Sean Schmidt – An American Matter

Sean Schmidt

An American Matter

These photographs are part of a on-going project titled ‘An American Matter’.

It is a personal project which explores the contemporary American landscape as I encounter it in my life. I am an American born salesman living under the pressures of upward mobility; loans, credit, and, to borrow a phrase, “the terror of knowing what this world is about.”

I am a proud American, and passionate about my life; the intention of this project is to photograph my country as beautiful, troubled, and enigmatic. ‘An American Matter’ is a project to confront a personal tension I feel in our uncertain times; to make the best of situations not fully understood. It considers animate and inanimate objects with equal care, voicing both the bold and soft-spoken landscapes of my life.




My name is Sean Schmidt and I live and work in the suburbs of Chicago, IL.

I am a self-taught photographer passionate about middle America and the working class. I admire responsibility, determination, and discipline. My creative influences include Bob Dylan, David James Duncan, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

My current projects include ‘An American Matter’ and a volunteer project for DuPage County volunteer board titled ‘The Faces of Volunteerism’.


Related links

Sean Schimdt


15 Responses to “Sean Schmidt – An American Matter”

  • “I love direct sunlight. It’s not just color. It’s really almost like the state of mind it communicates. “-Stephen Shore

    WOW!, I LOVE this series….and just mesmerized by both its formal and geometric beauty but the underlying love and melancholy and mystery that surfaces again and again with repeated viewing. Its a really interesting comparison with the essay that was published just before (which didnt register with me at all visually or emotionally or conceptually) and yet superficially both Sean’s essay and the preceding one appear to be ‘similar’ and yet they’re worlds apart, forgive the pun.

    The first element that just haunts is the strange geometry of each of these pictures and their cumulative effect. Sean, in the frame, plays very interestingly with the (called it Adam’s silly Golden Triangle rule) subject-center illusion. In some of the pics, the focal point plays a weighted center and yet, even when the subject is skewed left or right, there is this ghostly center that seems to have a kind of gravitational force on my eyes…whether that’s a subject, or an alley way or a diagonal, or an in-the-distance focal pull that gave me this beautiful vertigo…(maybe it has to do with processing with only one eye)…and then all these crazy diagonals and planes that bisect the frame….the geometry of these pictures is just spectacular…

    but formal strength alone, what I love about the series is their underlying mystery and all those crazy weird juxtapositions…the damn horse, the corvette, the waterfall off right, the boy hunched over, alone against a wall, that enormous brick wall towering over the 70’s hopped-up call (Kafka), the again balloons like a nest caught in the branch’s webb, the phone, the grandfather bathed in extraordinary light reading like Hopper, the beach ferris wheel out of focus and distant and on and on and on….the cumulative power of these pictures produce an extraordinary story, one of both deep, profound sadness, or rather, the kind of melancholy that comes from falling deeply in love with a place, or a person, and knowing that you cannot love well enough or long enough or strong enough, that the mark of loving involves the observation adn the inevitably letting-go….

    truthfully, this already has the mark of book upon it…and my only hope is that it gets finished and put between covers…..

    and extraordinary beautiful and resonant body of work that reminds us that from awareness comes rendering and from rendering comes connection and from connections comes our life, in all its strange and ungainly and graceful connections…

    really, sublime!
    thanks so much for sharing/publishing…


  • and what’s up with that phone…the old phone in the lone hotel room, seemingly without a cord, and the ghost beach/boardwalk roller coster in the background….that photo (20) is all haiku and poetry….actually, it reminds me visually of Salinger’s story ‘A perfect day for a Bannana fish’….resonate with death and love and waning light….memory as fulcrum of both disaster and hope….
    and that god-damned beautiful phone


  • Sean, congratulations. This is a refreshing piece of work. There’s a rhythm to this essay that I just love. This is a musical piece for me….the music of Rodriguez comes to mind. Thank you for sharing. And btw, we are practically neighbors—I live in Valpo;)

  • I do not wish to complain here, a statement which, if you have been following these screeds for any appreciable length of time, you know to be an untruth somewhat larger than the dog ate my homework and a bit smaller than a campaign promise, but I do believe that petty thievery is a nuisance as well as a misdemeanor and that someone should do something about it forthwith. I am referring to my missing copy of the National Geographic, specifically the October 2012 issue, which a certain someone, who shall remain nameless [yes, if you’re reading this, I mean you, smartass] lifted from my bathroom two weeks ago. For those of you unfamiliar with the issue, the cover story reported on the plight of the rhinoceros in our modern world. The rhinoceros is a homely beast, as Ogden Nash quite rightly pointed out many years ago, and for human eyes he is not a feast, but as long as our prepoceros rhinoceros retains his horn, poachers will overlook the beast’s homely visage in the same way as a down on his luck gigolo will overlook the girth of a three hundred pound heiress with a falsetto voice and a diamond-studded wart on her nose.
    The rhinoceros has fallen afoul of Adam Smith, yes it has, and now the poachers’ inexorable need for specie is threatening the species’ existence. There is a huge demand for rhino horn in Asia, where people believe that ground up rhino horn will cure just about any disease you care to use the stuff to cure, and in the Arabian Peninsula, where guys think that rhino horn knife scabbards are chick magnets. That a rhino’s horn is nothing more than a really stiff bit of hair does not affect anyone’s belief in the medicinal value of the thing, although I suspect when the poachers run out of rhinos to send along, the buyers in Asia will start buying up the sweepings off the floors of Chinese barbershops and selling that as rhino horn. Hair is hair, after all, and if a rhino’s horn can cure your colon cancer faster than a speeding surgeon then why can’t your own hair do the same thing at half the price? I also suspect that until the fashion changes, the guys in Yemen and other wild places will not give up their scabbards, and waiting for men’s fashions to change is like watching Bill Clinton give a speech; you know it must come to an end eventually, but you also know that the continents are drifting towards each other and that North America will smack into Asia before Bill finally says the words, in conclusion, with any degree of veracity. Fashion rules the world, people, and don’t you ever forget it; the Yemenis will give up their rhino horn scabbards when fashionable American women give up their Manolo Blahniks and not before.

    But I know that our Artful Dodger [and yes, I know who you are, smartass, don’t play innocent with me] did not purloin the October 2012 issue of the National Geographic so that he learn of the plight of the endangered rhinoceros, or if he did, he is a much more sensitive young man than his behavior; he thinks passing gas should be an Olympic event and routinely practices for the event at every opportunity; would otherwise suggest. I think, however, that we can skip this possibility; it does strain my credulity more than you can imagine; and go straight to the heart of the matter: Rio de Janeiro. Along with the other articles in that now-vanished issue, there was a long essay on modern Rio, and as with any long essay on modern Rio, there were any number of photos of very attractive young women at the beach wearing bikinis. For many another city, the prevalence of photographs of very attractive young women wearing bikinis might seem a shameless attempt to use sex as a municipal marketing tool—one can hardly imagine such a strategy working for Boise, for example, or for Des Moines, although it might work for any ski town in the Grand Tetons, especially if you’re French—but Rio is a tropical beach city and so the presence of photos of very attractive young women in bikinis is not only in keeping with the subject matter, but a necessity if the National Geographic is to portray life in the Brazilian metropolis accurately. An accurate portrayal of life in modern Rio de Janeiro is not, however, why this junior league Jesse James, this flatulent little Billy the Kid wannabe from down the street swiped my copy of the October 2012 issue of the National Geographic, no, it isn’t. He wants to look at the pictures.

    I don’t want to sound unduly harsh here, which is another whopper like the one I started this jeremiad with, but the boy’s parents are devout Roman Catholics, very devout Roman Catholics, which is why they get on so well with my mother. They tolerate me because I’ve been helping the kids with their history homework for free and it makes no difference what deity you worship or what language you speak, getting something for nothing sounds good in all of them, a fact that explains the ongoing popularity of socialism despite that philosophy’s never-ending record of failure in every country that has tried to implement it. Now, the parents are devoted to their kids, even the gassy goniff, for reasons that I am not sure I fathom, and they want them to do well in school. But while the boy does well in math and science, getting him to remember what happened on 7 December 1941 is a bit of a struggle; he knows that someone attacked someone on that date, but he isn’t sure whether that was the day our German allies attacked China or if that was the day the South won the Civil War at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was something like that, you know, and it was all so long ago, you know, what difference does it make [actual sentence, folks, straight from the kid’s mouth. Sort of makes you wonder what the hell his history teacher is doing to earn his/her/its salary, doesn’t it]? So the kid was in my house just after Thanksgiving trying to get my help explaining the effect of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso on Napoleon’s decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States for chump change [the answer, in case you’re interested, is none; Napoleon couldn’t have cared less about any promises he gave the Spanish in that treaty. He needed the money]. I’m not sure how or when the kid made his move; it may have been when I was in the bathroom, or when I was on the phone to my alma mater, explaining why I was not going to send them a donation this year; but whenever it was, at some point when I wasn’t looking, he made his move.

    I’m pretty sure I know why he took it; when I was his age, and I know that nothing causes the eyes of the young to glaze over more quickly than someone prefacing their remarks with the phrase, when I was his age, I’d steal copies of Playboy from mailboxes in the apartment complex over the hill from us. The sap was starting to rise and I wanted to ponder the reason why the sap was doing anything at all; I was very interested in science at the time. And then there are his parents, who would probably chastise him heavily if they caught him with a copy of Playboy in his room. The parents are very nice people, don’t get me wrong here, but I’ve been to their house and it is a bit like going back to the Catholicism of my youth. The place looks like a Catholic tchotchke shop, what with rosaries and candles and portraits of the Blessed Mother draped all over everything. There’s no Internet in that house, and no magazines that show too much skin, nor blasphemous books nor books with four letter words beginning with f in them; there’s just righteousness, godliness, and Roman Catholicism in copious amounts from the cellar to the attic and everywhere in between. And while righteousness and godliness are good things, no two ways about it, there’s only so much of the Good Book you can read before you want to read a Bad Book, which leads directly to the theft of my copy of the October 2012 issue of the National Geographic. If you can’t find a Bad Book, you have to make do until you can find one.

    I suppose I should be amused by the 1951 of it all; in an age where thousands of young women routinely negate any chance they may have had of achieving high elective office here in this our Great Republic by appearing in Internet porn, there is something curiously retro about someone stealing a National Geographic just to look at pretty girls wearing bikinis. And yes, I suppose I should be amused by the curious workings of postal karma, in which I, a magazine thief in my youth, am now victimized in the same way that I victimized others forty years ago, completing the cycle of yin and yang, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, so on and so forth ad infinitum. I suppose I should be, but I’m not, so here’s the deal, you pimply faced farting machine: bring the damn magazine back or I will tell your mother that you’ve got it, at which point I will enjoy watching your mother kicking your flatulent adolescent rump into low space orbit. I am not kidding, buddy boy; cough it up or else!

  • This is just pure dead brilliant…going back in for another look.
    (See Jim, nothing wrong with subject smack dab center, solid, planted, middle America, and all that)

  • Akaky, just read your post out loud to my wife, thanks for the laugh.

  • Great expanded version of this on Seans site

  • Thanks, Gordon, and my apologies for the time discrepancy in there. When I started this piece, the event was still just two weeks in the past. I put it aside and came back to it later, which is why two weeks ago is near the end of November at the beginning of March. I have to remember to proofread this stuff before I go splashing all over the place. Glad your wife liked it. ;-)

  • Wow! Brilliant stuff. A sofisticated modern version of Eggleston. A kind of Martian’s view of USA straight after stepping off his or her spaceship.
    This isn’t your average eye, you need something extra to see the baffling and weird in the banal.

  • Akaky,

    Think about it, do you really want that magazine back at this point?

  • No, but it’s the principle of the thing, you know. As for Sean’s essay, which is ostensibly why we’re here, I liked it a lot. [Sean, my apologies for not being more profound than that. I’m not always sure why I like stuff, so I seldom get more specific than I like it. I usually can’t explain why. Such is life, I suppose]

  • After reading Burn for a year I’m finally going to comment on something. There have been a TON of great work on here but Sean’s photos have really inspired me to get off my lazy bum and start wholeheartedly working on my current project. Thanks!

  • I like a lot the pictures. I travelled last year to USA and I think most of your pictures reflects your country very well… the idea of “what North America is for european people (or some of us)”…
    And the way you take the pictures: lines, unfocused parts, composition, colors…
    Congrats for the work!

  • Were I to express my sincere and honest feelings about this essay, it would sound like over-the-top flattery and hyperbole. It is that good.

Comments are currently closed.