he media has endured plenty of
criticism since the 2016 presidential
election, and one result of its post-
election soul searching has been a renewed
focus on the voices of ordinary people.
Photographers and filmmakers are among the
journalists and documentarians trying to elevate
those voices. The goal is to get a more complete
and nuanced picture of who we are as a nation,
and to better understand our political divides.
Photographer Nancy Andrews, for instance,
has initiated “ 100 Days, 100 Voices” to shed
light on the perspectives of a broad cross section
of Appalachians. Photographer Andrea Bruce
has spearheaded “Our Democracy,” using
photography to help selected communities
around the country engage their notions of
democracy on a local level. And filmmaker
Julie Winokur is expanding “Bring It to the
Table,” a project she started in 2012 to stimulate
constructive conversation about some of the
most divisive political issues.
Andrews launched her “ 100 Days” project
last December in response to mainstream media
election coverage. Focusing almost exclusively
in Appalachia on the plight of coal miners, some
national and international media were calling
the region “Trump Nation.”
“We realized we had the opportunity to shed
insight on a particular narrative,” says Dana
Coester, creative director of media innovation at
WVU’s Reed College of Media, where Andrews
currently works. “We’re trying to pop some
filter bubbles that people inhabit. We felt like
the photo project [“ 100 Days, 100 Voices”] was a
front door for doing that.”
Andrews has been photographing and
interviewing bartenders, convenience store
clerks, activists (on the left and the right),
students, farmers, truck drivers, business
owners, sheriffs—the list goes on. She records
short interviews about the issues that concern
them, and posts edited transcripts of those
interviews with portraits of the subjects on a
“ 100 Days” project site.
“My hope is that if nothing else, people
will hear different voices, and at least [be]
open to listening to other peoples’ opinions,”
Andrews says. (For more about the project,
see “The Many Voices of Appalachia,” in the
May issue of PDN.)
Andrea Bruce, a globetrotting
photojournalist, says she has long questioned
what Americans mean by democracy when
they talk about exporting it to countries she
has covered, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Democracy is something different for
everyone,” she notes.
Shortly after the election, she launched
“Our Democracy” to explore conflicting ideas
of democracy—and political divisions in the
U.S.—the same way she explores conflict in
foreign countries. She plans to travel to selected
communities nationwide and use photography
to initiate dialogue about how people in those
communities perceive and practice democracy.
Bruce is involving mostly high school
students in her project, talking to them about her
work, the role of journalism, and the students’
engagement in their communities. She explains:
“We talk about questions like: What do you like
about your community? What don’t you like?
How would you change it? Can you change it?”
After the discussions, she encourages
students to photograph the things they’ve
talked about for an “Our Democracy”
Instagram feed (@ourdemocracy). Bruce also
posts flyers to solicit pictures for the feed from
locals who want to express their ideas about
democracy. To get community conversation
going, she is asking local organizations and
institutions to help fund and exhibit the
photographs. Bruce hopes to turn the project
into a traveling exhibition and book.
Bruce and Andrews are pushing the
boundaries of journalism with their projects.
And Bruce says she quickly realized her project
“isn’t always reportage” because participants
often submit aspirational photographs, and
omit information that’s negative about their
BELO W LEF T, BELO W RIGH T AND OPPOSI TE: For her 2012 documentary “Bring It to the Table,” Julie Winokur asked subjects around the U.S. about their political views. Subjects
included Tyko Kihlstedt, opposite, in New York City; Sarah Longwell, below, at the Republican National Convention; and Kemi Bello, right, at the Democratic National
Convention.Since the 2016 election, Winokur has been bringing the film to campuses as a way to generate dialogue.
ABOVE: In addition to working on “ 100 Days, 100
Voices,” Nancy Andrews and WVU Photo Corps
have made portraits in Appalachian communities,
producing images for the subjects to keep. In White
Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, they photographed
at the Vietnam Veterans Association Car Show.
CIVIC DIALOGUE THROUGH
PHOTOGRAPHY AND FILM
Photographers and filmmakers respond to deep political divides in the U.S.
by using the voices of ordinary people to stimulate community conversation
and increase mutual understanding. BY DAVID WALKER