In 2020, Sinna Nasseri, an Iranian-American photographer with a degree in political science, set off on a year-long road trip to
make images under what he described as the ‘dark shadow’ of the forthcoming presidential election. The idea was not just
to cover the campaigns but their wider echoes in the culture, even amongst those who were indifferent to party politics. As
Nasseri tracked the election for Vogue and other magazines, which gave him a great deal of latitude, he cultivated an offbeat
and seemingly casual style which complemented his bizarre subject matter.
A confluence of connected events marked that period: Black Lives Matter was set against the context of widespread gun
violence; Republican climate-change denial accompanied colossal and catastrophic forest fires; the administration’s gross
dysfunction fed the pandemic. In the polarised media landscape, a religious white nationalism, which rejected the election
result, spiralled into increasingly extreme conspiracy theories (among them, Jewish space lasers igniting the forests). One
manifestation was of course marked hostility to the media—in Portland, Nasseri came too close for comfort to a Molotov
cocktail thrown at the press.
Nasseri’s photographs juxtapose many diverse encounters of that division—the Black Lives Matter T-shirt-wearing couple
quietly passing a pair wearing the All Lives Matter slogan; or a cat sitting amid modest wooden homes under a glowering fire
stained sky; or a toddler driver-in training seen against memorials to Black people killed by the police. As fierce controversies
were conducted over the history of racism with the 1619 project, a couple wearing Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears gaze at a
portrait of George Washington in an uncanny vision of the nation’s trajectory; and another overweening moment in bellicose
US mythology is marked in the jeans and cowboy boots of a shotgun-wielding male seen between the tattooed legs of an
Photography and national allegory have long been allied in the US, and not only among those photographers who have
explicitly invoked their connection (Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Joel Sternfeld and many others). If Nasseri’s trip was an
Odyssey into American weirdness, perhaps there was there a liberal audience for the sublime spectacle of a divided nation as
Trump’s defeat seemed increasingly certain. But it turns out that this ‘Strange Victory’ was a temporary reprieve, as the danger
of the populist right looms again, taking new forms and new embodiments.