Photograph by Stephanie Mei-Ling, National Geographic
Photograph by Stephanie Mei-Ling, National Geographic

Capturing America's pent-up energy to vote

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

Flag? Check. Mask? Check. Ready to vote? You bet.

“America needs to wake up,” Michael McAllister (pictured above) tells us while standing in line at a Brooklyn College polling site on the first day of early voting in New York. Photographer Stephanie Mei-Ling found this pent-up energy when she created his portrait and that of other voters this week in the Empire State.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes this U.S. election, it is how early and insistent citizens have been to practice democracy. In parts of the world, that energy to take part in political power has had to be submerged, reined in by oppression and force. Supporters of both U.S. presidential candidates speak urgently that their nation is under threat, too, beyond that of COVID-19—and that urgency has propelled electoral participation to a level that may be America’s highest in more than a century.

Below, we show a few of the people Stephanie photographed on assignment. Upstate in Rochester, Stephanie caught George McAllister (in red hat and mask, below) on his way to vote: “Black folks didn’t always have the right to vote,” he says. “People have died and marched. Why not use what they suffered for us to have?”

Randi Bragg, pictured below sitting with her mom and sister while waiting to vote in Brooklyn, agrees. “My vote matters because if I don't make that choice, someone is going to make it for me. I’d rather use my vote and make it count.”

Take a look at Stephanie’s images below and her full story with reporter Tucker C. Toole. Just four more days until Election Day!

(Clockwise from top left, George McAllister of Rochester; Alexander Navarro, standing in line at the Madison Square Garden polling station and saying he’s hopeful for change; Ben Hoffman, waiting to vote in upstate Scipio; and Estela Bragg, at center, with her daughters Randi and Leah, in Brooklyn.)

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Today in a minute

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Up and coming: World, meet Yehyun Kim, who made this image and last night became the 75th College Photographer of the Year. In winning, the Mizzou student will join Nat Geo as a photography intern. In the image above, Shayla, 16, is trying on a dress for a Night to Shine prom event. At the left is her mom, Willishia Rudd, and behind her is Jessica Kolle, who was Shayla’s nurse for six years, when she couldn’t talk or eat without a feeding tube. “We are like some of the family here,” says Kolle, with her daughter, Kynlee, 6. Nat Geo photo editors Mallory Benedictand Jen Tse were among the judges. See all the winning images here.

Sued: Six photojournalists have sued BuzzFeed for using their images of last summer’s George Floyd protests without permission, Law360 reports. Their images on Instagram were embedded in a story in June by BuzzFeed, which also used their comments to hail them as witnesses to injustice. The photographers, however, were not paid, and have said that usage violates copyright.

R.I.P. Aurelio Jose Barrera: The longtime Los Angeles Times photographer helped the paper win a Pulitzer Prize with a groundbreaking series on L.A.’s overlooked Latino communities. In retirement, he launched a one-man crusade to deliver food to the homeless in those communities. His former newspaper remembered Barrera, who died last week after a fall, with this extraordinary retrospective of his images. His black-and-white photographs for the Edward James Olmos book Americanos: Latino Life in America also were featured by the Smithsonian.

Finding the future: Nat Geo photographer Luca Locatelli won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award for his look at how communities worldwide are finding new ways to grow food and add vegetation to crowded landscapes. His series of 18 photos, Future Studies, researches new ways for humanity to survive on Earth. In February, National Geographic magazine published his photos on how innovative places are converting our trash. Subscribers can read it here.

Your Instagram of the day

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Our democracy: If you go to our Instagram page today you will see selections from photographer Andrea Bruce and colleagues on what democracy means to Americans today. Traveling the nation and listening to Americans from many walks of life, they were surprised. They had found a divide much deeper than politics. That divide “affects how people experience or see their democracy, their voice, their power; the divide between the haves and have-nots,” Bruce says. Pictured above, a dance group performs at the Hope of America student showcase at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. The group was made up of some of the 8,000 fifth graders in the state coming together in red, white, and blue to form the American flag, as seen in the background. See more images here.

The big takeaway

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Yes, her first name is Purple: Before the pandemic, Purple Woods (above) danced four nights a week at clubs in Arizona’s Sun City, the 40,000+ resident community that pioneered active over-55 living when it opened in 1960. “That’s the reason I came down here,” says Woods, 78, who like other residents saw the activities shut down in March when the pandemic hit hard. Social distancing and shelter-in-place rules cut some residents off from their social circles, Kendrick Brinson found. But others were able to adapt, doing barbershop quartet practices over Zoom or setting up portable pickleball courts.

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In a few words

The last glimpse

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The Tehran Stock Exchange: Iran had been renamed the Islamic Republic after the 1979 revolution, but capitalism remained—as did opportunities for women, as photographer Alexandra Avakian documented in a late 1990s stop at the stock exchange for National Geographic. Avakian’s photography for Nat Geo, which began in 1995, focused on daily life in Iran, and especially the lives of women, says Sara Manco, our senior photo archivist. “I love how this photo shows a woman in a workplace and focused on her work,” Manco says, “a refreshing change from the stereotypical way women were often portrayed."

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Andrea Wise and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this, and Amanda Williams-Bryant, Rita Spinks, Alec Egamov, and Jeremy Brandt-Vorel also contributed this week. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at . Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!