‘These Americans’: Will Vogt documents the USA’s rich at play

Will Vogt’s photo book ‘These Americans’ is a deep dive into a world of privilege and excess, spanning 1969 to 1996

Will Vogt These Americans, woman and cocaine
(Image credit: © Will Vogt / Schilt Publishing & Gallery)

Existing dually as a historical document and an artwork, new photography book These Americans by Will Vogt is an escape into the delirious excesses of the USA’s upper class, between 1969 and 1996. These dancing, hunting, and kissing characters are all completely unguarded in front of Vogt’s camera – because he is one of them; they are his family and friends.

Will Vogt, These Americans, women laughing

(Image credit: © Will Vogt / Schilt Publishing & Gallery)

Vogt explains of the book, published by Schilt Publishing, ‘It is about my life and the major themes within, the spaces I’ve inhabited and the people I’ve known. But of course, it’s also about a certain time and class in America.’ A time of Ayn Rand (the philosopher behind Objectivism, which places man’s ‘own happiness as the moral purpose of his life’), and Reaganomics.

Will Vogt, These Americans, family hunting

(Image credit: © Will Vogt / Schilt Publishing & Gallery)

What’s most striking to an outside viewer is how Vogt’s photographs can be read interchangeably as vernacular snapshots or as tableaux – either way, they are images all about leisure in its most boundless form.

Will Vogt, These Americans, deer carcass strung from helicopter

(Image credit: © Will Vogt / Schilt Publishing & Gallery)

Though we can hold critiques for hedonism and privilege, ultimately, as an audience, we are still always fascinated by windows into this world. The privileged are routinely caricatured in film and fiction, as novelist Jay McInerney notes in his sharp essay for the book, but Vogt’s images are the real deal. That suited man really is snoring on a private jet, oral sex really is happening under the table at a dinner party, that deer carcass really is strung from a helicopter, and the woman with the diamond bracelet and equally shiny blow-dry really is cutting lines of cocaine.

Will Vogt, These Americans, woman with tiara and orb

(Image credit: © Will Vogt / Schilt Publishing & Gallery)

McInerney goes on to write: ‘(Vogt) knows what they’re thinking and he knows that it may not be pretty. He knows who’s fucking whom, who cheats at golf, who starts drinking at 11 in the morning. But he’ll take them as they are. They’re his people. And he shows them to us in a way that no one else has.’ 

It’s this brazen lack of self-consciousness that creates such a draw here, a decadent, and possibly delusional, cocktail of freedom and excess.

These Americans, photographs by Will Vogt, introduction by Jay McInerney, available in bookstores and online, $50/€50/£45, Schilt Publishing, schiltpublishing.com

Also available from amazon.co.uk

Will Vogt These Americans, tiger by pool

(Image credit: © Will Vogt / Schilt Publishing & Gallery)

Will Vogt, These Americans, men in suits, drinking

(Image credit: © Will Vogt / Schilt Publishing & Gallery)

Will Vogt, These Americans, women in animal print leggings from behind

(Image credit: © Will Vogt / Schilt Publishing & Gallery)

As Photography Editor at Wallpaper*, Sophie Gladstone commissions across fashion, interiors, architecture, travel, art, entertaining, beauty & grooming, watches & jewellery, transport and technology. Gladstone also writes about and researches contemporary photography. Alongside her creative commissioning process, she continues her art practice as a photographer, for which she was recently nominated for the Foam Paul Huf Award. And in recognition of her work to date, listed by the British Journal of Photography as ‘One to Watch’.