America The Beautiful
An accordion-fold book recounting a red letter day in 2020 through text and documentary photos.
It is June 2020, and I am going to a small family birthday party. I pick up BBQ for dinner on the way. As the food is served, I hand out “America The Beautiful” napkins. I tell everyone that after the meal, I’ll be photographing all the used napkins.
C seems uncomfortable throughout the meal. She asks why I’m doing this, and I tell her it’s part of my art practice. She keeps the napkin under her plate and tries not to use it much. It seems like she wants to keep it, but eventually she leaves it on the table.
M doesn’t say anything, but politely takes a napkin, trying not to make eye contact. Once everyone is done eating, M throws her napkin in the garbage.
J eats the ribs with relish and wipes his mouth and hands on his napkin after almost every bite. When he’s done eating, J artfully arranges his soiled napkin before handing it back to me.
L is very deferential and asks how she should use the napkin. I tell her to use it however she would like. After the meal, L carefully folds the napkin and leaves it on her plate.
A seems undisturbed, and eats his meal normally, wiping his mouth and hands on the napkin when he’s finished. A helps me gather the napkins at the end of the meal, his own included.
I hold my napkin lightly in one hand and try not to think of the napkin as a canvas. I think I’m wiping my mouth the same amount I normally do, but I can’t be sure. Later, I head out to the backyard and lay all the napkins in the grass to be photographed.
Once the photographs are done, I’m not sure what to do with the napkins. They look like tiny crumpled flags. I briefly consider burning them. Or perhaps archiving them in my studio. In the end, I throw them away with all the other trash.