American skin covers a nation. The people, the landscape: a surface upon which our eyes play curious, lustful, tragic, and loving. A body of so many histories and so many origins covered by a single American skin. Peeling back the surface exposes the miniature stories of individual cells in the corpus, and the collective story of a country’s complexion.
One Summer Diana Scheunemann undertook an eight week road trip clockwise around the USA, starting and ending in New York City. The aim of the trip was to photograph, film and explore the multiple facets of the American identity. The people that she met en route have become part of the project “Love American Skin”, presented in a book, and the accompanying feature length documentary.
Armed with her camera and curiosity, Diana Scheunemann uncovered a true passion, diversity and inspiring honesty across the landscape of America. The citizens she interviewed never lacked in confidence, exposing their true emotions, past traumas or future endeavours. The project presents some of the brief biographies and tales of the characters whom she met wherever she travelled across America.
When asked about her motivation behind the project she explains:
"I was curious. New York City, Los Angeles or Miami, do not represent this country as a whole. I have heard so many stories: the people in the mountains dislike the people from the city; the North looks down on the South and all of them are wary of the people and places they don’t know. So my boyfriend PJ Norman, our dog Nico and I set off for one summer in a car to find out for ourselves. The USA is so large, with so many dimensions. We drove 10,128 miles, through 21 states, and experienced temperatures between 35 and 118 degrees fahrenheit (2 and 48 degrees celsius). Halfway into the trip my boyfriend became my husband. Over 60 days we filmed and photographed the people we encountered. Everyone we met on this journey was enriching and welcoming. They let us into their homes and hearts. They took the time to show us their lives. They were so interesting to listen to, if only sometimes for the briefest of moments."
Diana Scheunemann and PJ Norman became more united than ever whilst experiencing the trials offered by life on the road, such as sleeping in parking lots and deserts, and cooking food in the car’s engine. The emotional challenges of the stories they encountered along the way affected them deeply and culminated dramatically with their wedding in the desert of Nevada. Both the photography and the film replicate this journey’s spontaneity, freedom, eccentricity and discoveries; and stand as an emblematic ensemble of breathtaking landscapes and stories, people and situations.
The film elucidates the situations further, the backstage, the life on the journey and the couple’s relationship, including PJ’s vows, their love and their arguments. All the different obstacles, the interactions with the people they encountered, and the situations they lived together create a fascinating mosaic of what this country is. “Love American Skin” is a deep portrait of the opposing viewpoints that feed the beating heart of this experiment in progress called America.