I’ve been working on this body of work – Q&A, for a little more than four years now. I usually describe it as an investigation into the visual mores applied when photographing the U.S.A, and an inquiry into the relationship between a place and its own mythos. I’m really excited by the idea that for a significant proportion of people, ‘America’ exists visually as a somewhat abstract concept. The history of the last 60 years of popular culture is, with the odd deviation, the history of American popular culture. As a result, there is this enormous mess of visual tropes which all point to various notions of what the U.S.A. look like; flags, mountains, cars, guns, roads etc. This is at its most effective I think when you realise that this strange quirk of culture has the power to provoke a familiarity for a place without the need to have actually visited it. There is no doubt other places in the world that prompt a similar reaction but none in quite the same way or on the same scale as the visual motifs of America do.
In 2015 I was asked to visit Dagestan for a book project I was working on. As an Asia specialist, the North Caucasus was a region I had never been to before and knew ever less about. Usually, I try to learn as much about a place as much as I can before I visit, through reading books, reports etc… but Dagestan had very little especially outside of Russian language websites. So my arrival at Makhachkala airport was really the beginning of my learning process. Fortunate to be connected to some wonderful local photographers for the next few weeks they showed me their Dagestan, the mountains they loved, the villages they lived and the culture that they adored. As a result, my photographs are really a visual personal discovery, a documentary that started at zero and slowly developed as I slowly learned and explored this new place. I learned about the people and their ways as I began to photograph them.