A photography book by David Butow
In October 2020, shortly before the presidential election, I began collaborating with photojournalist David Butow on a body of work he started during the 2016 presidential campaign cycle and eventually moved from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to complete. Even with so much yet to be determined in the election cycle, it was clear the value of the image archive he was building.
"I’d always photographed there with the idea of the pictures having a long shelf-life, thinking deliberately about how people in the future might see them in a historical context," Butow said in a PhotoShelter interview. After January 6, 2021, he felt confident producing a book was the way to proceed. "The events were just too important not to try to make sense of them in long form."
The culmination of Butow's five-year body of work is "BRINK," a photography book chronicling politics in the United States during the Trump presidency, the turmoil of 2020, and the insurrection and its aftermath at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. Two solo exhibitions of the work were also produced - at U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and Rochester Institute of Technology's City Art Space.
With COVID still limiting travel, David and I had many long Zoom conversations where he shared his approach to making images during this period. As an editor and project collaborator, my goal was to accurately represent his narrative vision in the edits and inDesign mock-ups I created, while also maintaining my perspective. With each draft, we refined the edit, sequencing, and layout. Olivier Picard, an amazing picture editor, offered a fresh perspective and several elegant suggestions that polished the structural approach and helped solidify the working draft.
The visual narrative is presented in three ‘acts’ to highlight the histrionic sequence of events. Act I begins with photographs made shortly before the 2016 presidential election, focusing on ordinary Americans in battleground states in the U.S. Midwest. Act II moves to Washington, D.C., capturing the chaotic political atmosphere with scenes from the White House, as well as Capitol Hill with scenes of the Comey, Mueller, and impeachment hearings. Act III begins in 2020 and shows the nearly unfathomable trifecta of the COVID-19 crisis reaching the halls of power, George Floyd protests at the gates of the White House, and finally, the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Contributor Mark McKinnon writes in the foreword, “David was on the front lines of this unprecedented era and has produced an archive of unflinching, often shocking evidence of the period we all lived through but often find difficult to remember or believe.”
Photographer - David Butow
Editors - David Butow
Contributors - Mark McKinnon
Cecilia Emma Sottilotta, Ph.D.
Publisher - Punctum Press, 2021
National Press Photographer's Association
Punctum Press, 2021
ISBN-10 : 889541036X
ISBN-13 : 978-8895410364
“Brink” will go down as an essential photographic document of a most unusual time in U.S. politics.
The 2022 exhibition at RIT's CITY Art Space
Initial planning for the solo exhibition of David Butow's BRINK work at City Art Space in Rochester, N.Y., began in May 2021 and culminated with the opening on February 4, 2022.
I worked collaboratively with David to plan and curate the exhibit with the City Art Space's large and flexible space in mind. Our goal was to create a unique experience that would be more than a replication of the book content.
The show featured 20x30, 32x48, and 48x72 inkjet prints. We utilized movable gallery walls to create an interior room for the January 6 images, which featured a 12'x8' image from the U.S. Capitol. "We're sort of forcing a viewer into a space to be confronted with practically life-size images that I hope will give a sense of my experience that day—very crowded, chaotic, and claustrophobic,” said David.
Finally, we displayed a short, slow-motion B&W video staggered on two large gallery walls. The video, featuring scenes David captured from the U.S. Capitol and the White House, served as a tone poem to provide texture to the still images in the exhibition.
Photographer - David Butow
Curation - Jenn Poggi
Venue - RIT City Art Space
Printing - Imaging Systems Labs, RIT