Edward Thompson’s images of Bush’s America stand the test of time

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© Edward Thompson.

Fifteen years on from its creation, Thompson is crowdfunding to publish his first-ever body of work, The Texas Hill Country

In 2008, photographer, lecturer and critic Dr. Paul Lowe wrote: “the key to understanding America lies not in New York or in Washington, but in the hinterland, in the interior of this vast land. Nowhere is this truer than the lone star State of Texas, homeland of Bush’s America.” Though written almost 15 years ago, in today’s ostensibly post-Trump world, Lowe’s words continue to hold relevance.

The same can be said of the work of fellow photographer Edward Thompson, whose project The Texas Hill Country, was the subject of Lowe’s reflections. Created in 2006 and 2007, Thompson’s images of the lone star state remain not only culturally significant, but of huge personal importance to the photographer, who is now crowdfunding to turn the project into a book.

© Edward Thompson.

“Well, it had to be America for one,” says Thompson, reflecting on how, aged just 26, he found himself working on the other side of the Atlantic. “And that’s because I absolutely love Diane Arbus. It’s such a cliche for lots of photographers, but I just really loved Arbus.” Having resolved to follow in his hero’s footsteps, but with a considerable distaste for cities like New York, Thompson settled on Texas – specifically, Texas Hill Country, then home to George W. Bush’s second home, the ‘Western Whitehouse’.

The images the young photographer created there were among his earliest. Unburdened by the pressure that comes with a more established career, his approach to the people of Texas was simple and direct. The resulting images – all medium format and all boasting an honest nativity – have a timelessness about them. Portraits of gun-wielding men and pearl-clad women could have been taken yesterday – or 15, 20, 50 years ago. But, despite its anachronistic qualities, Thompson wasn’t always sure of the right time to share his work.

© Edward Thompson.

“For all the period of Barack Obama, I looked at the work and I felt ‘oh, this is ancient history now’,” the photographer recalls. “You look at the Confederate flag bedspread, the back of the truck saying ‘Rome was destroyed by liberals’ – in 2006, it felt like these were fringe people.” More than 10 years later, on 20 January 2017, Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. On the same day, Thompson joined Instagram and began sharing images from The Texas Hill Country.

Of course, it has now been almost two years since Donald Trump left office, 15 years since Thompson spent 40 hours on a Greyhound bus in a desperate bid to reach Texas, and almost the same period of time since Dr Paul Lowe described his work as offering “…a unique perspective on America’s relationship to itself and to the rest of the planet”. Yet, The photographer remains as determined as ever to see his project published.

“Out of everything I’ve done, this was like the first really good go I had,” Thompson says passionately. “In my heart I thought I’d get to keep doing this, that I’d get to do this in other cities, I’d get to do those things that Magnum photographers do. That’s not been my hand. I never got to do that. So, this is it.”

Photographs from the Texas Hill Country.

Edward Thompson is seeking support to self-publish The Texas Hill Country. Donations can be made via Kickstarter until 10 November 2022.