Zach Zerr Photography

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The Modern American Depression

Back in the 30's Dorothea Lange captured iconic images of the American Great Depression. Now, in 2018, kids may glance at these shots in art and history class but nearly 100 years removed it is hard to connect with a time many can't fathom. Nobody gives much thought to the current climate, socially, economically. Throughout the United States, you can find divisions in nearly every city. An invisible line that separates the blessed from the damned. Shanty towns and shacks pop up, communities under bridges form, and being largely out of sight they remain out of mind. Even when confronted face to face with the other side of the poverty line most of us are able to remain disconnected. We tell ourselves that individuals, even in small groups could not possibly represent a larger portion of the population. Economics is only half the battle. Some of those struggling to find three meals a day possess cell phones that make American poor look wealthy next to third-world poor. This depression runs deeper than economics, it flirts with depression of character.

Depression of character touches on depression itself, but that disease of the mind is a whole other topic. This depression of character is the eroding of class, of values, of shame. Mere feet from the steps of the Denver capitol building, junkies can be seen shooting up, vagrants smoking pot, and the homeless napping under the trees. This isn't a generation of hippies finding solace in the Colorado cannabis laws. It is those that fell through the cracks of a society that would rather look the other way, take an about-face from reality and stare at a screen until the stress of the moment can be ignored. This depression runs on both sides of the poverty line. Depressed awareness, depressed connectivity. If you aren't the one in the park what difference does it make? Granted, it is hard to connect to the bottom rung, where consciousness played cruel fate to tortured minds. But the victims of not knowing are many, and it is the not knowing that has sparked what I call the Modern American Depression.

Not knowing how impoverished parts of our own cities are. Not knowing the drug war – another war on a noun that America still foolishly believes to be winnable – has affected our economics – constantly asking tax-paying citizens to give up hard earned money to house and feed somebody that was only harming themselves. Not knowing how day-time talk shows with faulty medical and diet advice have adversely affected the way people think of nutrition. Not knowing how the media constantly tells different stories splitting people at the seams. Not knowing how adversely soda - America's favorite drink - affects our bodies (and as a result - our minds). Not knowing has become a deep part of our culture, hence not knowing about the modern depression right in front of our faces.

There was a time, and for many, we are still very much in the thick of that time, but a time where it seemed perfectly okay to prescribe a pill for everything. Processed foods, sugar loaded diets, excess, and inactivity. As America boomed unhealthy habits were the weak scaffolding that held it all together. As the decay began media companies grew in influence and began to have their way with our minds and emotions.

Fox, NBC, ABC, all of the big names have a news channel fighting for viewers, telling you how to think and what is important. (I'm not trying to sound like a conspiracy theorist but if you sit back and watch the different outlets it becomes amazing clear that there is a target audience etc). These same networks have dramatic shows about police officers and military police to help instill a good sense of who the good guys are. Meanwhile, real live videos on the internet paint a very different picture. There are even shows that don't make jokes but play laugh tracks that hint at the audience to laugh – and it works (Big Bang Theory). Depressed health, depressed wisdom. Propaganda runs rampant, but as American's we believe propaganda is only put out by communist regimes, casually turning a blind eye to the influence that affects the way so many in this country think.


In America, it doesn't take much money to sit on the couch and rot away. Getting filled with hate by whatever network suits your taste. It plays itself out. Sitting on the couch makes your back hurt. You go to the doctor because of your back pain. Oxy-Anything is given to you like candy and over time an opium addiction takes hold. Many start out popping oxy's on the couch watching TV and end up sitting in the park or under a bridge with the rest of them. It doesn't take long. Some come by choice, or by bad wiring, and others like yourself by a stroke of bad luck. Not having the mental where-with-all to avoid the slide so many Americans balance on the edge of. Sometimes it looks prettier. A white picket fence covers up a Xanax and glass of wine at the end of the night. But the decay happening behind the fence is no different, it just looks prettier.

Anxiety and depression run through even the most affluent parts of this country. Meanwhile, by five kids have a phone in their hand and could care less about what is beyond the screen. This lack of caring feeds into a vicious cycle of disconnection. Disconnected from the moment, bodies inflamed by sugar-heavy diets. The soda that comes with every meal damaging enough - but even claims of zero sugar are usually backed by some synthetic sweetener that causes more harm than simple cane sugar.

Now I sound like a hippie.

To those reading this that feel unaffected, borderline crazy. I'm sure there is much more there but at the heart of it is the various levels of depression affecting Americans in all walks of life.

At the end of the day the scene I described earlier exist daily on the steps of the Denver capitol building and courthouse and yet even in the face of authority, it remains. I don't long for a utopian society where some in some creepy way these things are taken care of. But I fear that many do, and by disconnecting ourselves we do it for them. Not to the extreme, but in a similar way that Aldous Huxley set up Brave New World, with people taking their soma to avoid negative emotions and thoughts.

While many firmly believe the United States to be so far ahead of the rest of the world, they are many that simply ignore the large portions of this country that look no different from a third-world country.

So this Modern American Depression is something I will continue documenting because I believe we will look back at this time in awe of how much America as a whole overlooked it.

Doing so keeps me grateful. The stroke of luck it takes to be in a situation where I can be writing this on a laptop, publishing it to my website along with an image I took and was able to edit is one I am beyond thankful for. It is hard not to be when you spend time looking the souls that caught the other side of that coin. I can only hope my portraits from the streets can help some of you feel the same.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and spend a few of your moments looking at my work, I truly appreciate it.

Zach