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In the 1770s, on the eve of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry uttered the words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” enshrining the word “liberty” as a descriptor of the American experience. Over a hundred years later, to celebrate the centennial of the United States, the Statue of Liberty was given to the American people by the French. This monumental statue, portraying a woman escaping the chains of tyranny, has become a universal and ubiquitous symbol of the United States. In 2008 the Liberty Tax Service embarked on a nationwide advertising campaign by dressing workers in Statue of Liberty costumes and having them wave banners on street corners to attract clients. Fascinated by the interpretations of U.S. history embedded in American society, Greta Pratt decided to speak with the wavers—in fact, day laborers—she encountered. Some were disabled and homeless, and almost all were seeking full-time work and struggling to make ends meet in the current economic crisis. Similar to some of Diane Arbus’s portraits in the 1960s, Pratt has used the often desolate urban environment as her backdrop to highlight the individual rather than the employer or employee.
Greta Pratt is the author of two monographs, Using History (London: Steidl, 2005). and In Search of the Corn Queen (Washington DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1994). Pratt’s works are represented in major public and private collections, including The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Photography and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Pratt was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, served as photography bureau chief of Reuters International in New York City, and her photographs have been featured in The New York Times Magazine and The
New Yorker. She is a recipient of a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Artist Fellowship. Pratt is currently an assistant professor of photography at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia.