The artist Jasper Johns once said that he painted pictures of maps of the United States and American flags because he didn't have to design them. They were, he said, "things the mind already knows." Peter Elliott performs a version of Johns's magic in "Home Front," his collection of photographs taken since September 11, 2001. Each picture shows a flag that some citizen has displayed in one fashion or other. Flags fly from the front porches of mansions and double-wides. Flags fill the windows of bodegas and barbershops. Flags flutter from the masts of ships and the backs of motorcycles. The astonishing thing about each of these flawlessly structured black-and-white images is how the flag is the first thing you see in every photograph, even when it's not the picture's focal point. Invariably, it leaps out at you, verifying Julia Reed's claim in her introduction that "the flag is our most recognizable and emotional symbol."
The people, rich and poor and from every corner of the country, who spontaneously displayed the flags Elliott photographed, may have had little in common except their devotion to this piece of cloth and to the country it symbolizes. But maybe, this book quietly suggests, that's enough. "Home Front" ought to convince anyone that the American flag is indeed a thing the mind already knows, and that it binds us together as nothing else can.