‘This Land’: America’s beauty in photographs

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There is only one flag in Jack Spencer’s photographic portrait of America. It withers under time and the elements, a symbol of bitterness instead of pride. It is at Wounded Knee, the site of the bloody oppression of the Lakota Native Americans over a century ago.

The flag is a reflection of Spencer’s inner state as he started photographing in 2003 for what would become his book, “This Land” (University of Texas Press, 2017). The images started out dark — a reaction to jingoism that saturated the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and before the Iraq War.

But as he continued to work on the project, Spencer connected increasingly with the beauty of the landscapes in front of him. He avoided interstates in favor of back roads. Over 13 years of shooting the project, he covered 80,000 miles.

On occasion, he encountered places where he felt there was no way to do justice to the experience of being there. “You don’t even bother with the camera,” he said. “You’re just completely humbled by how beautiful it is.”

Spencer hopes that his book is a reminder to Americans to take in their surroundings: “You would hope to show people that there’s a quieter America; there’s a more sublime America. People should slow down and take a look.”

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