In the nasty fight for the Republican presidential nomination in March of 2000, Texasgovernor George W. Bush eventually beat out his chief rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona.Two months later, McCain gritted his teeth and grudgingly endorsed Bush. In trying to convincethe press that there were no hard feelings, Governor Bush uttered one of his first Bushisms:“I think we can agree, the past is over.”
Little did we know then that the past was yet to come. As we look back on the last eightyears, Bush’s infamous malapropisms don’t seem so funny anymore (if they ever did). “You workthree jobs?” he asked a divorced Nebraskan mother of three in 2005. “Uniquely American,isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that.” Nope, not so funny.
During the past eight years, I’ve produced two book-length photography projects—Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004) and Niagara (2006), both published by Steidl—that focuson different regions of North America. Reviewers have often understood these books to be acomment on or critique of contemporary American society. But for me these projects wereintentionally apolitical. They were more about my curiosity about the country I live in and mywandering, itinerate nature than any kind of pointed political commentary.
But outside my self-indulgent life as a Fine Art Photographer, I’ve been simultaneouslyworking here and there for various print media, including The New York Times, The New Yorker,and GQ. Over the years I’ve done stories on moms of marines serving in Iraq, religion in theAmerican workplace, low-income teenage moms in the Louisiana bayou, and the biggest landfillin America. The most meaningful work I did in this vein was a four-part series for the TelegraphMagazine on the decline of the American empire. Working with the British journalist MickBrown, I photographed small-town army recruits in West Virginia, the mortgage crisis inStockton, California, and urban decay in Detroit.
Having done so much work focused on America, I figured I ought to finally make my BigPolitical Commentary before—as W. says—the past is over. But during these last days of theadministration, what is the point of protest, satire, or any other sort of rabble-rousing? Like themother in Nebraska and just about every other American, mostly I feel worn out. So in assemblingthis collection of pictures, I suppose I’m not really trying to accomplish much at all. Rather,as President Bush himself once said, “One of the great things about books is, sometimes thereare some fantastic pictures.”
"The Last Days of W." originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' October 2008 Table of Contents.