A Stranger in a Strange Land: The Iowa Caucus by Lars Tunbjörk

Lars Tunbjörk for TIME
Lars Tunbjörk for TIME
Mitt Romney greets crowds of campaign supporters at Competitive Edge in Clive, Iowa the day before the caucus on January 2, 2012.

Lars Tunbjörk is accustomed to seeking out the absurd. And on his first assignment covering U.S. politics, the Swedish photographer, best known for capturing the subtle humor in his native country’s suburban landscapes, didn’t need to look too hard. The frenzy of candidates, crowds and media that accompanied the Republican caucuses earlier this week in Iowa gave Tunbjörk absurdity by the ballotbox-full. This series of revealing and often humorous photos, commissioned to illustrate TIME‘s political coverage in the magazine and online, is a remarkable snapshot of American democracy in action. Tunbjörk often arrived early to watch campaign workers set up and stayed long after the the spectacle ended to capture them breaking down the stages. “The people of Iowa work hard during the process and take it very seriously,” the photographer says.

With a fresh eye, strong flash and unusual compositions, Tunbjörk captured the personality-driven candidacy of Rick Santorum as he prayed before a plate of nachos in Johnston, Iowa, and discovered Mitt Romney’s robotic rhetorical repetition on the trail in Clive and West Des Moines. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann were also photographed, and Tunbjörk shows the full spectrum of the long days both the candidates and Iowans endure, waiting at events and standing out in the cold during the sometimes grueling caucus process. Under the Iowa big-top, the marvels never cease. “Sweden is such a quiet country,” Tunbjörk says. “And this process is such a circus.”

Lars Tunbjörk is a Stockholm-based photographer and represented by Agence Vu in Paris and by the Gun Gallery in Sweden and Paul Amador Gallery in New York. He is the author of Vinter (Steidl, 2007) and his next book, L.A. Office (MACK) will be out this spring.  

Adam Sorensen is an associate editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter at @adamsorensen.

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