An enormous billboard in a weed-choked field, not utilized
and falling apart. The yawning white of its surface. America –
the endless conquest of space, its appropriation and

– Monika Muskala

Near Morehead, Kentucky, just off US Highway 60, there is a store front advertizing the two products on sale: bibles and tires. "Tires and bibles," asks Monika Muskala in her preface of the book HEARTLANDS, "what more could you need on the road?"

In the pioneer days the American west was a synonym for the pursuit of freedom and happiness. But as soon as the first settlers reached the Pacific, the vast landmass they had left behind began to lose importance. Today it is New York in the east and Los Angeles in the west that define the American image in the world. The neglected states in between have become known as the “fly-over states“. The big stretch between Wall Street and Sunset Boulevard is for many a bothersome necessity they have to overcome in order to get from one coast to the other.

What little the world knows about the American hinterland is interestingly often indebted to horror films. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, Fargo – many films perpetuate the image of "the other", the irrational America. Where else in the world were more people harassed and mutilated by xenophobic rednecks? If evil exists in God´s own country, it hides in the swamps of Louisiana, in the corn fields of Iowa, or – well, on a forlorn ranch in the blazing praire of rural Texas ...

Maybe this is why the American countryside is littered with oversized religious billboards and evil-averting roadsigns. It is almost as if the "good Americans" incessantly have to prove to themselves that they are still on the right track, that their world has not yet given in to the temptations of the devil.

A traveller is constantly reminded of the dos and don´ts this society deems appropriate: "Always say a prayer", "Sex offenders: keep out!", "Thou shall not have sex outside of marriage", "Smile – your mom chose life!", "This community supports our troops“ ... A world endangered by the decay of moral values, terrorism and sex: "The only safe sex is NO sex: choose abstinence." Let´s stay abstinent and live safely ever after. A society which is painstakingly devoted to keeping clean and pure inevitably becomes hypocritical, since it cannot live up to its own standards.

The Austrian photographer and filmmaker Andreas Horvath has travelled the Heartland of the United States since 1985. His new book HEARTLANDS comprises black and white images from 24 States. Horvath´s documentary THIS AIN´T NO HEARTLAND (2004) about the atmosphere in the American midwest during the Iraq war received international awards, including the Grand Prix at the Chicago Documentary Festival. Dubbed as the "FARGO of documentaries" the film was also praised by the New York Post for showing "a world (scary at times) that most new Yorkers have no idea exists".