Skip to main content
A neutral eye on the US elections
Loading
A story by

Photo essay

A neutral eye on the US elections

Cédric von Niederhäusern


 (swissinfo.ch)

“I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.” 

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 - 1859)

“The mood is loaded, people are nervous, there’s something in the air.” Photographer Cédric von Niederhäusern spent the last year trying to capture America in an election year. Being Swiss helped open doors.

First-hand encounters with people in small-town America, like a friendly National Rifle Association member at a shooting range, helped shape his understanding of polarisations within society.

For von Niederhäusern, his Swiss nationality was a sign of neutrality and he was viewed as an “uninvolved observer”.

After internships at various Swiss outlets, von Niederhäusern applied to the International Center for Photography in New York to study photojournalism. Interested in politics and society from an early age, it was natural for him to explore the US against the backdrop of the election campaign as part of his course. 

America First unity rally, Cleveland, Ohio, July 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

America First unity rally, Cleveland, Ohio, July 2016

Exeter, New Hampshire, February 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Exeter, New Hampshire, February 2016

End Poverty rally, Cleveland, Ohio, Juli 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

End Poverty rally, Cleveland, Ohio, Juli 2016

“New York was my first real experience with the US. I had been here as a child with my parents once, but my memories of it were only faint. Everything was new to me. So I could see my new environment with fresh eyes. In the context of my work, I was clearly an outsider. I also realised very quickly that coming here in an election year was something special. The mood is loaded, people are nervous, there’s something in the air.”

“At the beginning, I was thinking about doing something on the role of the military in the US. In Switzerland we have a completely different relationship to issues like power or war. I had never seen a military parade until I photographed the Veterans’ Day Parade in New York.”

Amarillo Rifle and Pistol Club, Amarillo, Texas, January 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Amarillo Rifle and Pistol Club, Amarillo, Texas, January 2016

“A Swiss newspaper commissioned me to travel to Amarillo, Texas to report on the Republican movement along with a correspondent. This mission took me away from New York City for the first time, opening up a completely new perspective. Amarillo is a trucker town on the historic Route 66, surrounded by a wide, open, agricultural landscape.”

“Here, for example, I met Gary Hassle: shooting range instructor, gun collector, and of course a member of the National Rifle Association. With memories of recent mass shootings in my head, I suddenly found myself across from this nice, helpful and proud American. The contrast between New York and Amarillo could hardly be greater. This inner conflict has still got a hold on me, and it’s accompanied me throughout my work.”

Samantha Peden from Colorado, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Samantha Peden from Colorado, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016

Downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016

Exeter, New Hampshire, February 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Exeter, New Hampshire, February 2016

“I think being Swiss is very helpful in such situations. A door opener. This has little to do with national identity, but a lot to do with an image that is still attested to outside Switzerland. It’s a sign of independence and neutrality. As a Swiss I am an uninvolved observer, I represent nothing, no interests – just small Switzerland.”

Downtown Cleveland, Ohio, July 2016

CNN correspondent Sara Ganim, Manhattan, New York, March 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

CNN correspondent Sara Ganim, Manhattan, New York, March 2016

“The election campaign for the office of the US president has already been a springboard for the careers of many photojournalists. There are many photographers who concentrate on the theatrical, who capture the delusions, the ecstasy, and also the irrational – and in so doing, maybe also unmask or comment on this. I’m cautious about this, myself. I think the topic is a serious one, after all. The decisions made in such an election are real in spite of all the staging.”

Sunset Park, New York, April 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Sunset Park, New York, April 2016

President Barack Obama, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

President Barack Obama, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016

Democratic hustings, where potential voters are addressed, Manchester, New Hampshire, February 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Democratic hustings, where potential voters are addressed, Manchester, New Hampshire, February 2016

"To arrive in rural America is a major experience involving a lot of clichés, of course. But actually, I don’t have this fascination with the US like other people do. I see myself as more or less resistant to these images. What interests me and keeps me here are the people and the opportunity to get to know them via my work.”

“There is also this critical-of-America outlook towards the US. Especially in connection with the election campaign, a lot of things seem grotesque, incomprehensible and stupid to us. I recently well back to Switzerland for the first time in a year, and when confronted with these sweeping judgements, I often tried to say: ‘Yes, but …I visited fewer than ten of the 50 states last year: New York, Texas, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia. This small percentage is also a part of my life story; it’s the little bit that I experienced myself this year.’”

Democratic hustings, Manchester, New Hampshire, February 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Democratic hustings, Manchester, New Hampshire, February 2016

“My approach is of a more poetic nature and is not intended to be objective. There’s also a lot of me in my pictures. They often work through symbols; I want to lead the viewer in one direction, but still let the pictures speak for themselves.”

A Black Lives Matter protest, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

A Black Lives Matter protest, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016

Supporters of Republican candidate Marco Rubio, Londonderry, New Hampshire, February 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Supporters of Republican candidate Marco Rubio, Londonderry, New Hampshire, February 2016

Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016

“An image from New York, taken during the primaries at one of the numerous rallies of young people supporting Bernie Sanders. In this picture, I also see the frustration of a political system that has been manipulated in their eyes, and the lost confidence in institutions. This loss of confidence among the young Democrats seems to me almost more pronounced than that of the Trump supporters who distrust the state, anyway.”

Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016

“The policeman with the rose in her hand. This picture has little to do with the event there. Clearly I evoke the emotions of the tense ongoing discussions on police violence – as well as on the recent attack on the gay nightclub in Orlando, and the attacks on the police in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The picture stands for all of this and it illustrates the non-journalistic part of my work very well.”

Republican National Convention, Cleveland, Ohio, July 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Republican National Convention, Cleveland, Ohio, July 2016

“At the beginning I had trouble with my work. The images of my first anti-Trump rally in New York seemed like nothing but simple documents that proved that I had been there as well. I thought about how my work should stand out from all that and survive in the sea of ​​a thousand photographers who all seem to be doing the same thing.”

Hustings for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Manchester, New Hampshire, February 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Hustings for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Manchester, New Hampshire, February 2016

Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016

“Children and adolescents appear regularly in my pictures. Maybe this is because I’m still young. The children are taken to the election events and are often instrumentalised as well. Although they don’t have a say yet, I see them as an important component in the political process. They grow up in this system, and today’s decisions will affect their lives. They also represent the future.”

Diamond Lavish Reynolds, whose boyfriend Philando Castile was shot dead by police one day earlier, St Paul, Minnesota, July 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Diamond Lavish Reynolds, whose boyfriend Philando Castile was shot dead by police one day earlier, St Paul, Minnesota, July 2016

Fundraiser for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Bronx, New York, March 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Fundraiser for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Bronx, New York, March 2016

 “A group of students in the Bronx. For them, this is their first election campaign. They’re my contemporaries, my people, probably very close to my own personal political attitude. Nevertheless, there’s a distance between us. I’m not vulnerable to ideologies, whether it’s Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Of course, I feel much closer to the one, but I have trouble with those who follow blindly.”

Heidy Animas Lazcano, Laredo, Texas, April 2016 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Heidy Animas Lazcano, Laredo, Texas, April 2016

Military parade on Veterans Day, Manhattan, New York, November 2015 (© 2016 Cédric von Niederhäusern)

Military parade on Veterans Day, Manhattan, New York, November 2015

Images

Cédric von Niederhäusern

Text

Excerpts from a conversation between Cédric von Niederhäusern and Thomas Kern on September 14, 2016

Translation from German

Susan Misicka

Image editing

Thomas Kern

Production

Felipe Schärer and Luca Schüpbach