There's perhaps nothing more American than the road trip. In the arts, it has taken a sort of mythical quality—John Steinbeck's Joads traveled to California in pursuit of a better life, Bob Dylan revisited Highway 61, and Jack Kerouac famously wrote On the Road in three weeks, in a flurry that seemed to capture the spontaneity and uncertainty of the trip itself. Naomi Harris, a self-proclaimed wanderer, is no stranger to this experience, either. A native of Canada, she has gone across her country documenting its oldest person, the world's largest coffee pot, and albino twins; she spent nine months traversing the US before she became an official citizen; and next year, she's planning a ten-week canoe ride throughout Ontario, where she will retrace the fur traders' route.
For our Salute Your Shorts Issue, Harris continued this tradition, setting out to chronicle Trump's first 100 days in office. She went out West and then circled back, photographing people and asking why they voted the way they did. She often slept in Walmart parking lots. She had, really, only her dog to keep her company.
One hundred days is, of course, an arbitrary metric. Since April 29, Trump has fired FBI director James Comey, taken his first trip abroad, and introduced a vague (and perhaps mathematically unsound) tax proposal. He's still struggling to repeal Obamacare, signing executive orders, and dealing with the investigation into Russia's alleged influence in the election. He's still tweeting. And there are more days to come.
Below Harris describes her motivation for the project, in her own words.
On November 8, 2016, Election Day, I was aboard a flight from Los Angeles to Paris to celebrate my mother's birthday and attend an art fair. This election held particular importance for me, as it was the first I could vote in since becoming a US citizen in 2013 (I'm also Canadian). Though my candidate, Bernie Sanders, had lost the primary, I fully expected a Democrat to win. While I was half asleep, the pilot's voice came over the loudspeaker: Donald Trump was the new president-elect. There were a few audible gasps; some passengers cheered. For the remaining two hours, the silence was deafening.
Whether it was jet lag or disbelief, I felt like I was in a fog. My Facebook feed was immediately filled with despair, and I knew my friends were taking it hard. And then I started watching the news, and a question—the first question that always arises when someone's about to be sworn in—kept popping up: What would happen in the first 100 days of the new administration?
First coined in the 1930s by Franklin D. Roosevelt (though he was referring to the first 100 days of Congress, not his presidency), this measurement has become a way to initially evaluate what's to come. So, on January 20, the day Trump was to officially become the 45th president of the United States, I began a road trip across the country. During the 100 days I would be on the road, I hoped to figure out how the polls and the media got it all wrong. I wanted to talk to Americans—take their portraits—and find out how and why they voted.
Without a set itinerary, I began in Washington, DC, and drove around the nation, letting the news and weather dictate my journey. I first headed south to Palm Beach, Florida, and then made my way west, traveling along the border in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, to see where Trump proposed building the wall. I got as far as Northern California and turned around, going through the Bible and Rust Belts, photographing in 19 states total. I ended my project on the hundredth day, April 29, in Niagara Falls, New York, crossing over the Rainbow Bridge into Canada.
I was surprised to discover that most of the people I met were less optimistic about Trump and more jaded by the political process as a whole. Many lifelong Democrats, I learned, just couldn't vote for Hillary Clinton. (They cited Benghazi, her emails, her exorbitant Wall Street speaker fees.) Republicans, even those who didn't take Trump seriously, couldn't bring themselves to do so either. Others thought the media didn't treat Sanders fairly; more still didn't like the direction the Democratic Party was going and where it continues to head.
It might best be summed up, though, by Daryl Davis, the musician, race-relations crusader, and star of the film Accidental Courtesy: When I photographed him, he compared America to a broken bone that, over the course of history, was never properly set. With Trump as president, the lingering problems of race, inequality, and freedom of expression are bubbling to the surface. "Sometimes the doctor just has to break that bone and reset it again," he said. "That's what needs to happen to America."