‘The people of New Bern liked the fact my ancestor founded their town. But the atmosphere changed when they realised I was there to show reality, not promote a touristy vision’

The guy on the left is Frank Palombo, the former chief of police of New Bern in North Carolina, a town I have spent the last 15 years photographing. In 2006, an organisation called Swiss Roots invited me to document New Bern as part of their mission to promote a positive image of Switzerland – my country – in the US.

They approached me partly because my ancestor is the settler Christopher von Graffenried, who founded New Bern in 1710 after conflict with a Native American tribe known as the Tuscarora. I knew nothing about him and, initially, neither the project nor my family history interested me. But a month later, I changed my mind – it was a chance to find out whether Swiss-held prejudices about George Bush’s America were true.

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