FLORIDA 2012 / PHOTOGRAPHS OF A SWING STATE
Over the course of a 2,300 mile, 19 day road trip, Floridians shared their views about their state, their lives and their preference for presidential candidate. This project features a selection of portraits and observations of the urban and political environment through which I travelled.
The issues of the state reflect those of the country as a whole, and the themes constantly covered in the national media and debates are repeated, discussed, condoned or condemned with varying degrees of articulation. There are infinite varieties and interpretations of these key challenges, with one consistency: an enthusiasm for debate and for their voices to be heard. These issues manifest themselves in many ways.
The farmer who has to rely on cheap Latin American labour because he believes “the blacks” earn more money from being on benefits.
A Tea Party member angry at having his taxes spent on abortion, something that goes against his deeply held religious beliefs.
The Cambodian grocery store owners suffering under increased legislation and bureaucracy for small businesses.
In the community of Belle Glade, a town which once thrived on the sugar cane industry before imported labour and new machinery pushed unemployment to 40%, the local prison was able to ignore public protest and build their newest centre within sight of the local primary school.
In Inverness, Shirley Booth’s motel is closed because the Environmental Protection Agency have told her to move her septic tank but she can’t even afford to pay the bills. Along with her almost blind husband, their motto is ‘Do your best… God will do the rest’. They planned to vote for Obama because they didn’t think Romney understood people like them.
A citrus grower in Deleon Springs who, after seeing the documentary 2016: Obama’s America, was convinced that the President is a foreign Muslim not entitled to the role and believes he’s on a mission to bring down America.
The Miami Beach street cleaner from El Salvador who isn’t entitled to vote because of a criminal conviction, and the young tattooist in Tampa who won’t vote because she believes the decision has already been made by corporate America and Washington.
With few exceptions, the people I met were willing to talk about their political views, and often at length. Also evident was the influence and cut-through of the news channels, whose radio stations are played on the streets of The Villages retirement community, and whose rhetoric and insatiable appetite for polls and controversy feeds a national fear and paranoia; “We’re going to end up like Greece”.
The sunshine state, where no-one is more than a few hours from a beautiful beach, and who’s theme parks attract countless holiday makers from around the world nevertheless faces all of America’s most profound contemporary challenges: immigration, an increasingly diverse ideology, unemployment and an uneasy economy. For the Floridians I met, the outcome of the election would make a profound impact on their belief in a country desperately trying to move forward.
These pages are a personal response to my experience of Florida in the build up to the election of November 6th 2012, a collection of portraits and observations of a place divided by political opinion.
TOM GILDON, DECEMBER 2012