Two people in Texas in the mid-2000s, photography by Edward Thompson
All photos: Edward Thompson

Photos Capturing a Pre-Obama and Pre-Trump Texas

British photographer Edward Thompson rode Greyhound buses for 48 hours to capture rural America back in the late 2000s.

“How many American movies had I seen by the time I got to Texas? Thousands,” says British photographer Edward Thompson, recalling how much of his relationship to the country had been strictly visual, long before he arrived. He'd been to New York a few times to visit his late father, but Texas was a different world. And it was his interest in cinema that really kickstarted his fascination with the Lone Star State to begin with.

“It was a surreal experience,” he adds. “Because so much of the language, the lexicon, the iconography… I knew it.” After travelling to Texas in his mid-20s, Thompson spent 2006 and 2007 photographing his surroundings. This body of work would eventually become The Texas Hill Country, a new book he’s recently crowdfunded on Kickstarter. 


Shot in pre-Obama, pre-financial crash Texas, Thompson's photographs seek to subvert reality, inspired by his heroes Diane Arbus and Joel Sternfeld. He documents roadside diner signs, Veterans Day celebrations and derelict houses – each photograph bringing the surrealism of pedestrian settings right to the surface. Some of his photos are strangely foretelling. In one, he captures a truck covered in homemade signs that speak to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the Trump administration that would follow a decade later.

Now, 15 years on in his career, Thompson has received a Sony World Photography Award, lectured at the V&A museum and self-published a number of personal projects, such as 2012’s Occupy London and In-A-Gadda-Da-England, which came out earlier this year. “My last book was very much about what fuelled Brexit – the weaponising of nostalgia, austerity and class,” he says. “And with this book, it was like, ‘when I saw that truck…’”

Here’s what Thompson had to say when we spoke with him.

VICE: What initially inspired you to travel to America, and the South specifically?
Edward Thompson:
When I was studying we were shown lots of conceptual photography, but I stumbled across a Diane Arbus book and it blew my mind. I've always been a fan of film, and it was so incredibly surreal and cinematic, her work, yet it was documentary. That drew me onto Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects. I fell in love with these two American photographers, and then friends of my family were in Texas, so I had an invite. I knew if I could get there, I had a place to stay. 

A three-legged cat in Texas in the mid-2000s.

Photo: Edward Thompson

And how did the first trip come about in 2006?
There was a master's degree at LCC [London College of Communication], taught by Paul Lowe. I wasn't ready, but my friend did it, so I found out what the projects were [before starting]. There was this big project, so I said “Fuck it, I'm going to start now.” It was my version of “the European photographer goes to America”, which we've seen time and again. But that was my shot, my first last chance.

I got to Texas in 2006, but I wasn't really equipped to work as a photojournalist. I went back in 2007. I couldn't afford a direct flight so I took 48 hours of Greyhound buses nonstop from New York, which was a nightmare. But I read Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which helped me keep my shit together. I got a distinction for the work, but this was in-between other life stuff, and it just sat in a box in various houses.

You shot for three months over the space of two years. How did your perspective of the place change? 
It wasn't like in my head – oil wells and cowboys. It was much more hills and grassland. Just a massive landscape. Going there was a weird paradigm shift – it’s cinematic but slightly dangerous, because everyone's got guns.

[At university] we had to do risk assessments and I was like, “Dude, I'm only going to America” but my tutor was like “Ed, where you're going there's more guns than anywhere else.” I was so naïve, but I think naivety is quite a powerful tool, and maybe I wouldn't have got the photos I did.

Cars as part of a veteran's parade in Texas in the mid-2000s.

Photo: Edward Thompson

Can you speak on your experience, photographing as an outsider?
I learned how I work as a photographer. There was a woman who lost her mother, she was upset and all these women gave her this massive hug. I was on a balcony and could have got this amazing shot, but it didn't feel right. The next trip I saw her and I got some amazing shots on her ranch. So I got good at reading a moment, where it's wide enough or it's an event and people expect photographers.

On the street I’d to talk to people because I wanted to have a nice moment – if you pull over a stranger who's not used to being photographed, they jam up, you'll see it in their face, they're awkward. The main thing I had going for me is I’m enthusiastic and chatty. People quickly realised I was English too, which sometimes helped, sometimes didn't. 

You were shooting during the George Bush administration, just as Obama announced his presidential run and the financial crash occurred. How politically engaged were you at the time? 
That was a massive pull factor, I mean George Bush's Western White House was in Texan Hill Country. I went to this gun show once and saw this truck with handmade signs: “Rome was destroyed by liberals, illegal aliens and terrorists” and “No amnesty for illegals”. Then walking around the show there's one guy buying the rifle he used in Vietnam – my only two shots that day. I see him in another town and it was only his truck.


It was 2006, the year Twitter was invented, but his truck was his Twitter. When I saw that truck at the time I was like, “Huh, that’s a funny guy” then Trump’s elected and you’re like, “Wow, there's a lot of guys.” There was a wave when Obama was president, I’d look at the work and think, “Oh, history.” But with the rise of the right around the world since, it's not history. 

The Texas Hill Country is now available to pre-order here

A ripped United States flag photographed in Texas in the mid-2000s.

Photo: Edward Thompson

Larry, photographed on his front porch in Texas in the mid-2000s.

Photo: Edward Thompson

An abandoned farmhouse in Texas in the mid-2000s

Photo: Edward Thompson

A veteran's day parade in Texas in the mid-2000s

Photo: Edward Thompson

A “Try some roadkill” sign in Texas in the mid-2000s

Photo: Edward Thompson

Two people in Texas in the mid-2000s, photographer by Edward Thompson

Photo: Edward Thompson

A soap playing on the TV in Texas in the mid-2000s

Photo: Edward Thompson