CNN — “I never really paid attention to politics before the 2016 election,” confided Japanese photographer Fumi Nagasaka over video call. Nagasaka moved to New York in 2002, witnessing two Obama wins before Trump’s divisive election victory seven years ago. “When it happened I just thought, ‘Okay, this country is falling apart’. Everybody started to be angry.”

Nagasaka’s concern then was about her practice: Leaving Japan for the United States had provided her with a sense of freedom to explore creative pathways she felt were otherwise limited. “In the US, it didn’t seem to matter what kind of education you had, as long you had talent and knowledge you had opportunities,” she said. In the aughts she began shooting American street style photography for a Japanese magazine, which would ultimately shape her more personal, culture-focused work. “I wasn’t confident with my English, but photography became a tool for me to meet people,” she explained.

Harnessing this sentiment, Nagasaka subsequently undertook a series of long-term projects examining adolescence across America, Japan, Canada and Europe, publishing the books “Untitled Youth” in 2016, “Teenage Riot” two years later, and in 2022, “Marching Wolves”. In 2017, incentivised by the election result and curious to rectify her unfamiliarity with the American South, she made the first of many trips that would become her new monograph, “Dora, Yerkwood, Walker County, Alabama.”

Travelling to Dora, a town of approximately 2,300 people, with her New York neighbor Tanya Rouse (a native of Alabama, her daughter had been one of Nagasaka’s earlier subjects), the photographer quickly became privy to the contrasts between New York City and the social and physical characteristics of the wider country. “I’d been to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but I’d never really been to a small rural town,” she recalled.

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