Commentary on the Apocalypse

Commentary on the Apocalypse

Joseph Rushmore, 2023 Finalist

“Commentary on the Apocalypse,” is a project about American myths, societal collapse and the twisting of reality when apocalyptic fantasy hits against reality. Oklahoma and Tulsa are the center of this project due to their nature as a crossroads of broken treaties, Indigenous genocide, white supremacist violence against Black communities and the rise of the modern evangelical right. The project uses Rushmore’s black-and-white photos and archival images to document the ills that were brought upon America hundreds of years ago and are still with us today.

The sun rises over a mass grave in Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is thought to hold victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. In 2018 the city of Tulsa announced they would begin the search for the long rumored mass graves and the controversial investigation has now entered its fifth year. After the most recent excavation it was announced that a total of 66 bodies have been found. More excavations are expected in the coming years. Tulsa, Oklahoma. November 2, 2022.

Michael Protzman, aka: Negative 48, the leader of a doomsday cult whose beliefs draw heavily from QAnon and Apocalyptic Christianity, stands amongst his followers, many of them have left their families and loved ones to follow him. They have gathered at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas where they wait for ‘The Event,’ which is when they believe JFK will reappear and reveal to the world that Donald Trump is the second coming of Christ and that this will begin the Rapture. Dallas, TX. June 10, 2022.

A church group gathers for a ‘celebration’ at a Planned Parenthood in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the days after Oklahoma enacted a full abortion ban over a month before the Dobbs Decision would take effect. Tulsa, OK, June 4, 2022.

A protestor is silhouetted in a cloud of tear gas during protests in the summer following the murder of George Floyd. Portland, Oregon. June 29, 2020

A photo from the Oklahoma Historical Society depicts members of the Ku Klux Klan marching through the streets of Tulsa along a route where Trump rally goers would gather in 2020. Tulsa, OK. September 21, 1923.

A line of riot police stand behind a newspaper stand with the words ‘Dead Cops’ spray painted in graffiti on it during a protest following the acquittal of multiple officers in the death of Breonna Taylor. Portland, Oregon. September 23, 2020.

A couple dances at a gala in the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the 1920’s the Mayo housed the main office for the Oklahoma chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Tulsa, Oklahoma. April 13, 2018.

Branjae, a Tulsa musician, dances during a hip hop show at the Skyline Mansion. The mansion was built in the early 1900’s by W. Tate Brady, a prominent member of early Tulsa society. In recent years it was discovered that Brady was also an active Klan member and took part in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre before dying by suicide in the mansion in 1924. In 2016 Felix Jones purchased the mansion and since then it has become home to an active Tulsa hip hop music scene. Tulsa, Oklahoma. February 29, 2020.

A man takes part in an Indigenous led ceremony meant as a spiritual companion to the Standing Rock camp. Tulsa, Oklahoma. November 9, 2016.

A sign for an abandoned church reads ‘Waiting for Him.’ Rural eastern Oklahoma. May 28, 2019.

Jesse, a houseless individual, holds his rosary to the sky on the banks of the Arkansas River. Tulsa, Oklahoma. March 4, 2022.

Justin, a houseless individual, walks through the dried up Arkansas River, in the dying light he told me, “They’ve disturbed the river and I think that is probably the reason I’ve been feeling bad lately is that they unleashed a lot of things they probably should have left alone. I’m Apache, from the southwest and it's always dry out there, but I’ve never seen anything like this. I don't know if you believe in good and evil, but it's out here.” Tulsa, Oklahoma;.March 4, 2022

A man holds his hands over his head in an expression of emotion during Sunday services at Transformation Church, a congregation that follows the ‘prosperity gospel.’ Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 9, 2021.

My mother walks through the woods on the farm that has been passed down through generations of my family along the Arkansas River in rural Oklahoma. Haskell, Oklahoma. February 5, 2022.

A man reaches his hands to the floor while taking part in praise and worship during Sunday services at Transformation Church, a congregation that follows the ‘prosperity gospel.’ Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 9, 2021.

A woman in tears during Sunday services at Transformation Church, a congregation that follows the ‘prosperity gospel.’ Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 9, 2021.

Tens of thousands of Trump supporters surround the Capitol building during the attempted disruption of the presidential election. Washington D.C. January 6, 2021.

A photo from the Oklahoma Historical Society depicts a man walking in front of a burning house in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. On the night of May 31st and the day of June 1st up to 300 Black Tulsans were murdered by white mobs and 36 city blocks were burned to the ground. Tulsa, Oklahoma. June 1, 1921

During a protest against police following the murder of George Floyd, activists claimed a woman walked out of this house giving the Sig Heil salute before they attacked the home, breaking windows and spray painting ‘A Nazi Lives Here,’ after which the woman came outside with a bat in an attempt to defend her house. Eventually the situation was deescalated. Portland, Oregon. August 6, 2020.

A person runs towards a burning car outside the Third Precinct in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the third night of protests after George Floyd was murdered by police. That night protestors laid siege to and eventually overran the Third Precinct police station. Minneapolis, Minnesota. May 28, 2020.

My partner walks through the backyard of our house as the first thunderstorm of the coming Spring season hits. Tulsa, Oklahoma. March 17, 2021

A woman walks up the stairs of a home in the Greenwood neighborhood. Tulsa, Oklahoma. November 6, 2019.

Photographer's Statement: 

Using original black and white photographs along with archival images, the narrative moves freely between current events and those of the past, interweaving the personal and communal, treating the last several years, not as anomalous events, but as connected in a long historical line. Weaving quiet abstractions, landscapes and pictures of everyday life in Oklahoma with raw images of violence and destruction we enter a world connected not through traditional narrative, but through a roiling collective emotional state. These photographs act not so much as a work documenting the past, but rather, as one providing indicators of what is to come as the United States bends ever closer towards collapse.

This work is tied directly to both 1492 and 1619 as it is an examination of the ills that were released upon this land hundreds of years ago and are still with us today. My goal is to find and understand how those ills are perpetuated in our current society. The tree of white supremacy has long grown in Oklahoma and I trace out from here to document where the roots are taking hold in other parts of the country.

This is not a project in the traditional sense as there is no end point for it, it is a lifelong pursuit. I explore the contemporary incarnations of these social ills while still photographing daily life, my family and friends, and using archival work to make connections between the photos I am making now to the events of the past.

JosephRushmore's picture

Joseph Rushmore (b. 1984) is a documentary photographer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was born in Tulsa and grew up in the southern Oklahoma town of Ada before living in Texas, California and Louisiana for times working various forms of manual labor jobs, his education ended when he graduated highschool. In 2016 he left the cement plant he was working at and moved to Tulsa to begin making photographs full time. He has spent time covering social unrest, natural disasters, issues of Native sovereignty, civil rights uprisings and the fringes of the far right and religious extremist world. His work has been featured in The New York Times, New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, Der Spiegel, Stern Magazine, Washington Post and many others. In 2021 he had a solo show in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is preparing for a group show at the Oklahoma City Museum of Contemporary art next summer. He has published zines through Nighted Life and Walls Divide Publishing and is currently finishing a book of photos spanning the past twenty years.