Shawn Bush’s new book explores topics of power and masculinity in America

Titled Between Gods and Animals, the book features Shawn’s own imagery plus an apt pairing of archival imagery shot between 1920 to early 1970s.

11 March 2022

“As gender roles and power structures begin to shift further and further away from their fabricated but very real empire, this work is a timely investigation into the fear and discontent found in the nation of straight white men that I am undoubtedly a part of,” writes Shawn Bush on the topic of his latest book, Between Gods and Animals, published by Void.

For the last decade, Shawn has been lensing Western systems of authority, perceived through the notion of masculinity and what this means in a modern context. The result is a collection of imagery shot with a large format camera in cities such as Wyoming, USA, and paired alongside archival imagery of propaganda photographers from 1920 to the early 1970s. A complimentary juxtaposition, the work “highlights structures that have historically used their positions to assume supremacy over others, which, in general or in the context of the book, is straight white American men,” Shawn tells It’s Nice That. “I aim to tell the story of my grandfather, father and myself. A narrative that suggests both complacency and discontent with the role we play in those structures, along with the effects of internalising such a history.”


Shawn Bush: Between Gods and Animals (Copyright © Shawn Bush, 2022)

Shawn grew up in Metro Detroit, a location also known as the Motor City, and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and Columbia College Chicago. Presently, he resides in Casper, which takes the title of the Oil City – he teaches photography at Casper College and runs an independent publishing platform named Dais Books. Photography has long been a passion of Shawn’s, which materialised through videography and skateboarding in his younger years. One day Paul D’Amato, an undergraduate professor of his, showed him how to use the camera as a tool for recording, exploring and social commentary, “which felt very analogous to searching for spots and skateboarding a youth”. Drawn in by the medium, Shawn thereon decided to utilise his camera to tell narratives of authority.

The pairing of archival imagery was a decision he’d been thinking about for the past four to five years, and within this time frame, he accrued a vast collection of negatives and prints. It wasn’t until piecing the book together that he was able to make sense of it all, deciphering how to respond to these works with his own visual language. “As more responsive images were made, the more opportunities I had to incorporate those images and the actual archival images into the world,” he notes. This duality is what he describes as the “glue” that connects two periods, defined by “liberation and fear within the straight white male community”. It also intentionally confused the viewer in terms of authorship; they each share similar flash-lit monochromatic tones; the poses are candid and dynamic; and objects and landscapes are cropped to allude to the more abstract and conceptual part of the story.

One of which is a photo of a seized ATM, taken for its abstract depiction of the machine – Shawn only shows the bottom side of it. Photographed at the Dick Cheney Federal Building, Shawn was escorted out after taking the shot; a few days later he returned with his educator credentials and was allowed in for 30 minutes. Another picture depicts a diptych of a Justin Bieber impersonator, taken at a time when Shawn was enamoured with American iconography. “I enjoy how the flash calls attention to the disparity between real and faux markings on the skin while still maintaining the illusion of reality,” he says. A creative and visceral exploration, Between Gods and Animals has a clear mission in mind: “I want viewers to come away with a different comprehension of what American male whiteness looks like, how it is internalised and performed, and spotlight the web of influences and systems which support the same framework.”

GalleryShawn Bush: Between Gods and Animals (Copyright © Shawn Bush, 2022)

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Shawn Bush: Between Gods and Animals (Copyright © Shawn Bush, 2022)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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