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History


The "US: American Stories" Project began over 25 years ago when I took my first picture of a small town 4th of July parade.

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History


The "US: American Stories" Project began over 25 years ago when I took my first picture of a small town 4th of July parade.

The "US: American Stories" Project began over 25 years ago when I took my first picture of a small town 4th of July parade.

Looking at the developed images (this was long before digital cameras, kids) I was moved by the spirit of these people, young and old, and the pride and joy they shared in this distinctly American ritual. And it occurred to me that my camera had no influence on the moment, that there were people, places and things in this country that never made the national news nor would ever make a blockbuster Hollywood movie. That to some people, first place in a New Hampshire soapbox derby was just as glorious as first place at the Daytona 500. That a kiss between a cowboy and his girlfriend at the National High School Rodeo Finals could be more passionate than Rock Hudson and Liz Taylor in "Giant". That the underlying psychology to Demolition Derbies all but summed up male adolescence, much to the chagrin of parents everywhere: teenage boys like to blow shit up. Yet somehow Dr. Phil left that one out.

"US: American Stories" celebrates the grist of this country, the things that are not glamorous, sexy or trendy enough for marquee headlines. It gives a voice to those small pockets of America that neither have nor particularly want one. It is the true spine of this country, and it is worth much more than just a look.

- Mike Toth

Mike Toth


The "US: American Stories" Project began over 25 years ago when I took my first picture of a small town 4th of July parade.

Mike Toth


The "US: American Stories" Project began over 25 years ago when I took my first picture of a small town 4th of July parade.

Mike Toth

Mike Toth

If ‘dreamer’ is a term reserved for those bigger than life people who put astronauts on the moon, solve complex molecular problems, build skyscrapers in thin air, then I was no dreamer. Call me instead a ‘daydreamer’.

I loved the idea of small town kindness afforded to strangers.

I loved the characters and the stories behind their eyes.

Pigskin was my ticket out of Texas as a 19-year-old kid with no real dreams other than to see all the places I dreamt about and devoured in my neighbor’s Life Magazines. Those images stuck with me. Raw and honest, heart wrenching and poignant, loving and beautiful, they filled me with a sense of place, gave me heroes in common people. You know how most photos have only two dimensions? These, they had a depth that grabbed me and have never let me go.

They never were just beauty shots, carefully lit and staged, but rather genuine, unflinching observations of their subjects’ honesty. And I was a romantic sucker who fell head over heels in love, right there.

And my daydreams took me to places that Rockwell would paint and pulled me to the people that Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks and Eisenstaedt captured so eloquently and unidealized. No buffing or shine, just honest to goodness stuff that endures like the spirit of the people they photographed. 

As a creative director, I’ve worked along side the great photographers of our time: Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Arthur Elgort. Always, they left me in awe of their eye and devotion to creating extraordinary images. What they shared was an unassailable aesthetic and attention to detail, composition, lighting, casting and styling. To observe their rarified gifts was a lesson in humility. They are the equivalent to a great conductor or director, in control and inspiring to all of us under their spell.

I see myself more as a blessed observer. My camera is a porthole that I look through and capture the stories I fell in love with or those that I had imagined. 

But in truth, these photos took themselves. 

Those kids in Iowa who get up every frosty morning to see the sunrise, break the ice from the trough, do their chores and take care of their calf or horse or sheep or goat and dream of the county fair.

Those mechanics who stop on the side of the road to help fix someone’s flat tire, work all day scraping out a living and stretching every dime and favor to Frankenstein together a car for the county derby.

My camera and I, we were just witnesses. 

Witness to the story of us. The story of all the people who have supported me and my love affair with America.