In 1999, then-unknown photographer Aaron Schuman set off on a road trip with his girlfriend, driving west in a Chrysler minivan. Most of the photographs he took on that trip were put away, and are published here for the first time.
The sequence begins with an image of a South Dakota national park, the territory the Lakota people called the mako sica, the badlands. It was a ceremonial sacred site for the Oglala Sioux and was designated Sioux land in an 1868 treaty. Within a few years the treaty was broken, and in 1877 the territory was confiscated by the US government and eventually made into the Badlands National Park. Turn over the page, and there is the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. This is where Martin Luther King Jr was murdered by white supremacist James Earl Ray. On the same page is a photograph of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, where King gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. The last image in the series shows a family in one of the Amana colonies in Iowa; a father, daughter and the daughter’s husband on a green lawn. The Amana Colonies were founded by nineteenth-century Pietists from Germany, and remained self-sufficient until 1932. This, too, is an aspect of America: religious communities offered the freedom to practise without, for better and for worse, much state intervention. Some deteriorate into patriarchal cults; others, like the Amanians, assimilate into the surrounding community. The old villages had become tourist destinations by the time Schuman took this photograph. The Lorraine Motel, too, is a heritage centre, as is the Badlands National Park and the Reflecting Pool in Washington: these are all memorial sites. But what are we meant to remember?