Late capitalism and the American doctrine: Photographing American tragedy

Author Identifier

Jenni Skinner

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Lyndall Adams

Second Supervisor

Nicola Kaye

Third Supervisor

Renee Newman


As early as the 1930s photographers have attempted to capture the ‘real’ American experience. Artists such as Walker Evans and Robert Frank shifted documentary photography away from the commercial and towards a more artistic, authored approach. This gave photographers the agency to capture America through a more personal and critically subjective lens. Following in this tradition, this creative research provides both a critique of contemporary capitalism and a deeply personal account of America by means of a twenty-thousand-mile road trip. The photographic intention is to provide an insight into American consumer culture, considering familiar consumer experiences as opportunities for critical and enlightening reflection. Through a reflexive, practice-led and ethnographic praxis this research examines the ways in which capitalism has woven itself into the American mythology and national identity, and critiques the efficacy of finding liberation through the participation in consumer culture. Capitalism has been a seemingly unstoppable force in America, but after several economic collapses and an ever-increasing unequal distribution of wealth, its permanence is now uncertain. This decline is reflected in the condition of the American Dream, and in the American consciousness. This thesis evaluates and documents the condition of late-stage capitalism in America and contemplates the future for this eventually unsustainable ethos — it is an addition to the burgeoning contemporary critiques of consumer capitalism and provides an inclusive and contemporary contribution to the manifesto of American photography.



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