In 1955, the Swiss photographer Robert Frank crisscrossed America, creating the now iconic work, The Americans, which drew the controversial picture of an imperfect country. Sixty years later, another young photographer hailing from Switzerland, Cédric von Niederhäusern, has followed Frank’s steps to see America and its politics. His goal is simple: to understand how America has become so divided as it elects its next president.
Von Niederhäusern started photographing politics in America in Amarillo, Texas, last year. “That was the first time I was in contact with politics,” says the New York-based photographer, who began his career in his native Switzerland, but was always fascinated by U.S. democratic system. “I sensed a huge polarization going on from the outside but I didn’t understand till I came to Amarillo and I saw that there is a big gap between Republicans and Democrats and people don’t talk to each other.”
For von Niederhäusern, this polarization is at the center of the problem. “Left and right, there are few places where people can come together to discuss on a rational level,” he says. “It’s so dramatized and it’s polarizing people even more.” And while von Niederhäusern has been covering the presidential campaign, it’s not his focus. Instead, he says, he’s interested in seeing how politicians’ decisions and actions are affecting the voters.
To achieve that, the Swiss photographer has chosen a more symbolic approach. “I’m there, I’m feeling a moment and I try to put that in my pictures,” he says. “Photography is like an empathy trigger and I love the magic of how it can communicate emotion to people on the opposite side of the planet.” His pictures often show the fringe of the events he’s covering – with the candidates often relegated to the background or, even, completely blurred. “I’m a very quiet person,” he says. “I like the quiet moments when people are off guard and self reflective.”
Cédric von Niederhäusern is a recent graduate of ICP’s Visual Journalism and Documentary program.
Natalie Matutschovsky, who edited this photo essay, is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME.