Not every town gets to be King of Prussia or Truth or Consequences. America is littered with colorful monikers for its cities, but some towns inevitably go by names that are a little more run of the mill. And few names are more milquetoast than Middletown: A name suggesting the town’s defining attribute is that it isn’t too far out there to one side or the other.
There are dozens of Middletowns littered across the United States. Some states – New York, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania – even have more than one, spread across multiple counties. Middletowns are so pervasive that the name evokes a certain quintessential image of American town life. To put it another way, Middletown is Everytown. It’s the home of the “median voter” who politicians are so eager to seduce during election season. And it’s home to a particular image of classic small-town life, with its white picket fences and perfect emerald lawns.
But that mythical picture of mid-century life was always just that – mythical. And now even the fantasy is slipping away as rapid cultural, economic and political changes forge a country that looks dramatically different than its former self.
Photographer Douglas Ljungkvist has traveled to Middletowns all around the country to provide a small window into what those towns look like today. His photographs evoke both classical, quintessential Americana and the sometimes tougher reality. They depict a country in transition, always struggling to live up to its ideal self-image.