Wessington Springs rancher Elton Kaus is featured in a powerful, moving collection of 170 portraits of Americans and their handwritten statements about what the American dream means to them. Shot by Canadian photographer Ian Brown over twelve years, fifty states, and eighty thousand miles, “American Dreams” is a poignant exploration of what it means to be an American.
Long fascinated by the idea of the “American Dream,” Brown shot portraits and asked subjects to write down their own American dreams.
“I started this in 2006 before smart phones, when it didn’t feel so unnatural to handwrite,” Brown explained. “Now going through the exercise of writing is strange for people. It takes on extra significance — there is a permanence to it.”
Brown said that when he was researching South Dakota, he came across the book written by Owen Witte, EF-2, which documents the June 2014 Wessington Springs tornado. A combination of discussions with Witte and information gathered from Austin Kaus who was working at the SD Department of Tourism at that time, led him to Wessington Springs.
“It’s pretty humbling,” Kaus said of being among the 170 Americans highlighted in the book. “It’s neat for our town and our area. I can think of a lot of people more deserving than me to be in this book. I guess I was in the right place at the right time.”
Brown found that America means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. “This book illustrates that people tend to be linked together more than they think,” Brown said. “There is a common language to it that tethers Americans from across the nation, whether they’re from Florida, Anchorage, or Wessington Springs.”
As for Kaus, he said he thinks it’s “wonderful” that Brown took on this project. “What I took from the book and reading other people’s American Dreams is that I’m awful lucky. I’m living my American Dream.”
“American Dreams” can be purchased at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/623837/american-dreams-by-ian-brown/