The inauguration of President Joe Biden happened amid a pandemic and against the backdrop of a violent siege on the U.S. Capitol building a week before. As a result, the swearing in of America’s new Commander in Chief was unlike any other in history.  

NEPM correspondent/photojournalist Barry Goldstein was on the ground in the Capitol to capture the mood leading up to and during the inauguration. The result is Divided: Scenes from Inauguration 2021, a Connecting Point digital-exclusive series. Through documentary photography, portraiture, and interviews, Goldstein conveys the sense of uncertainty — and division — surrounding one of the most important traditions in our Republic.  

Goldstein spoke with Zydalis Bauer about the experience.


Read the full transcript

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The inauguration of President Joe Biden happened amid a pandemic and against the backdrop of a violent siege on the U.S. Capitol building a week beforehand. As a result, the swearing in of America’s new Commander in Chief was unlike any other in history.

New England Public Media correspondent photojournalist Barry Goldstein was on the ground in the Capitol to capture the mood leading up to and during the inauguration. The result is “Divided: Scenes from Inauguration 2021”, a Connecting Point digital exclusive series available online now at NEPM.org. Through documentary photography, portraiture and interviews, Goldstein conveys the sense of uncertainty and division surrounding one of the most important traditions in our republic.

He spoke with me recently about the experience.

Barry Goldstein, NEPM Photojournalist: Well, Zydalis, this was, let’s see, my third inauguration that I’ve covered. And of course, it was very, very different from previous ones, which featured crowds, very festive.

First off, the Capitol was surrounded by the so-called Green Zone with a buffer, perhaps half a mile or so, completely surrounding the Capitol, the Mall, the government buildings. There were relatively few people on the streets. There really wasn’t much to see other than a lot of young National Guard troops.

Zydalis Bauer: From the images that you captured, the crowds that gathered seems overwhelmingly in favor of President Biden. Did you encounter any supporters of former President Trump while you were there?

Barry Goldstein: I did. Once in three days, I saw a group of people — unmasked — who looked like tourists; a group of burly men with high and tight haircuts. And I did stop and ask them if they were here for the inauguration and they said yes. I asked if they would like to be photographed and interviewed and they asked by whom? And I said New England Public Media. And they said “definitely not” and continued on their way. So, I’ll make the assumption that they were not Biden supporters.

But other than that, didn’t see any one who was an overt Trump supporter. And I, and I think every other journalist there, looked hard because, of course, we want to try to get as many points of view as we can.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, let’s talk about the photos, as you just mentioned, because one of the ones that was striking to me was the Mexican artist, Roberto Marquez, who had a piece of artwork that resembled a flag but was missing some stars.

And it was, for him, a commentary on immigration. And he wanted to make people think about there’s things that are lacking. And I think that probably resonates with many of us. Do you have any favorite images from the ones that you captured during the inauguration?

Roberto Marquez. Photo by Barry Goldstein

Barry Goldstein: Visually, the of Roberto is a favorite of mine. What he said resonated with me concerning immigrants, how the presence of immigrants here in the U.S. they’re often invisible, they’re not seen, they’re — in a sense — missing from our society. Hence the missing stars on the flag.

In terms of other favorite images, this is a series of three images. These images sort of personify the whole experience of being an American and what it’s like.

National Guard Troops on the Streets of D.C. Photo by Barry Goldstein

So, a lot of people on the interviews talk about the military presence in D.C. and the sort of threatening atmosphere. And in fact, I lit this photo to sort of emphasize that when I first got there and started talking to the soldiers, I noticed two things. Most of the soldiers did not have weapons. In fact, I photographed these two because they did, and that was fairly unusual. And they were very happy to speak with me. They weren’t allowed to say very much. They could tell me what state they were from, but that was pretty much it.

Performance artist Crackhead Barney. Photo by Barry Goldstein

This is the performance artist, Crackhead Barney, holding a dead rat that she picked up on the street. I like it. It’s very colorful and is probably the antithesis of what most people would think of regarding a photojournalist’s inauguration coverage.

The next image is her doing her thing. And she’s confronting these young guardspeople at one of the Green Zone sites. A couple of points about this.

Performance artist Crackhead Barney engaging National Gaurdspeople in D.C. Photo by Barry Goldstein.

This — not so much this image, but this experience really personified to me what this inauguration was about and what living in this country is about. You had these rather threatening looking soldiers at first glimpse, but on second view, they’re not armed. They’re very young. They’re, of course, all masked. And there’s this very strange person who’s decided to confront them about a number of issues.

Not a bad question, albeit posed by an unusual person. So, that’s part of what being in America is about, the ability to to confront authority, literally in their faces. Secondly, the soldiers, took it. They stood there. You can see this young woman is surprised and trying hard to maintain her composure. But, at no time did they adopt a threatening posture, they simply stood there.

And then, of course, the third part of all this is that there’s a slew of other photographers and journalists surrounding them, recording all of this. And that’s the third part of living in this country, that we’re free to do that.

Zydalis Bauer: So, while you were at the inauguration, you had the opportunity to meet and speak with other journalists from around the world. With their perspective looking from the outside in, what were your thoughts about some of their comments and observations?

Photographer Jez Coulson and The Sunday Times reporter Sarah Baxter. Photo by Barry Goldstein.

Barry Goldstein: They really offered some very interesting and fascinating views, some of them a bit more optimistic than I expected and a few somewhat pessimistic. For example, Sarah Baxter and her photographer husband, Jez Colson, who worked in a number of war zones — Gaza, Bosnia — remarked about how D.C. looked somewhat like a war zone, and how off-putting that was.

But when asked about their take on the events of January 6th and their expectations for the future, Sara mentioned that the checks and balances were challenged, but that they held to the burden.  I think in her words, she said, “America is still America.”

President Joe Biden (background recording): And may God bless America, and may God protect our troops. Thank you, America.