Books: A Brit On the Road in America

By David Schonauer   Thursday July 11, 2019

America was only decades old when photography was invented.

The new nation, noted The British Journal of Photography recently, was being photographed even as it was taking on its modern form.

Since then, America’s various guises have been captured by countless men and women with cameras. “A long roll call of photographers from almost the very beginnings of the medium – from Carleton Watkins, via Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, to Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, to name a few – have taken up the same challenge,” noted BJP.

Add to that list UK-based Magnum photographer Mark Power, who has spent much of the past decade traveling across the country and has now published Good Morning America (GOST), a collection of images made on roads leading from South Carolina to California, from Arkansas to Wisconsin, and points in between.

“The idea of a foreign photographer touring the United States to offer an outsider’s view of the country is as close as a cliche as you can get,” noted Olivier Laurent at The Washington Post. Few, he added, “have produced meaningful bodies of work that have captured the imagination of their peers and of a wider audience.”

Power’s project is certainly ambitious — his new book is the first of a series of five volumes bringing together his photographs of America. As Laurent noted, such audaciousness may be necessary, because the country Power depicts in his work is complex and troubled.

“Power offers a view, somewhat pessimistic, of a country he has found deeply divided as far back as the 1980s, when he made his first visit,” Laurent wrote.

“Its problems seemed then (and still do, only worse) to be so vast, so deep-rooted, like an enormous ball of twine that is slowly unraveling and impossible to stop,” said Power.

Harlan, Kentucky, December 2015

Dallas, Texas, January 2018

The project, Power told Laurent, had its beginnings in 2011, when he joined a group of Magnum photographers who spread out across the country for a project called “Postcards from America.”

“[W]hen that group initiative came to an end, I realized the work I was making was filling a void in my life; it seemed as if it was what I was always meant to do,” he said.

But he told the British Journal of Photography that the roots of the work, which he began in 2012, reach back to his early childhood memories. “For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to explore America, an ambition fueled by a legion of TV shows that crossed the Atlantic in the 1960s,” Power says.

Pierre Part, Louisiana, January 2017

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 2014

Barstow, California, January 2015

Power is known for his book The Shipping Forecast, a look at coastal areas of the UK covered by a long-running broadcast of weather conditions on the BBC. “Much of this work is allusive, involving a dialogue between real and imagined space,” noted BJP, which called the work “a fresh approach to documentary photography.”

He carries that same approach to his work in America, where he worked with a Phase One digital back on an Alpa technical camera.

“I never know exactly what I’m looking for,” Power told the British Journal of Photography. “Something I’ve learned during the 35 years I’ve been a photographer is that the world around us cannot easily be packaged in such a simplistic way. My project is instead multifaceted, about many subjects at once, which are all interconnected.”

Waco, Georgia, January 2017

Flint, Michigan, November 2017

“The idea behind the five books GOST are publishing is a simple one: "I can’t imagine making one single volume that would do justice to 10 years of work (or, to be more precise, the year and a half I’ll be spending in America during that decade, working every single day),” Power noted at The Washington Post. “The last thing I want to make is a pompous kind of coffee-table book. . . . that simply isn’t my thing.”

“One other thing,” he adds. “I recently added up the states I’d been to, and they now number 37. I am at heart a collector (name me a photographer who isn’t!) and so now, for the first time, I’m reconciled to the pursuit of all 50.”
At top: Cherokee Trading Post, Bridgeport, Oklahoma, January 2015


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