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Inauguration Day Washington DC Joe Biden Devin Doyle 2021
Photography by Devin Doyle

In Pictures: An Eerie Inauguration Day in Washington DC

Photographer Devin Doyle captures the “stark and austere” atmosphere at this year’s presidential inauguration

Lead ImagePhotography by Devin Doyle

Last week saw the long-awaited inauguration of US President Joe Biden, following four tempestuous years with Donald Trump. In the weeks since the vote, the latter has done whatever he can to stoke political divisions in the country, spreading spurious conspiracy theories about the election’s final result. His compulsive Twitter messaging even managed to spark an attempted coup on January 6, with hundreds of Trump supporters storming Capitol Hill to overturn his defeat. (They came to steal the election, but instead ending up looting laptops, iPads, and a solid oak podium.)

It was a shocking moment which set a menacing scene for the site’s subsequent inauguration. There were swirling rumours that there may be a rowdier response to Biden’s swearing-in, so security was tightened up, with a heavily guarded perimeter and rows of hostile fencing. Photographer Devin Doyle headed to Washington to capture the austere, and eerily quiet, results.

“I showed up in DC late at night before the inauguration. The streets were as deserted as I’d ever seen them. Last time I was here was four years ago for Trump’s inauguration and the women’s march where hundreds of thousands of people walked shoulder to shoulder. All the grand open plazas were walled off with tall security fences and checkpoints. Even with security screening, you could only go so far. The National Guard troops were polite and bored, willing to bullshit if given an opening.

“I didn’t go to DC expecting to make a story, I just wanted to be present in case anything like January 6’s capitol insurrection happened. The day was more or less a bust. There were no crowds, no real gatherings at the perimeter fence. Everyone that was there had flown or driven quite a distance. Two MAGA hats appeared and were immediately swarmed with press: it’s no exaggeration to say 100 photographers were on them. They loved it.

“I saw some performance artists break the security barrier to prance around in the street, but they were quickly smacked down by the secret service. I had a long walk and chat with Edwina, the woman with the American flag, constitution, and Bible. She isn’t political, just thinks we’ve strayed too far from founding principles. We found common ground in talking about just being of service to others. She flew in from California. That image is probably my favourite – we were fighting the wind but in a good light.

“The overall atmosphere was stark and austere compared to election day. I almost expected to see tumbleweeds blowing down the avenue. I think most people stayed away when the images of the fences started circulating in days leading up to the inauguration.

“Surely by design, no maps were published of the pedestrian security perimeters, leaving the uncredentialed press and other lookie-loos searching for the best position for the chopper liftoff, which was rumoured to be at 8am.

“A bunch of us found each other near Lafayette Park (as seen in the image of the man with a hat outside the fence) and we watched on CNN as the helicopter rose up and away from the White House, but we couldn’t really orient ourselves to where it was. Suddenly came the deep thump-thump of rotors coming up H-street and I ran over to change position, just in time for the helicopter to come right overhead, circling Capitol Hill in a big arc to take in the sight for the last time. And then he flew away.”

Follow Devin Doyle on Instagram here.