Daniel Terna

Daniel Terna (b.1987) is a Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker whose work focuses on family history and inherited trauma, as well as diverse socio-political subjects related to public and private boundaries. In 2020, his work on his family during the quarantine was presented in a solo exhibition at Guertin’s Graphics, Red Hook, New York. Terna’s work has been exhibited in a two-person show at LY, Los Angeles and in select group shows at Jack Barrett, New York (2019), Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York (2018), Baxter St. Camera Club of NY (2015), and the New Wight Biennial, UCLA (2014). His work has also been screened at selected venues, including the Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles (2020), MoMA PS1’s film program in Greater New York, Queens (2016), the New York Film Festival’s Convergence Program (2014), Eyebeam, New York (2013), the Austrian Cultural Forum, New York (2012), and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, MA (2011). Terna was a resident in the Collaborative Fellowship Program at UnionDocs, Brooklyn, and was awarded the Cuts and Burns Residency at Outpost Artist Resources in Ridgewood, NY. His work has been featured in Still Magazine, The New York Times, Dazed, Oxford American, Conveyor Magazine, Aint Bad Magazine, and Slate. Terna graduated with a BA in photography from Bard College and received his MFA from the International Center of Photography-Bard.

2021 Presidential Inauguration

It has been just over a week since The Biden administration took over. It has also been four years since I began photographing protests and gatherings in Washington DC and New York, beginning with Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

During this period, one of the ways in which I sought to settle my anxieties about the direction this country was headed was by taking pictures at Women’s Marches (DC and NYC), J’Ouvert (Brooklyn), the Juggalo March on Washington (DC), the March for Our Lives (DC), the Global Climate March (NYC), and the day Biden was officially declared winner of the election (Brooklyn). Notably absent are pictures from the Black Lives Matter protests that defined the summer of 2020, and I’m dwelling on that. While I attended BLM protests, sometimes with a camera, working as an artist simply wasn’t appropriate in the moment.

In the days leading up to Biden’s Inauguration, my family was nervous about my plans to travel down to DC. The city was on full lockdown following the violent takeover of the Capitol on January 6th. Images on television of fences, checkpoints, and rows of soldiers with tactical gear triggered my father, a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor. Then there was the additional danger of becoming infected with the more contagious Covid-19 variant.

While I had expected to encounter Trump loyalists on my Amtrak train the day before the inauguration, I was surprised to find it nearly empty. When I disembarked at Union Station, I encountered a news crew clustered on the floor by the arched doorways, looking bored and exhausted, like Coachella fans several days in. It was unusually sunny and warm for January, and because there was no traffic, I could hear birds chirping and the faraway hum of distant activity. As I oriented myself amidst all the barricades, soldiers, and journalists, I realized something was missing: civilians. I wandered to a street with a perfect view of the Capitol, where a solitary black man on a camping chair played Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (“every little thing’s…gonna be alright…”) from a portable speaker. Three photojournalists, two crouching, one perched on a ladder, pointed their cameras at him, framing him in the foreground of the Capitol. Reporters speaking a variety of languages stood in front of cameras on tripods, portable lights illuminating their faces. Some spoke with smiles, some more gravely, and they paused and nodded as they listened to their colleagues on the other ends of their earpieces. Military trucks were parked evenly across the intersections, and as newly arrived photojournalists encountered the soldiers for the first time, they reacted as if they were in an active war zone, crouching and snapping away. But just as the soldiers had resigned themselves over the week to being constantly photographed, the photojournalists too grew bored of seeing the same symbols of military power over and over again.

Walking slowly down the middle of the empty streets reminded me of being in New York in late March and early April, at the height of the pandemic, when traffic eerily disappeared. Here in DC, many businesses and government buildings were boarded up with plywood, reminiscent of downtown Manhattan following the looting that took place in early June. Various types of photographers were present — there were the Magnum types with leather jackets, bandanas, and Leicas; the hardcore journos with three or four long-lensed cameras bouncing against their hips and press passes dangling around their necks; the hipster Vice Magazine types, who had traded in their thick framed glasses for clunky Gen-Z shoes and gathered footage by waving around Go-Pro cameras affixed to long sticks.

While I photographed the window display of a gift shop filled with Biden merch (Trump and Pence stuff was on clearance sale), two photographers came up behind me to wait their turn for the same shot. I watched two men speaking Italian lazily pass me on Jump rental bikes, one holding a video camera and the other a microphone. They made their way to a lone pedestrian wearing an American flag face mask and began interviewing him. A few minutes later I found my own Jump bike a few blocks away. As the sun was setting, a column of National Guard troops marched down a slope to some idling tour buses. As they waited to board, a small group of photographers, myself included, got close enough to register the differences in their ages, genders, and gear. Up close, these masked faces looked so unimposing and vulnerable.

I woke up early the next day and began live-streaming CNN from my laptop. From the living room of my friend’s vacant apartment, I saw Trump board Marine One and leave the White House for the last time. At the previous inauguration, in 2017, I remember standing in the National Mall amongst Trump supporters, watching Obama’s helicopter fly away over the skyline. I stuffed granola bars and a turkey sandwich into my jacket pockets, and ran out the door.

I took the Metro to Foggy Bottom, as close to the National Mall as I could get, found a bike with my new app, and zig-zagged my way to a checkpoint near the Washington Monument, occupied by the TSA, Secret Service, National Guard, and DC police. I was breathing heavily and fumbling with my headphones as I walked up to the bag check. A TSA agent calmly checked all my gear and examined my turkey sandwich. “Still shooting film, eh?” one of them said about the rolls of film in my pouch (they always say this). When I made it through to the other side, I felt as if I had conned my way into some underground party.

Tall, impenetrable, temporary fences surrounded the perimeter of the National Mall. I walked along it, peeking through at the soldiers across the street, who stood at even intervals apart. I felt a kind of high, lingering on this border under the countless watchful eyes of silent sentries, who melded into the urban environment like the street signs and trees. Down the Mall at the Capitol, the ceremony had begun, but as there were no jumbotrons, I could only guess at who was speaking. I was the only non-military person on Constitution Avenue aside from a solitary spectator leaning against a concrete barrier. I approached him and we acknowledged each other as if we were on a hiking trail in the middle of Antarctica. “Pretty weird, huh?” I said. He shook his head in disbelief —“Were you here for Obama’s? There were so many people you couldn’t—move—an inch.” I nodded and squinted from the sun.

Twitter notified me that a small crowd was assembling at Black Lives Matter Plaza. I headed over, passing through two more checkpoints on the way in. An organizer in an olive-green army jacket with a cigarette dangling from her mouth futzed around with a speaker system; a black man in a leather jacket covered in spikey studs danced with a white Jesus guy; BLM and FUCK TRUMP flags fluttered. The hodgepodge of demonstrators with their individual agendas and messages stood loosely apart like vendors at an industry conference, as reporters and photojournalists took turns interviewing and photographing them. A journalist approached three young women with “Biden” face masks. “Oh my god I love your masks,” she said enthusiastically, raising her camera and motioning for them to squeeze together. “Can I please take your photo?” Snow flurries began floating through the air.

I wandered off and bumped into an old grad school classmate and her photojournalist friend. I had sat with them on the way in from New York. The friend, a freelancer for the New York Post, had been at the Capitol on January 6th, and was coming back this time with a helmet and gas mask. On our train car, I watched her check her gear and format her cards. She seemed prepared for the worst. When we got off the train and saw how quiet the city was, I heard her mutter, “This looks like it will be one long exercise in still-life.” I was curious to see what she was finding today.

“Not much,” she said, visibly disappointed. The three of us stood at the top of a gradual incline and peered down towards the Mall. “Maybe this is a good spot to catch the motorcade drive by,” she mused, turning the focus ring on her long lens. We examined a map of DC in satellite mode on my phone. “Is that the building we’re looking at up ahead?” I asked, pointing at the screen. My friend said “Hmm, wait, turn the phone the other way.” Disoriented but at ease, we grew quiet, basking in the crisp light. I dug my lunch out of my coat pocket. “Turkey sandwich?” my grad school friend asked.

The photojournalist began streaming the swearing-in ceremony and we huddled around her phone. My apprehension about any danger long gone, I began feeling excited, like waiting for midnight on New Year’s Eve. When Biden held up his right hand and uttered the words “So help me God,” I pulled down my mask and let out a long cheer that echoed down the canyon of buildings. I didn’t hear any other cheers. This couldn’t have been what the founders meant by a peaceful transition of power, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances. I screamed again, louder this time. – Daniel Terna, Jan. 28, 2021

To view more of Daniel Terna’s work please visit his website.