Matt Eich

Fear and Self Loathing in America



For the last eight years I have catalogued the American experience in pictures, trying to understand this country by focusing on specific places, on community and on the issues they embody. My hope was that these examinations of microcosms of America would allow for a deeper view of the nation as a whole.

My generation lives in a constantly changing world, swept down a river of information with our eyes to the future and a shrinking awareness of the past.

On a personal level, I am apathetic and I am impassioned. I am afraid of being alone; I am afraid of being around people. I fear losing my family, but I fear fully being a part of it. To reconcile these conflicting impulses, I make pictures all the time. For me, to photograph is an extension of seeing, and to see is to acknowledge. It is a ritual and a compulsion. It is a way of filtering the world, of marking things as beautiful and collecting them. It is a way of understanding things that confuse me; and trying to articulate thoughts that are still forming, ones I have yet to find words for.



Assignments for magazines such as Esquire, TIME, GQ and others have taken me into places I wouldn’t otherwise be allowed. With support from BURN I will explore places the magazines will never send me and see parts of this country that I only dream of. The disenchantment of my generation is reflective of our nation’s transitional status from superpower to something less absolute. I will use this funding to continue creating a catalogue of a country in decline.

The photographs are not to be read as condemnation, but rather a call for people to question the things they hold as truth, and to challenge our notions of the world we inhabit. By asking for your support, I am requesting the ability to move freely, to see without constraint, and to soak in the American experience, distilling the photographs into a series that poses the questions that rattle around in our minds as Americans during this time of flux.




Matt Eich was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1986 and is the oldest of four children. He studied photojournalism at Ohio University and works for clients that include GQ, Esquire, Mother Jones, TIME, FADER, Harper’s, National Geographic, Apple, Tiffany & Company, Republic Records and others.

Matt has been named one of PDN’s 30 Emerging Photographers to Watch and participated in the Joop Swart Masterclass in 2009. He is the recipient of POYi’s Community Awareness Award and numerous other accolades. He has received support of grants from NPPA, ShootQ/Pictage, Aaron Siskind Foundation, Alexia Foundation and National Geographic Magazine. His work has been shown internationally in galleries and festivals and his prints are in the permanent collections of The Portland Art Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

These days Eich lives in Norfolk, Virginia with his wife and two children while compulsively documenting everything around him.


Related links

Matt Eich



15 thoughts on “Matt Eich – Fear & Self Loathing in America”

  1. I’m glad to see Matt’s work once again in Burn. But as with so many essays, the text and photos do not coincide… for me.

    I do not see fear or self-loathing in these photographs. And if it’s the photographer’s fear and self-loathing that is meant, that is not conveyed either. I see a random collection of images from all over the U.S. from an obviously talented photographer. Some have a positive feel to them, some more negative, some apparently neutral. But there isn’t a thread I can grab onto.

    And it may or may not be the case –as the artist’s statement says– that the U.S. is in decline, but the essay does little to make that case. It just looks like America to me.

    I’d be interested in seeing it evolve. Wishing Matt luck.

  2. Congratulations Matt

    Really interesting stuff. This works for me, as does the statement of intent. However, that last photograph just blows me away, says it all, or at least sums it up. Good luck with the project.

    I love your statement. I think you probably describe what compels a lot of us to make photographs.

  3. Really beautiful work….it’s the stuff of nightmares to me…darkly oppressive and scary…when you try to escape but your legs can barely move….very powerful.

  4. I have to agree with Michael Kircher on this one.
    While I appreciate most of the images in the series I also think the text kind of
    over-promised the ‘sinister’ side of a country in decline.
    That detail aside, I really enjoy your view of things, Matt, and regularly check your site to see what
    you’ve been up to.

  5. Interesting conversation these photos present. I saw the alligator on fb and my first reaction was anger. Such a violent action against an animal… It could just as easily have been a gang leader assassination… Good work Matt, these begin to point out some of the complexities of “American” dysfunction.

  6. Matt’s got a great collection of oddities that seem unconnected, but I can see where he is trying to go. I’ve followed his work and sense that this is an amalgamation of assigned and personal work. I stopped taking the “artist” statement too seriously. Hell, you’re asking photographers to write down a theme? What do you expect? Thanks Matt. You do good work.

    Hi Civi! BBQ judging on Saturday. Can you be there!

  7. “It is a commonly held view among Western documentary photographers that dignity, spiritualism and value resides everywhere but in their own culture and they delight in showing the debauchery and emptiness of the West. This is a form of subtle yet nevertheless brutal cultural self-loathing as the story of America and our parents and grandparents has never been disliked by more Americans than today as 50’s symbolism gave way to urban myth gave way to a reality which was taken for granted. This is an echo of the 1960’s when a young generation couldn’t wait to flee both physically and intellectually away from their parents, accenting and accelerating and twisting with a passion the natural desire to get out on one’s own and start a life and family.” – James May, “Robert Frank’s “The American’s”: A Dawning of Self Loathing and Political Correctness”

    Whether it is just coincidence or by plan, I’m seeing an interesting riff on Frank’s iconography in this essay: the elevator operator still has that daydream expression; the elderly couple in the Mustang replaces the senior citizens on the Florida bench; Madelyn is the granddaughter of the Charleston infant, with the same accusatory glance; the flag now ripped, is alongside the cross carrier from the Mississippi River. Stretching, the boys with snakes are Laocoon-like transformations of the New York transvestites; the football team are today’s Yale graduates and the Mardi Gras celebrants are the kids in the candy store. The door in the last image is much like the screen barrier to the barbershop, both shot in American sunset.

    For me, Eich shows respect to the history of American documentary, with a twist allowing for the change of time and attitude.

  8. My intention in putting the stories together in an unplanned way was to suggest that all things – stories, incidental sounds from the environment, and by extension, beings – are related, and that this complexity is more evident when it is not oversimplified by an idea of relationship in one person’s mind.”
    – John Cage

  9. Wow, Jeff,impressive. Like it. I saw a symmetry in the images but was unable to put my finger on it. Perhaps I was to used in the wrong place, headed somewhere along the lines of Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas….

  10. If the goal is to experience places in America where the magazines would never send you, I have often wondered if an enterprising journalist couldn’t hop from one community to another as an itinerant photographer of sorts, trading photo stories (that coincide with goals for personal work) shot for small local news outlets in exchange for a hotel room, some meals, a base of operation and a little fixing … and maybe beer. No, definitely beer. While it wouldn’t exactly pay the bills, it might be an option for personal work between other more lucrative assignments that fall roughly in the same geographic region. Perhaps that’s a crazy idea, yet if Matt showed up at my newspaper door … Matt, consider it a standing offer from the semi-forested fringe of the Olympic Peninsula.

  11. It’s tough to write about photographs that, by the very nature of their existence, strive to get to the places in the viewers brain that words cannot. These are strong images, and I think they make sense together, but maybe it’s only because I know Matt’s work.

    If you look at the whole of Matt’s work it all makes sense together. To me they are all pieces of an obsessively observed America, and you can write about that way in any manner you want but I think it boils down to the fact that this is documentary photography in the tradition of the forefathers, but with a modern twist that comes through the viewpoint that can only be had by being in America here and now. Some bodies of work require statements because they are confusing without them or because they are a puzzle piece to the work itself. With Matt I think we are looking at photos that just come out of him, and because of the constructs of these things there had to be words to go with it, but I don’t think they are necessary. His work has always been pretty visceral, flowing, and building on the catalogue of what he’s been doing. A look through his pictures on his website will probably give the viewer a more informed context than any statement could.

    Tom – I love your idea, and it would probably actually work well for the wandering photographer without obligation. A family man who needs more than what it takes to survive himself though, I’m not sure.

  12. Peter :)) Yes, the planets would have to align perfectly but I’ve found that to happen more than once through BURN. Never know. Fear and loathing walks by my window every day.

  13. from my view , the text and pictures marry perfectly…i do not need to see a broken down house to see “decline”..i am sooooo tired of the obvious!!…

    for sure i support above all a re-thinking about what imagery is supposed to DO..surely by this day and age, we must get over photography as “explanation” only…

    sure the didactic image has a role…we do plenty of that here too….yet this work swings in both directions imo…

    terrific work Matt…

    cheers, david

Comments are closed.