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AMERICA: the last best country

September 13 December 13, 2013
Exhibition Opening Reception, Artist's Talk and Book Signing: September 13, 6:00-8:00pm

Tennessee, September 2002
  “The project, as it stands, weaves an intricate tapestry of life and economics, of love and politics, of war and loss. Its thread is not chronological but emotional and visual, creating an atmosphere that encapsulates the celebration of a country’s pride and the inevitable flaws that are apparent throughout human history”. – Anthony Suau

For over 30 years, award-winning photojournalist Anthony Suau has been at the forefront of documenting many significant political and economic issues, events and conflicts across the globe. In his series, America: the last best country, Suau focuses his attention on the United States during the first decade of the 21st Century. Traveling from coast-to-coast, Suau’s gritty black-and-white images shed light on the people and events that have shaped this nation since the new millennium alongside those that have been left to deal with the repercussions.


At the turn of this century the United States of America was the world’s sole super-power. As the former Soviet bloc countries transitioned from communist to capitalist economies with democratic political systems, America’s economy, politics and culture thrived. Two major events would change that within a decade.

The first event was the election in 2000 of George W. Bush as President of the United States. He and his administration believed that the next century was to be “America’s Century”. This ideology severely divided the country. As a US born citizen living outside of the country for twenty years, I began returning to photograph in January of 2001 starting with the inauguration of the president- elect.

The second event that impacted the country was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC that left 2,973 dead.
The Bush administration immediately led the country and the world in solidarity against terrorism by attacking Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda, the group thought to be responsible for the attacks, housed training camps. Within months the US strategy moved to a preemptive strike against Iraq, fearing international attacks from the government of Saddam Hussein. Following the invasion, no evidence was ever found that Iraq possessed the facilities to strike a neighbor or the United States. However, following the invasion, evidence of torture by American troops of both Iraqi civilians and suspected terrorists being held in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay sent millions around the world and the US onto the streets in protest. Yet President George W. Bush was reelected to a second term of office on the grounds that he was tough on terrorism.

At the onset of his second term, the US’s Gulf Coast was hit by the massive Hurricane Katrina that breached New Orleans' levy system and flooded the majority of the city. Much of the city’s population was displaced and spread throughout the country while the government responded slowly to those caught in the epic disaster.
War in America - Deployment, Columbus, GA, 2007

Yet a larger crisis was looming. For more than a decade US mortgage companies had practiced predatory lending to potential homeowners. Those loans were bundled and sold on Wall Street to investors worldwide.

Rust Belt - Economic Crisis, Flint, Michigan, 2000

By mid-2007 homeowners began defaulting on their loans en masse and banks were unable to finance the collapse. The crisis spread globally and the US Government began to bail out US banks deemed “too big to fail” with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. The US economy went into depression. Shops were shuttered throughout the country and unemployment reached more than 10%. Millions of homeowners were evicted and homes were boarded up and left to decay in many regions of the country. Areas such as Detroit and Cleveland, that had already seen hard times, became wastelands resembling industrial areas in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In certain regions unemployment was over 20%, numbers that rivaled the 1930’s Great Depression. Nevada, as well as central Florida and California, saw neighborhoods turn into miles of foreclosed homes. Adding to this was America’s food system, which had become so corrupt that America had become the most obese nation in human history. This created severe healthcare issues in a social system that left 50 million people without affordable medical coverage.

By 2008, many Americans truly believed that the Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama was the one man who could bring the country back from the political, economic, and social decay that plagued the country. Obama won a landslide election and for a moment, he brought the country together.

But within a year the Obama administration had become politically polarized. The Republicans refused to back the President on any one issue. Numerous attempts at reform fell into political paralysis. Healthcare reform was watered down to appease each party as Americans continued to lose their coverage along with their jobs and homes. In the midst of this, President Obama re-engaged America in the Afghan war believing that it was the right thing to do.

By the end of the decade the United States was politically, morally and financially bankrupt and no longer held the same place on the world stage. Many Americas felt that their country had fallen into political gridlock as they fought daily for financial survival.

For ten years I traveled and photographed America during this decline, a story that I would have thought unimaginable at the turn of the millennium. I have worked tirelessly to place a human face on the powerful events and challenges that have shaped the first decade of “America’s Century.” I have also explored numerous issues such as the border and immigration and the severe impact of the religious right. Often I made road trips just to see what was out there. The project, as it stands, weaves an intricate tapestry of life and economics, of love and politics, of war and loss. Its thread is not chronological but emotional and visual, creating an atmosphere that encapsulates the celebration of a country’s pride and the inevitable flaws that are apparent throughout human history. 


Anthony Suau was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1956 and graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1979.

Between 1979-1985, he was a staff photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Denver Post. In 1984, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his images of famine in Ethiopia.

In 1985, he moved to New York City and began working with photo agency Black Star under the direction of Howard Chapnick. In the same year he received the International Center of Photography Award for "Outstanding Photographer under 30". In 1987, he was named "Magazine Photographer of the Year" by the NPPA Pictures of the Year competition and in 1988, he was awarded the “World Press Photo of the Year" for his work in South Korea.

In 1991, Suau became a contract photographer for TIME magazine and in 1992, left Black Star to distribute his work though separate agencies around the world including VU in Paris, France, Network in Great Britain and Grazia Neri in Italy.

He has since received numerous awards, published three books and exhibited both nationally and internationally at venues such as the Moscow House of Photography and at the City of the Museum of New York. He also directed the full-length feature documentary: Organic Rising - examining the growing popularity of an organic food system throughout the US, and his book AMERICA: the last best country, is due out at the end of the year.

For Anythony Suau’s complete list of accomplishments, click here.

All photographs are Gelatin Silver Prints.

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Inauguration, W. Bush 2001,
Washington, D.C.
Ground Zero, New York, New York,
December 2002
US Economy in crisis. Outside the NY stock exchange, 2008

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