I’m a British photographer, partly based in Mexico. Whilst there I became interested in the idea of making a journey through the US, and creating a photographic journal of my travels. The extraordinary 2016 presidential election seemed to present a unique opportunity. So I drove 8,000 miles by car in 5 weeks, covering 13 American states as well as Washington, DC. The publication Divided States is now complete and represents the fruits of my journey: 244 pages containing 154 still images and 18,000 words of text.
The 2020 US presidential election is underway. It will be more significant than 2016, as the outcome in November will confirm the country’s ideological direction: was Trump’s 2016 win an anomaly – or did it signal a broad-based shift towards populist nationalism? Some commentators claim that the US is in the midst of a cold civil war, which could make the 2020 election the most divisive in American history. Divided States takes us back exactly 4 years to where the story started the material contained in Divided States is timely, engaging and topical subject as the 2020 US presidential election plays out this year.
I went to America to bear witness to its final week and the aftermath of Election Day on the 8th November 2016. I had a single symbolic goal: to arrive at the White House – the same objective both Clinton and Trump were aiming for. Otherwise, my route and all my encounters and experiences evolved through chance, with the unfolding election saga a continual backdrop, but not always the dominant factor. Above all, I wanted to explore Americans’ take on the state of their nation at this hugely significant time. What would people’s reaction be to the prospect of the first female president? Or the first reality-TV-star president?
I also wanted to create an antidote to the media’s monotonous and frenzied acrimony whilst still engaging with the issues at hand whenever they came into play. As a European who was acting independently, without a political agenda, I hoped people might more candidly reveal their feelings about the situation and the candidates. Wherever I went, I tried to allow enough time to interact with the people I met and to draw them out; most of my encounters began when I saw an intriguing photographic opportunity, which then developed spontaneously into a dialogue. My subjects’ words, as much as my own reflections, became the primary text of the book making up a series of vignettes. Taken as a whole, I hope that those words, coupled with the photographs I took, serve to provide an insight into the divisions between Americans at an unprecedented historical moment.
Because the media hype around elections is so much about broad demographics, individual voices often get lost, especially voices from some of the less-than-thriving towns and the isolated communities I made a point of visiting. I wanted to create a more intimate picture of the mood in the country than was available on TV — not just a photographic journal of my travels but also a narrative featuring a highly diverse cast of characters encountered on that journey. For me this was the fulfilment of a life-long dream to embark upon an American road trip with a camera. I like to think that the publication Divided States will offer readers the opportunity to share the experience of the journey I made.
As I promote Divided States I am also seeking commissions/funding/grants to enable me to cover the 2020 election even more extensively than my first trip. Once again, I plan to journey through the US, listening to people’s stories to discover how they are reacting to the political storm swirling around them in their daily lives. My questions are these: How much have people’s opinions altered since 2016? And if there have in fact been major changes in their beliefs and attitudes in the past four years, how might I best illuminate and clarify those changes?
Divided States is already a multi-media experiment, bringing still images and text together within a journal format. The still image — my fundamental mode of perception — remains the key element of the project in its current form. With the addition of further media, however, such as sound recordings and moving images, it would become possible to provide an even fuller portrait, bringing to life the road-trip experiences and going deeper into the subject to uncover and document more of the story.
Developing the concept in this way would create the potential for a multi-media installation, an exhibition that would offer a more dynamic, participatory experience for the audience whilst retaining the primacy of the still image. A longer journey through the US at this crucial point in its history would also allow me to post material strategically on social media along the way, and thus generate broader interest in the project.