Each week, we bring you the backstory of work featured in our collection, written by a member of our curatorial team.
by Poppy Simpson, Head of Curation
Today we are excited to launch Meural’s first documentary photography commission, Battleground. The concept was simple: since 2004, 12 states have remained competitive in the presidential elections—up for grabs by either the Democratic or Republican parties—and we enlisted the help of 12 locally-based photographers to explore the inherent diversity of these ‘battleground states’.
There’s an artful politics to photography of any genre, but Battleground was not designed as an overtly political project—rather, as one that might tell a more nuanced story. We saw it as an opportunity to harness the critical insight and compassion of a diverse set of photographers (both established and emerging) and provide a snapshot of the variety of people and politics across the US at a time of deep turmoil and contention. And I think it’s interesting that, using new technology and the Meural platform, we can share that story as an exhibit on people’s walls—allowing them to meet these voters outside of the traditional media forms.
Georgi Richardson was one of the first photographers to take up the assignment. She spent a few days driving around southern Florida and I spoke to her about her experience.
What have you found interesting about Battleground?
“What was profoundly interesting to me about this project was spending time with people who seemed to have such big hopes for America. I was left admiring Americans more than discovering any new feelings for Donald or Hillary.”
Curis: “I don’t follow politics much. I voted for Obama. My boss wanted Ben Carson for President and she was trying to convince me. To me, Trump is...he’s big-headed and...well, I don’t want to say it. I’d like Hillary to be the first lady president.”
“Some people's choices surprised me and some didn't. Some people's choices I didn't care for, but I walked away with an insight into why. I can put a face and a personal history to an idea now. For example, I never understood why a Latino would vote for Trump, but the Cubans we photographed explained to me that the foreign policy of the Democrats, in their eyes, didn't protect the Cuban people from Castro. That their exile from Cuba for all these years would have been in vain.”
Caption: Ramon: “All I want is the freedom of Cuba”. Ramon runs a food truck, along with his wife and his brother-in-law. He left most of his family behind in Cuba when he left in 1969, including his parents and older brother.
“Conversely the lack of enthusiasm of Hillary supporters, a sort of 'we better vote for her or else' attitude was disappointing. Most of their drive was focused at defeating the common enemy.”
Ken—small business owner, Islamorada, FL: “Every election is always about the lesser of evils. And basically what you’ve got now is Hilary—who is sophisticated, understands the world, understands diplomacy. And obviously ‘The Donald’ does not. To me, he’s a clown”
Cameron, Master Captain, Key West. An independent, he’ll be voting for Hilary, “reluctantly”.
What do you enjoy about photographing people?
“Portrait photography, particularly street photography, is a unique opportunity to be intrusive in a way that isn't normally socially acceptable. A camera gives you license to interact, even "play", with strangers. There's a thrill in asking strangers to take a chance on you at a first meeting; "go on, let me take your picture, please!". There's an intimacy in having a stranger's undivided attention, albeit for five minutes, and to be given that rare opportunity to capture something truthful, unexpected and profoundly human.”
Chuck and Sheila, retired, Key West. The couple ran a successful business in Minnesota, providing school bus services. Chuck, a lifelong Republican, will be voting with his party. Sheila, however, is struggling with the idea of voting for Trump, even though she doesn’t agree with the Democrats on most issues, especially fiscal policy. “But as a woman, I just have to remember those who fought for us to get the vote. And I’m not sure I can vote Trump, truly.”
Why are you a photographer?
“The more you take portraits of strangers or people you don't interact with on a daily basis, the more you understand that there are, in fact, very few "strangers" roaming this earth, Most people are closer to you than you think. That's given me immense comfort over the years. Taking pictures of people is also pure joy. Most people are wonderful. So really, in essence, I love taking pictures of people because it makes me happy.”
Sherry is voting Democrat. Her boyfriend is voting Trump. It caused a major rift in their relationship “...until we agreed: ‘no more politics at home’.”