A night of division brings unity

Photographers join together to document the US elections for Refinery29

While an estimated 71 million people tuned in to watch the United States election results — making it the most watched in cable news history — many thousands more were also attentively watching the results around the world. From Senegal and Thailand to Brazil and the Bronx, 9 female photographers from The Everyday Projects documented people’s reactions as the votes were tallied. The collaboration was part of a larger project, created by Refinery29, that featured the work of more than 20 photographers.

While many news outlets amalgamated photos from wire agencies from all around the globe, what made Refinery29’s approach unique was an emphasis on wanting a crude, raw and even personal approach to the project.

“I just wanted to reflect the viscerality of the whole night [and] just capture life as it’s unrolling in time,” said Amanda Gorence, who is Refinery29’s photo editor for politics, news and global stories. The gallery was updated in real time as images were submitted.

“My father, Ray Santos, first voted in a presidential election at the age of 23 in 1952 for Democrat candidate Adlai Stevenson. Today, at the age of 87, he voted Democrat again for Hillary Rodham Clinton at PS 195 in Bronx, New York. ‘As long as I am alive, I will exercise my right to vote. It is the only voice I have…it is the only way of expressing yourself in a way that counts,’ he said. “Earlier today, while photographing my father outside his designated polling place as part of my long-term project on his musical career and life, the police were called on me. I was stunned by how incredibly rude and unprofessional the poll worker was toward me and my father. Like a true gentleman, he tried to deescalate the situation with no success. We endured the unpleasant ordeal and proceeded to go and vote. We left the polling site with a lot less enthusiasm than when we had before arriving. As we walked to the car my father told me, ‘Forget about it, just concentrate on positive things.’” Photo by Rhynna Santos from the Refinery29 gallery.

Many photographers took a personal approach. Browsing through the gallery, you see pictures of family members inside their homes or friends at watch parties. Rhynna Santos, founder of Everyday Bronx, took pictures of her father — an accomplished Puerto Rican jazz musician — throughout election day as part of her long-term project about him. In the caption, Rhynna shares her story of a poll worker calling the police to come outside the polling station because she was taking pictures of her father in line.

“I think what was really striking was the captions and the words…hearing the backstory to these images was really incredible, and they just informed each other,” said Amanda, who mentioned one image in particular, a black-and-white portrait of a veteran in Brooklyn, New York, photographed by Nate Bajar.

The caption reads: “Harold C. Davis, after casting his vote at PS 26 Jesse Owens. He tells me, ‘I wear this hat with pride, and I hope I didn’t fight for a country that supports bigotry.’”

Some photographers took a more abstract approach, photographing shadows of faces or objects that reflected the election, such as Ana María Buitrón’s photo of toilet paper emblazoned with Trump’s face or María Magdalena’s image of a crumpled newspaper on the beach.

Left: “Toilet paper in a bar where many Americans living or traveling in Quito watched election results.” Photo by Ana María Buitrón from the Refinery29 gallery. Right: “Lying on the ground of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, local newspaper Destakfeatures a headline reading, “Hate hits the ballots” on a torn front page.” Photo by María Magdalena from the Refinery29 gallery.

“The biggest surprise for me shooting on election night was in talking to people on the streets of Rio, hearing how much the US elections were compared to recent elections for mayor…and political chaos and polarization in Brazil. People are extremely tired of and appalled by the political situation in the US as in Brazil. One person described the situation [as] ‘it’s like a monster has been unleashed,’” said María.

“Her image of the paper on the beach, it’s so suggestive, it’s so poignant about where we’ve found ourselves. There’s just a really beautiful range of how everyone interpreted this assignment, and I think it went from literal and visceral documentation to more abstract introspective images that really captured the weight of this,” said Amanda.

“Fatou Bintu Sarr, pictured, who recently graduated with a Master’s in entomology, says she supports Hillary Clinton, and poses with a cardboard cutout of the Democrat nominee. “Like Beyoncé said, ‘It’s time for women to rule the world.’ Why not give women the opportunity to manage the world? Maybe Senegal will have a female president, and maybe it will be me!” said Sarr, who attended an event hosted by the U.S. Embassy where people learned about the electoral college and other aspects of U.S. elections and democracy.” Photo by Ricci Shryock from the Refinery29 gallery.

The group was comprised of both Americans photographing at home and abroad as well as citizens of other countries photographing abroad and in the US. For Ricci Shryock, an Everyday Africa photographer in Senegal, the experience made her more excited. “Being so far from home means I feel a little detached sometimes, and this brought it back a bit,” she said.

Ana, a co-founder of Everyday Ecuador, said even though not many photographers were interested in portraying the evening, she was happy to discover that many Ecuadorians were interested in watching the results. “The general feeling was that people [are] really worried because as Latinos we think that Trump’s decisions could be hard for us,” Ana said.

“The results of this election, either way they go, ripple across the globe. So the intention of [the project] was to include diversity and to see how people are seeing this and experiencing this in other countries. It was a moment for us to do something with a little bit of a twist that would really highlight voices everywhere because, as we know, this election and everything that we do as a country affects the world, and we need to remember that,” said Amanda.

A boy in West Point in Monrovia, Liberia, peers through a window adorned with a U.S. flag. Photo by Yagazie Emezi, a contributor to Everyday Africa, from the Refinery29 gallery.

The Everyday Projects photographers who contributed to the project include: Ana María Buitrón, Lauren DeCicca, María Magdalena, Marie Arago, Rhynna Santos, Ricci Shryock, Tasneem Alsultan, Tina Remiz, Yagazie Emezi and Xyza Cruz Bacani. To view more images, visit the Refinery29 gallery.