash fiction, by Lapin and other contributors. One of my favorites so far is this shot of a man getting a shave in West Hollywood. The colors of the pic have been enhanced to look like those used in Norman Rockwell's painting, and at first glance the pic is a convincingly exact re-creation of the sort of scene in Rockwell's art. But then we spot the dead giveaway that we're in 21st-century territory: the tattoos. What would Rockwell have thought of the man's tattoos, Lapin asks. And his question makes me wonder if any of his models in fact had tattoos, or any other characteristics that might have been deemed "unsavory" or in conflict with old-fashioned American values, and were thus edited out to appease Rockwell's audience.
The latest post on Rockwell's Camera Phone, as of this writing, is a series of photos featuring trains: Rockwell Sees Trains Across A New Americana. And what a perfect subject for a new study of American culture. Trains figure so often in American folklore and mythology. Several different photographers contribute to this post, and Joseph was kind enough to include a pic of mine too. I love all the other pics in the post, especially the "ghost train" shot by Jessica Ceballos. As an American and a travel lover, I'm hardly immune to the romance of trains. And I have an ancestor, a great-great-uncle, who once lived out of a freight-train car, in California, with an avocado tree nearby. In his younger days he rode freights across the country, lived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for awhile during World War I, and had a job taking care of horses on board cargo ships traveling to Australia. He married a German woman, and in his older days he lived off the avocados that grew just outside his train-car home. I like to think that I inherited a bit of his eccentricity and wanderlust. I had to get it from somewhere.
Anyway, we'll see what else Rockwell's Camera Phone has in store. It's an exciting project, and I'm honored to be a part of it. Please check out Joseph's project, and if you need a little more railroad inspiration, here are a couple classic tunes inspired by the choo-choo.