A distinctly American sense of excess pervades Jesse Rieser’s photography series about Christmas in the United States. Rieser captures a sea of bodies dressed in Santa suits; a living room filled with innumerable, glittering baubles; and a home nearly invisible among the inflatable decorations that surround it. Louder! Brighter! More, more, more!
The title of Rieser’s series, “Christmas in America: Happy Birthday, Jesus” (2010–ongoing), offers significant irony. His scenes, though they don’t revere a religious figure, are indeed about celebration. Mostly, the photographs elicit ideas about spectacle. We live in a country that voted a reality television star into office; a similar predilection for pageantry lurks behind intricate costumes and home decor. That’s not to say such exuberance is always a bad thing, however—it can be a force for good when used to unite a neighborhood (or even an estranged family) through holiday cheer.
Rieser, who lives between Los Angeles and Phoenix, began shooting the still-ongoing series in 2010, after his family moved to Phoenix from the Midwest and began celebrating the holiday in a new place. “Emotionally and traditionally, we were in a different type of space,” he told Artsy recently by phone. Out west, Rieser enjoyed the “strange juxtaposition of warmer climates” with “the Charles Dickens, East Coast view of the holiday.” He saw more lights, inflatables, and animatronics, and wanted to capture them with his camera.
A bright, clear aesthetic infuses much of Rieser’s work, even when the topic is less lively than, say, Santa Claus. “I hope people can find a little bit of themselves or their families in these photos, in this humorous, nostalgic way,” he said.
A selection of Rieser’s “Christmas in America” pictures will be on view at Industry City in Brooklyn through Monday, December 24th. (A monograph is also in the works.) Appropriately, Santa himself will visit on the weekends, sitting atop a forklift next to a Christmas tree—more humor-tinged pomp and circumstance, for a society that thrives on it.
Below, Rieser shared with Artsy his accounts of a selection of the photographs. He does not, he said, do any of his own decorating.