Nearer To Me

Hélène Tchen utilises the power of photography to become “closer” to her identity

Jeanne and Valentine

“I realised that the people I shot had a huge impact on how it would make me feel,” explains Hélène Tchen, a photographer based in Paris. Born and raised in the French capital city to a Colombian mother and American-Chinese father, her identity as a woman of colour, she says, was therefore “quite complicated”. Having lacked in visibility and representation, this is where the arts come into play – a remedial outlet that allows creatives and subjects to form alliances and, in this case, to share personal experiences and perspectives on the world.

First off, Hélène decided to study cinema with the intentions of becoming a director of photography. Experimenting with analogue image-making on the side, a fascination with the medium grew. It wasn’t long until Hélène had taken up the practice professionally and started carving out her own personal projects, portraits and fashion stories – all of which expel a soft and tonal quality that signifies an intimate connection forged between two people. It allows her to address topics of identity and coming of age, protruded through a dynamism and relatability that not all can achieve through the snap of a shutter. It’s unsurprising to hear that she pulls influences from Wong Kar Wai, Leslie Zheng, Petra Collins and Nadine Ijewere, but equally, she’s identified her own language. “Shooting and creating with people that were like me – not having any visibility and presentation and either being a BIPOC or LQBTQIA+ person – is what inspired me and gave me a sense of my own aesthetic and how I wanted it,” she explains. 


One of Hélène’s recent and most prominent projects is entitled Nearer To Me, a series that she launched as a way of becoming closer to her heritage. “I grew up with an ‘identity complex’,” she adds, “where I never felt French, Colombian or Chinese enough as I knew nothing about this culture and don’t speak the language. I looked Chinese most of all. The racism towards Asian minorities impacted me negatively during my young years and this project is a way for me to reappropriate my Chinese identity how I needed to.” She began the work in Toronto as she visited her sister, a place in which has one of the largest settlements of Chinese immigrants. A call out was made via Instagram and through her sister’s friends, in which Hélène would ask if they could make “simple” portraits together. “It was the first time in my life I would walk in the streets and feel at peace.”

Nearer To Me evolved as she travelled back to Paris and began photographing Chinese women – those who are immigrants or are the child of an immigrant. “This was a way for me to be closer to my lost culture and learn more about it by myself.” Even the name, Nearer To Me, evokes a sense of yearning for understanding; to know oneself and be close to one’s roots. And the pictures resemble just that, as they show how a person’s identity isn’t always linear nor seeped in one definition, place or history. “Belonging to the country you were born or your own origins is something very personal that can be made in many ways,” says Hélène.


The photographer has captured many women over time, from the people she’d met online to those she knows more closely. This includes a woman named Christine, based in Toronto, whose portrait depicts her quietly leaning on a balcony, hair as fiery as the sun. Then there’s Xiaoyi, a young Chinese women she’d photographed previously for a fashion series, who later featured again in the project. Her portrait is drenched in a saturated shade of red, perceived in a tonal and cinematic style that’s influenced by the Chinese poem Magnolias Ballad, the same reference that inspired by the Disney film Mulan. She also regularly lenses her twin sister, Laure-Anne, the closest person to her and subject she perceives as being the “most special” throughout. 

“I hope my audience will receive this project with kindness and a different eye on the questions of race and social status in our societies,” shares Hélène. “The most important thing I wanted to convey in this artwork is the importance of identity, that it’s never too late to explore who you are of question yourself. And to not forget to be more kind towards ourselves and other people, nobody has the exact same experience in life and there is nothing we cannot do to grow in a better way.”

All photography courtesy of the artist


Xiaoyi Magnolias Ballad

Laure-Anne in Erquy








America in Crisis

A group exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery explores decades of social change in the US

The Selma March, Alabama, USA, 1965. © Bruce Davidson, Magnum Photos

In the 60s, a project entitled America In Crisis was released into the world conceived by photographer Charles Harbutt and Magnum New York’s then-bureau chief Lee Jones. Featuring imagery from 18 photographers, the show, book plus accompanying short film and installation explored the issues prevailing in the country at the time. This was decades ago and little has progressed, point blank. In a new revisiting at London’s Saatchi Gallery, an exhibition of the same name sheds light on social change in the US with a group exhibition of 40 leading American photographers such as Bruce Davidson, Zora J Murff, Kris Graves, Stacy Kranitz and Mary Ellen Mark. Multiple similar themes from the work proceeding have been brought to the fore: inequality, racism, poverty and the demise of the American Dream to name a few, which are coupled with the more modern-day markers like Covid-19 and the rise of Black Lives Matter.

Curated by Sophie Wright, Gregory Harris and Tara Pixley, the exhibition – which runs until 3 April 2022 – illustrates many deliberate comparisons towards the original project. This includes the same chapter structure as before, with titles such as The Streak of Violence, The Deep Roots of Poverty and The Battle of Equality making appearances. It also consciously sheds light on a diverse and contemporary presentation of photographers today, featuring honest and thought-provoking imagery from those who are actually embedded in the stories – like Zora and his mixed-media narration of power, race and privilege, or Stacy Kranitz who’s spent years documenting a community in Appalachia. Below, I chat to Sophie, one of the show’s curators, to discuss the danger of repeating history and the wavering power of the image in today’s digital world.

The Capitol, 6 January 2021. Washington D.C. © Reuters/Leah Millis

Can you tell me about the parallels between the new and old exhibition with Magnum Photos?

Clearly, things have changed. I studied history and history of art college, but in my day and age, you were told that there was an idea of history of progress. Maybe it’s just getting older, but it all becomes a bit circular after a while. 

In 1968, it was a massively tumultuous year globally. Charles Harbutt felt there was an opportunity and a need to create the original project, and it was that same period of time leading up to an election that he and the Jones had the instinct it was going to be quite a pivotal moment. 

We’ve used the original framework, but we involved all chapter headings except one; a chapter on the unwanted Vietnam war in 68. We didn’t replicate that into the contemporary project, because we felt that there isn’t an unwanted war or any contemporary equivalents. Now, you could say Afghanistan, but honestly, we felt that there was so much going on with the domestic policy issues that we were addressing, that to bring that in would have made it too complicated. 

In 2020, there was the unlawful killing of George Floyd, and that was really the catalyst for the explosion on the streets of Black Lives Matter. And there’s Covid-19, which was a very different experience to the original exhibition. There are a number of different catalysts and contexts. However, the core premise is the American Dream versus reality on the ground, and the long form issues within, the founding of America, the slavery and the issues around equality; all of these things are long-form issues. The Deep Roots of Poverty being another section that addresses the fact that, despite it being such a wealthy country, there’s a lot of people below the poverty line. So there were a number of things that we felt still resonated 50 years after the original project.

Smithville, Tennessee, 2015 © Stacy Kranitz

How do you think photography can impact social change? And how does this exhibition highlight that?

I don’t think photography changes things by itself. I think the days of believing in that are long gone. We all take photographs but it is a very slippery medium; I think it can be re-contextualised in lots of different ways. That’s what the third room deals with – the fact that people tell stories with photographs that sometimes shift the meaning of that image completely. 

What I do think, though, is that because it’s a recognisable medium, we all know how to take pictures and there’s a way to gain a better understanding the world around us. I think it is a language, despite its mutability, and it does inform us about and gives access to points of view; it’s all about acknowledging that it provides a window into different perspectives on the world. 

I think there’s also something to be said for the still image. There’s so much visual noise out there; we’re all hopelessly addicted to our phones. I think there’s something quite meditative about standing in front of an individual picture and just engaging. I really feel this is a project to be seen in the space that it’s shown. It gives you time to pause for thought. It’s also telling that there’s a lot of different strategies within the show from the individual practitioners, in terms of how they choose to communicate using their photographs. 

Bungalow Family with Last Ash Tree, Midway, Chicago, USA, 2018. © Paul D’Amato

What would you say are the key takeaways for visitors of the exhibition – to educate, to steer away from the noise of the digital world?

It’s interesting to see how history can repeat itself. I don’t want to oversimplify, but I want people to be more conscious of how they read images, the power of photography and the importance of it as communication as well as an artistic medium. 

Some of these earlier images would have been viewed by the original audience in 1969 as news photographs, and now they’re almost iconic, which I hate as a word. But something like Bruce Davidson and the Selma Marches, they have such a power as images; they’re almost talismanic because they’ve been reproduced multiple times. Then the reboot was referenced a lot during the Black Lives Matter protests pre-2020 as a kind of seminal protest image. Photography is an incredible, aesthetic medium. I want people to enjoy the layers of the show and how we encounter photography. The top line is to engage with the issues that have allied between both eras, but also to be conscious of photography, how we encounter it and read it and to do it in a considered way.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before a joint Senate Judiciary Committee and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. © Reuters/Leah Millis

Grant Park, Chicago, 1968 © Charles Harbutt

Lee Square, Richmond, Virginia, 2020. Courtesy of Sasha Wolf Projects © Kris Graves

Pink Sidewalk, Florida, 2017. From the series Floodzone. © Anastasia Samoylova

Massive Support for Richard Nixon at the Republican Convention. Miami, Florida, USA, 1968. © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

The Capitol, Washington, USA, January 6th, 2020 © Balazs Gardi

America in Crisis, organised by Saatchi Gallery, opens from 21 January to 3 April 2022. The exhibition is curated by Sophie Wright, Gregory Harris from Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, and academic Tara Pixley. Tickets from £5. Members go for free.

Can you see me now?

Brunel Johnson’s four-part series provides a necessary platform for Black and minority ethnic groups

Many of Brunel Johnson’s ideas tend to formulate in the shower – it’s where he devises some of his best work. In the past, there’s been Dream, a project documenting the Pembury Estate in Hackney, photographing and videoing young women playing estate football. There’s also the countless sports, commercial, lifestyle and documentary photography projects, that each depict his notably candid style of image-making and, more importantly, his view of the world. It’s my Hair is another fine example, an ongoing project that aims to show the time, effort and skill that goes into maintaining Afro hair. 

Whether it’s a still or moving image, Brunel’s shower-formed concoctions are deeply powerful just as much as they are empathetic. And Brunel’s most recent endeavour is a fine paragon of his goals as a self-taught, documentary photographer-turned-filmmaker. Titled Can you see me now?, the project is a four-part series produced and directed by Brunel himself, that aims to provide a space for Black and minority ethnic groups to tell their stories. For him, creativity is an apt tool for telling these narratives and to ultimately steer change. So by working with a solid team – including Milo Van Giap as the DOP, plus charities Rise.365 and Re:Sole and United Borders – Brunel has cast an array of real-life people with lived experiences to share, heightened by his artful use of mixed-media and 1:1 format. The result of which is a compilation of four films, Young Black Man, The Beauty Of The Hijab, Black Girl Magic and CHiNK. Below, I chat to Brunel to hear more about his impactful series.


First, tell me about your ethos as a photographer.

I strive to capture the mundane moments of daily life in an authentic and raw way. If I’m working on a project, I’ll always try to draw out the moments that tell the story I want the audience to see best. My goal as a photographer is to change the narrative that surrounds Black and minority ethic communities. I want to change how we’re shown in the media and how our stories are told. So I strive to bring out the stories that I believe the world needs to hear and see without tainting it from a biased gaze. 

When did the idea arise for Can you see me now? Why tell this story?

It actually came about while I was in the shower (a lot of my ideas happen there). Being a Black creative in this industry can be frustrating, as not only do you have to deal with basic day-to-day struggles of life, you also have to deal with the stereotypes, your work being deemed irrelevant, being labelled unprofessional for stating your mind and making a stand for what you believe in, being randomly stopped and searched because of a vague police description as you walk out your front door. 

All these things and many more make you realise that you’re in a constant upward struggle to achieve a basic human right – to just live. And this can really take a toll on you mentally. Simply screaming, complaining and protesting gets you easily labelled and tossed aside. So how do you tell your pain, struggles and experiences while making those who wouldn’t normally listen, listen? It has to be done creatively. In my opinion, anyway. I believe these stories are important and need to be told, especially with how the world is right now. The mic isn’t being given to those who are truly affected and that needs to change. How will people understand what is happening in these communities if it’s always the white gaze of the media telling us what they think we feel? 

What are your reasons for incorporating mixed-media, and what does this add to the narrative?

While planning this project, I wanted the message to be delivered in a way that hits the viewer from multiple angles. I’ve seen this format done many times before, but I wanted to do it differently. Sometimes the visuals are dope but the poem is a bit meh, other times it’s the visuals that are meh but the poem is dope; I wanted to create something that was both visually and audibly dope yet still digestible. 

As a documentary photographer, I know the face and eyes tell a story and are probably the most captivating part of the human body. I saw the face as a blank canvas that I could use to tell the story with words, and would visually have the viewer spending more time staring at the photo. I didn’t want the viewer to come up with their own interruptions. The monochrome palette and 1:1 format were important for me. I acknowledged that, for some reason, whenever we talk about race, despite its complexities, it always somehow boils down to Black and White, so why not have visuals like that too. The 1:1 format was to create a box, symbolising the stereotypical box many of us have had to live our lives in, but now we were taking control of this box and using it to our benefit, to tell our stories. I made the subjects stare directly into the lens to prevent the viewer from looking elsewhere. The subject is in front of them and there’s no escape; it’s time to listen, read and see what they have to say. 

How did you land on the subject matter, and what do these topics mean to you? 

I decided that I wanted each piece to be direct and unapologetic of how these communities really feel. For the young Black man part of the series, I drew upon my personal experiences and had a friend who is a poet write it out as a spoken word. With the other parts of the series, I spent time speaking to people from those communities to educate me on their experiences, their feelings and what they’d like to say if given the platform to. 

I really enjoyed this process because, for example, with Black Girl Magic I was going down the lines of Maya Angelou and the strong Black woman narrative. However, after speaking with Black women, many said that the era of the strong Black woman had passed and that they wanted the world to know that they experience other feelings too; that they cried, laughed, felt anxious, scared, fatigue and more. So making this a reality was incredible. It was the same situation with CHiNK and The Beauty of The Hijab. One thing I made sure of was that each poem was written by someone from their respective community. This is why I decided to call the series Can You See Me Now? I do what I do so I can learn more about humanity. Each topic for me is an opportunity to learn, to find common ground and build bridges. 

What’s the main message with this powerful series, what can the audience learn? 

Can you see me now? Am I visible now? Can you feel and understand my pain, struggles and experiences? It’s to be visible. I hope the audience can relate to the series and feel a sense of relief that maybe how they’ve felt is finally being put across, and those who haven’t experienced the things said in the series become more understanding and accepting to the fact that they do exist and are happening. 

Film credits:

Producer, Script Writer, Director: @bruneljohnson
DP: @milovangiap
Sound & photographer: @bruneljohnson
AC: @notsergioh
Lighting: @flapjacksss & @milovangiap
Makeup: @ioanasimon_mua @madalina_petreanu
Editor: @jfroudy
Sound Engineer: @flynnwallen
Retouch: @alberto__maro @isahakeemphotography
Runner: @soyd1416

Models: @lenaelghamry @sadiqa.e @_shazfit @alex_fergz @da_bf9 @mrbonsu @proscoviauk @doggsza @jaychelle.1 @youngshahid @belliebooze @_purnimaraicreates @w.cui Gladys & Sandro.

Poems by: Yumna Hussen, @ashleybelalchin @thejasminesims @belliebooze

Brunel Johnson is represented by Studio PI, an award-winning agency with a diverse roster of talent from the most under-represented sections of society






Alex Thomson: 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes

In 2017, Alex Thomson became the fastest British sailor to complete the Vendée Globe. Here, Thomson and designer Konstantin Grcic reflect on their unique nautical partnership

On 20th January 2017, after 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes alone at sea, Alex Thomson reached the finish line of the Vendée Globe – the gruelling, round-the-world solo yacht race. Although he arrived in the harbour of Les Sables d’Olonne, on the west coast of France, in second place, 16 hours after Frenchman Armel Le Cléac’h, Thomson became the fastest British sailor to complete the course, despite having lost one of his foils – the wings that lift the boat out of the water to minimise drag – on day 13.

Established in 1989, and running every four years since 1992, the Vendée Globe is the most demanding boat race on the planet – on average only half of the entrants will reach the finish line. An extreme test of endurance as well as of seamanship, Thomson – for whom this was his fourth attempt, having retired from the race in 2004 and 2008, and coming third in 2012 – had to snatch between 20 and 40 minutes sleep every three to five hours. Despite consuming up to 7000 calories a day, he would lose nearly eight kilograms over the course of the race.

For the most recent edition, Thomson and his sponsors, Hugo Boss, took the unusual step of partnering with the London-based German designer Konstantin Grcic. In addition to being responsible for the boat’s distinctive aesthetics, Grcic, who has produced work for some of the world’s leading design companies, was also instrumental in remodelling the cockpit area, an innovation which became essential for Thomson’s comfort and maintaining his morale. Here, for the first time since the race, Thomson and Grcic reflect on their unique collaboration.

Konstantin Grcic: I loved following the race via the videos you made on board explaining everything. You were very unlucky to have lost the foil, and that one in particular – I know most of the racing is done on that side for the Globe. You would have had a great chance of winning with two foils rather than one!

Alex Thomson: The videos were a great thing to do. When you communicate in that way you get feedback. Every time I put a video on Facebook, I would get thousands of comments from the team about how I had inspired other people, who in turn inspired me.

It feels like such a long time since we first met in New York. I remember back then I didn’t really know whom I would be meeting. I thought it would be an ‘artist’, someone who would come up with a completely impractical idea, not someone down-to-and humble. We connected immediately.

KG: The conversation was there straight away – but then not many people can speak so clearly, and in a way that creates a great enthusiasm about what they do. That conversation, in the restaurant, gave me the first clues for this project.

AT: I remember being so happy with you and your ideas. People often say to me that the way the boat looks is not important, but I think it’s critical. Our boat was voted the most beautiful in France, which is a big deal when it’s an English boat with German sponsors and a German designer. It created this impression that we were peerless and I can’t tell you what that means to the team. Obviously they are involved in the physical side with the build, but the look of the boat and how other people see it creates an emotional bond that you wouldn’t have with most boats.

KG: I take that as a huge compliment. The colour, the logos and the style aren’t just decoration. They have to hit the right tone, to capture something in this design that the team really identifies with. And it has to have this psychological element that when you’re on the starting grid, you’ll feel powerful with your boat. Of course, this is something I’m familiar with as a designer – the psychology of form, of design. It’s fascinating what a difference it makes. It was such a challenge to follow your last boat, the completely silver one. But then we found a way to make the new boat all black. Technically it was challenging [the boat is glued together with a resin which is cooked at 80°C; if the boat reaches this temperature, which is possible in the tropics, it could begin to fail structurally]. We worked with a company to develop paint that could reflect light in the same way white paint would. It was nice how an initially purely aesthetic decision actually became a project that we developed together, creating something special and unique.

AT: And then there was the cockpit too. We spent so much time and energy in the previous Vendée Globe trying to make the boat go fast that the last thing we thought about was the comfort of the skipper. Yet the more comfortable you make the skipper the harder they will work. So we brainstormed how to make it more comfortable, how to make the internals work in an effective way. It took six months or so of refining, but what we have now is not so far from what we originally discussed. It was so beneficial to work with someone from a different background who can bring different considerations to the table. It’s definitely something we will do more of next time.

KG: Likewise! It was such a rich experience for me. I’m not an athlete but I love sport and to be able to see behind the scenes, to see the whole process from cladding and building the boat, raising the funds, the discussions you had and the dark hours of failure where you have to pick yourself up, as well as the successes, was something I’ll keep with me for a long, long time. It was unique.


Photography Benjamin McMahon
Styling Dan May
All clothing AW 2017 collection BOSS
Grooming Lee Makin

This is an extract from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe, click here.

A Town Called Alligator: Brandon Thibodeaux

Port speaks to photographer Brandon Thibodeaux about his book In That Land of Perfect Day, which traces the lives of ordinary people in the Mississippi Delta and reflects on themes of faith, family, pride and perseverance 

Left: Mississippi 662, Duncan, MS, 2012; Right: Sno Balls & Ice Cream, Duncan, 2015

In June 2009, five months after the inauguration of President Obama, Texan photographer Brandon Thibodeaux arrived in a town called Alligator, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, broken and confused. His relationship of eight years had just ended following a lost pregnancy, work was unsatisfying and he found himself drifting. “I didn’t feel as though I was producing something that was me,” he tells me early one morning on the phone from his home in Dallas. “So I began to sort out what inspires me, what I could look for as a personal project.”

With an academic background in international development, Thibodeaux had spent several years photographing rural communities in Mexico. Meaningful connections with people had been hindered by Thibodeaux’s poor Spanish – “I used a lot of hand gestures” – but it gave him the idea to immerse himself a similar project closer to home. So, with the Mississippi Delta virtually in his back yard – a region where he understood the social dynamics and, crucially, where he could communicate with the people – Thibodeaux embarked upon a project documenting the people of the area which would last for the next eight years“That first weekend in the Delta was marked by a Father’s Day sermon at the church in Alligator. It felt like one of those serendipitous moments where you go, ‘I’m in the right place, this is where I need to be.’” 

Left: Nut and His Buck, Alligator, MS, 2012; Right: President Obama, Mound Bayou, MS, 2012

Published earlier this month by Red Hook Editions, In That Land of Perfect Day – the first monograph to result from Thibodeaux’s study – presents a snapshot of everyday life in the Mississippi Delta. Depicting towns like Alligator, Mound Bayou and Bobo, it tells the story of rural black American communities in the Obama era, as well as documenting how Thibodeaux’s relationship with the various communities developed as he spent more time in the Delta.

I ask how people first reacted when he showed up in town, asking to take their picture. “With a mixture of scepticism and wonder,” he tells me. Sometimes exchanges with people were hopeful and uplifting, and at others “the opposite would happen, somebody would say ‘What are you doing here? Look around, you’re the only little white kid with big glasses, you don’t know a soul.’”

Left: Mini, Shelby, MS, 2016; Right: Three Cousins, Alligator, MS, 2014

In an attempt to de-escalate these situations, Thibodeaux began to keep prints of his photographs in his back pocket, that he would pass around when he met people. “They’d go through them, and often at some point they say ‘Where’d you meet my uncle?’ or ‘That’s my cousin with his first deer, you took that picture? It’s on his wall at home.’”

In such small communities, word of Thibodeaux soon got out and he found himself invited along to family gatherings and special events to take photographs. “It’s a wonderful thing to walk into someone’s bedroom and see your photograph hanging above their bed, or neatly packaged in a draw in their closet so cigarette smoke doesn’t damage them,” he says.

Though creatively validated and emotionally moved by these encounters, Thibodeaux is careful not to romanticise, reminding me that “for every wonderful story I have about the Delta, I have an equally dark and distorted one.” His photographs do, however, represent a conscious departure from preconceived, often media-driven, ideas about the region. Men are seen posing with stuffed deer heads, but also proudly with their small babies. “If you ask an American, ‘What is the Delta?’, they think of cotton fields and blues music,” explains Thibodeaux. “That shouldn’t be forgotten, but in this case I felt that the experience of people living there today shouldn’t be overlooked either. In a sense, this is a testament to them.”

Left: Obama Time, Memphis, TN, 2012; Right: Alex and A’Miracle, Duncan, MS, 2009

In order to forge a genuine connection with their subject, the photographer will highlight the things they have in common. I ask Thibodeaux about the challenges of this approach in the American South where racial tensions, especially in recent years, have been volatile. “You try to establish a relationship you can build a foundation on, so I didn’t immediately spotlight the obvious difference”, Thibodeaux says. “Race was never the first topic of conversation.” Despite their differences, they would bond over commonalities such as faith or relationships, “like any human would.”

“I can’t say that I wanted to confront racism directly in this project, or necessarily race, but what I wanted to confront was our understandings of racial and regional identity”, Thibodeaux continues. “So with that maybe I am confronting racism, to some degree, but I’ve always felt that the best tools we have against racism are knowledge and empathy – which in turn foster understanding.”

Left: Switch for My Cousin, Duncan, MS, 2009; Right: Cat Nap, Duncan, MS, 2012

The inauguration of President Obama in 2009 presented mixed feelings. Thibodeaux was driving around the Delta with a young man about his age, when he asked him directly,“What do you think about having a black President?” The response was telling. “It does not make a difference in my life, what the colour of this man’s skin is.” On another occasion, whilst taking a portrait of the oldest man in the community, Thibodeaux saw a portrait of Barack Obama resting on his side table. “It was a quiet image, but it speaks so much about the time in which we were living,” Thibodeaux said. “His presidency was both one of hope and one of scepticism.”

During Thibodeaux’s last visit to the Delta, Donald Trump’s leadership campaign was in full swing. A rumour had been circulating throughout town that, if Trump were to be elected, he would make them all slaves again. “No matter how unlikely or improbable this idea – what does it say about the vulnerability of the mind?” Thibodeaux says thoughtfully. When I ask about the responsibility of photography in the era of Trump, he tells me that “given the events of the time, it’s a very dangerous thing the media does, in which it creates this very simple narrative of us against them. That in itself sows seeds of hate and retribution, or overlooks the fact that the world is far more complicated than that.”

Left: Choo Choo and His Bible, Alligator, MS, 2012; Right: Backflip, Duncan, MS, 2011

In That Land of Perfect Day intelligently conveys the multiple shades of this ambivalence, and possesses the quiet, self-contained dignity of a genuine connection wrought between photographer and subject. This mutual respect is indicated in how often Thibodeaux shoots his subjects looking directly into the camera: demanding to be seen, to be reckoned with; a portrait of a region caught between optimism and scepticism.


In That Land of Perfect Day is available from Red Hook Editions, Brooklyn