In the summer of 2006, photographer Ramak Fazel set out on a road trip to visit every Capitol Building in the 50 US states. Beginning in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Fazel’s journey tours the United States with the purpose of photographically documenting the capitol building of each state and the everyday lives of the people in and around it. In a rented van, used both as a traveling home and studio, Fazel visited 49 of the state capitals over a three-month period (the self-funded budget for the trip didn’t stretch far enough to include Alaska). Equipped with a stamp collection from his childhood, at each stop Fazel prepared a handmade postcard, which he then mailed to himself at the general post office of his next destination, thus putting the dated postage collection to use to become part of a future set of postcards. 49 State Capitols will be the first exhibition in the US of the photographs from Fazel’s journey.

A third of the way through his trip, Fazel, an American citizen, was detained and mirandized on suspicions of terrorism. He was released and continued his journey, but from then on his observations of everyday America occurred in the context of continuous police interrogation and FBI surveillance.

Traveling by camper van, he drove a total of 17,345 miles and spent 78 days on the road. The entire narrative of his trip constitutes an unconventional glimpse into contemporary America: the capitol buildings are shown contextually, their views interrupted by vehicles, trees, and power lines, revealing the commonplace presence they have within the community. Other photographs document tourists’ visits conveying diverse moods: curiosity, childhood boredom and an almost religious solemnity.

In contrast to these passive observations stand Fazel’s handmade postcards: graphically eloquent messages conceived as personal mementos of the trip. Each card is a piece of 10 by 14 inch cardstock. Since postage stamps never lose their value but depreciate considerably, Fazel used his entire childhood collection to create forceful graphic compositions out of the stamps themselves. These postage stamp mosaics thus served both as an artistic medium and as an actual payment for delivery of the cards. His collection ranged from stamps of the 1920s and 30s to those of his childhood in the 60s and 70s. The resultant depictions include a rainbow of U.S. Presidents, a number of cityscapes, and a playful rendering of skiers racing down a slope.

Through these nested acts of tourism – Fazel’s own cross-country trip, the journey of the photographs mailed as postcards, the stamp collection’s reassertion as actual postage – Fazel’s project unravels the layered modes of witnessing the United States. His catalogue of state capitals evokes the documentary photography sponsored by FDR’s New Deal Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. Conversely, his handmade postcards suggest the traditional road trip and car culture popularized in the postwar 1950s. Using the road trip as a narrative structure, Fazel’s photographs and postcards constitute both a neutral observation of and a highly personal investigation into America today as they reflect Fazel’s diverse and extreme encounters along the way.

Ramak Fazel

Born in Iran in 1965, Ramak Fazel and his family moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, when he was very young. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University in Indiana in 1988. He then moved to New York where he studied graphic design and photography. He assisted various notable American photographers such as Mark Seliger and Bruce Davidson. Since 1994 he has worked and spent time in New York and Milan, Italy, working in conjunction with design and architecture magazines such as Abitare, Casa Brutus and Domus. He has contracted with Domus as a photographer since 1996. He lectures and conduct workshops at several prominent schools of photography throughout Europe.

Fazel’s photography and personal projects take an interest in Iran, Italy, Japan and the United States. His work concentrates on the concepts of identity and how it relates to our notion of “place.”