Matt Black’s American Geography: His New Film Reckons With a Dream

A new film and website reveals the origins and precedents of American Geography and the experiences and reflections of Matt Black as he travelled more than 100,000 miles across the USA over five years.

Matt Black

Between 2015 and 2020, Matt Black traveled over 100,000 miles across 46 states. American Geography documents the experiences of those living in some of the poorest communities in the nation. Starting in his hometown in California’s Central Valley, where billions of dollars are generated every year in agricultural output but one-third of the population lives in poverty, he traveled to other areas of “concentrated poverty” – as US census definition of places with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more. What Black found is that rather than being distant anomalies, these communities were rarely more than a two-hour drive apart enabling him to cross the country without ever crossing above the poverty line.

This film accompanies the website, Reading American Geography, as a companion to the book that was published in Fall 2021.

Greyhound Bus Tickets purchased by Matt Black as he travelled across the USA

Notebook. Tuesday, June 14, 2019. Exeter, California.

“Just how many places like mine are there in America? For the past five years, I’ve been traveling across the country trying to find out.

But much has changed in America since I began this work in 2014. My faith in my country, and in my own role, has been challenged.

Five years later, residents of Flint still have poisoned water, people are still sleeping under tarped roofs in Puerto Rico, and along the border, the suffering of immigrants has been turned into political theater, where people are looking at the same images but seeing two different things.

As I continue this work today, instead of uncovering remnants of a flawed past, it feels more like a foreshadowing of a far darker future. Instead of stitching together old wounds, these lines across the map seem more like veins just waiting to be opened.

Yet it’s too easy and too cynical to say that all is lost, that previous faith was misplaced, that truth doesn’t exist, and that common ground cannot be found. But my mind is unsettled, and these questions remain far from answered. I will attempt to understand these questions, this country, and these times in the only way I know how: to go look and see.”

– Matt Black

Still from the American Geography film
From 'Reading American Geography' - Historic postcards from the destinations that were visited
From 'Reading American Geography' - GPS tracking of Matt Black's movement around the towns and cities he visited

"Instead of stitching together old wounds, these lines across the map seem more like veins just waiting to be opened."

- Matt Black

Further information on the project can be discovered at Reading American Geography.

Published in 2021 by Thames and Hudson, American Geography is available to buy here.

In collaboration with Magnum Photos, Matt produced the online course: The Documentary Commitment. Find out more here and watch the trailer below.


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