A Love of America Turned Ugly [Photo Essay]
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Christopher Morris has been covering George Bush as TIME Magazine's White House photographer for the last seven years. Morris recently published My America, a book of photographs that affords us a complex and quietly creepy look inside the Bush bubble.
AlterNet and multimedia co-sponsor BAGnewsNotes are pleased to host the above slideshow of images from My America , followed by an interview with the photographer, Christopher Morris, conducted by Nina Berman.
Nina Berman: The best description of your work came from a powerful introduction you wrote for an exhibition of your images in France. You excluded this from the book. Can you share with us what you wrote?
Christopher Morris: In the Name of God the Flag and Bush Almighty. This is my America, my New Republic. If the hijackers on September 11 accomplished anything, this is it. They have given us the divine Bush. A man who has said, "you're either with us or against us." A man who teaches our children that "they hate us because we love freedom".
This is my America. An America with Homeland Security, a Patriot Act. An America with paranoia. An America with hatred and ignorance. An America that wraps itself in its President and its flag. This is my America.
Now when I see the eagle of freedom, I see an eagle of fascism. Now when I see the American flag, I'm afraid for my America. We have become an ugly nation. A nation that has wrapped its eyes so tightly in red, white and blue that it has gone blind. Blinded by nationalism. This is my America. And this is why they hate us, and its not because we love freedom. They hate us because we think like that.
Berman: When I look at your pictures I see order and control, yet it's unclear who is in power or what is in power. The man himself seems almost inconsequential to the trappings and rituals of the office. Yet those around him, the listeners seem hypnotized -- almost robotic and rendered speechless. Does Bush the man have this effect, or is it something else? And how personally did you feel watching people respond in such a way?
Morris The time period after September 11th, and with the build up to the invasion of Iraq, the country was in very strong Nationalistic mood. And their leader was George W. Bush. This is what I tried to convey in my images, was this cult of personality of the President. The Secret Service agents was more of a play on men in black in odd places. The whole Homeland Security feel to it.
Berman:Describe your physical limitations when you are traveling with the President and how these limitations influence your choice of subject matter an the construction of your pictures?
Morris: I travel in what is called the pool. There are roughly four to five photographers, three wires and two magazines. Coverage of the President is limited to what they want us to see. The challenge for me in this is to look away from the President and document the environment in this imaginary bubble that we are forced to work in.
Berman: Do you ever see any cracks in the veneer, any breaks in the bubble, or aren't you interested in those moments? And have you seen a change in the aesthetic that corresponds to Bush's political standing?
Morris: I have noticed in the last year that, yes, the pendulum has finally started to swing in the opposite direction. But I feel this is temporary. America is a very proud nation that, at times, can easily be pushed to the extreme right. Our love of our flag and Nation can blind us sometimes to the rest of the world.
Berman: And finally, as you have photographed many other politicians and presidential contenders, how does the Bush bubble differ from the Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Rudy Giuliani bubble, or is there any palpable difference?
Morris: The only difference are the crowds. Republicans are drastically different than Democrats. You can see it in their fashion. I can pretty easily tell what type of crowd I am in. As for the three candidates that you mention, all three are very controlling of the media with the way they want to be portrayed. The most difficult candidates for access are Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, both, ironically, the front-runners.
This photo series is underwritten, in part, by the popular progressive blog BAGnewsNotes. Authored by psychologist Michael Shaw, BAGnewsNotes is dedicated to the daily visual analysis of political news images. In addition, the site features and promotes original photojournalism. Besides "The BAG," Shaw also writes a blog feature for The Huffington Post called "Reading The Pictures," and an online column for American Photo magazine.