History is a dialectic; cyclical, repetitive, an on-again-off-again merry go round of rebellion turning hands with tradition. The horrors of the teens, the roaring of the twenties, the depression of the thirties, the booming forties, the conventional fifties, up until their antithetical sixties. It is at this point in history that we are first introduced to "the high water mark," the mythical line drawn by Hunter S. Thompson, dividing the selfish, defeated seventies from the moral force and freedom of the previous decade.
The sixties, of course, aren't the only high water mark. Every now and again we get a glimpse of a moment when history looks as though it's going to turn the golden corner, as though America will find herself at a point of congruency, a moment where idealism hangs in equipoise with realism.
Post George W. Bush, we had come to expect nothing less. The message of hope resonated through a country ten years stuck in wars that had promised not to end within the lifetime of the youngest generation. Two million people turned up on the National Mall to see Barack Obama inaugurated as the first black president of the United States. No doubt the water had risen again, pushed forward by ordinary people of ordinary stripe dancing steps to an extraordinary harmony.
In retrospect, it seems almost foolish to confuse a majority vote with a national consensus. With the birth of the 21st century a full decade behind us, America finds herself navigating the return swing of the pendulum, sagging down once again from the high water mark towards a lower tide and a longer path to the world we had hoped for in 2008.
I am not a pessimist and I don't mean to lead the viewer to that conclusion. Rather, I am a believer in the long-run, that the collective of high water marks is the measure of a generation, that two steps forward is still greater than one step back. America, of course, is no monolith. She wasn't in 2008 and won't be in 2011. There is a fine line to tread here, a place where a photographer should take caution to avoid the currency of polemics in order to find the purpose for the ebb and flow of the American tide. The people, places, and events contained within this portfolio of images attempt to map our contemporary, national landscape and draw a line on the shore where, once again, the water reached its high point.