The chaos and mass destruction in post-World War I Europe gave America the opportunity to assume a leadership role as a global cultural and economic center. Although another major war would be fought before the American art world would become the “center” persuasively, between the end of World War I in 1918 and the start of World War II in 1939 Americans took on an active role in shaping Western photographic practice. Many intellectuals of the time did not recognize the aesthetic accomplishments of America’s indigenous populations, and therefore perceived the country as having no artistic history to rival the cathedrals, frescoes, and monumental sculptures of Europe. Interestingly, it was precisely this perceived lack of “history” that gave American photographers the freedom to turn to their own cultural strengths-Puritan simplicity, mechanical ingenuity, and the building materials of an industrial societyinto the basis of their approach. The adventurous American photographers said goodbye to the moody, soft, moist air style of Pictorialism in favor of a harder and more direct approach. It almost seemed as if the spiritual quality of light in the new world was cleaner, clearer, and sharper than the refined atmosphere of the old world. The American approach to light gave spiritual significance to the ordinary subjects of a

material culture dedicated to finding better, faster, more affordable ways of performing tasks in order to make goods affordable to all. Instead of building another Chartres, Americans like Henry Ford built automobile assembly lines, manufacturing an entire culture around a mass-produced item that promised personal freedom.