Freedom Is Ringing: 29 Photographers Show Us The REAL America

Photograph by Kyna Uwaeme 
In 2017, the American dream no longer looks as it once did. Fundamental values like free speech and freedom of religion have been called into question. Being a woman or a person of color — or God forbid, a woman of color — has become a liability. 2017 has also raised very serious questions about the fabric of American society. Can we overcome the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our culture? Will we welcome new immigrants with open arms? Will Christians and Jews march in support of Muslims? What kind of systemic reform has to happen for women to be truly equal?
These questions are more important that ever before. That's why Refinery29 asked some of our favorite photographers to share an image that embodies the way they see our country today. Some of their responses are hopeful. Some are like a punch to the gut. Some of them are defiant. But, they all reflect the reality of America in 2017 through a unique point of view. And for that reason alone, we promise that once you click in, you won't be able to look away.
1 of 29
Amanda Picotte

"For this shot, I went down to Wall Street and the Supreme Court building by City Hall. I wanted to photograph my friends who are at the intersection of many different identities often disregarded by our government and economic system. These friends are also some of the most talented and self-possessed individuals I know, so I wanted to use the white backdrop to help them take up space at the site of these institutions and carve out a space for themselves. One of the greatest signs of hope in our current political climate is how many young people aren't looking for affirmation from mainstream culture and politics and are instead trying to create their own ideal world in the face of a system that continues to marginalize their lives."
2 of 29
Quil Lemons

"This is the future of America. After generations of oppression we must be resilient! We will not be defeated! There is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. The stigma's that police young Black boys will not imprison them. This is hope for a future that will warrant true freedom!"
3 of 29
Angie Smith

"This photograph of Sonia, a refugee from Togo who moved to Boise almost twenty years ago, exudes vibrance, confidence, and strength. America is a place where a refugee can escape a war torn existence and begin again, in peace, slowly gaining the skills and experience to live the life they have always dreamed of."
4 of 29
Kyna Uwaeme

"We have to honor all people that help create the fabrication of America, including POC, Muslims, immigrants, and the lower class."
5 of 29
Morgan Rachel Levy

"I've spent the last several July Fourths in Yellowstone National Park with a group of roughly thirty teenagers, teaching them photography on location for National Geographic Student Expeditions. Each year I've watched my students demonstrate genuine kindness towards each other regardless of their differences and a true hopefulness about the world. They're engaged, have rich thoughts and opinions, and want to effect change. I leave these two week trips exhausted but also very optimistic knowing these students are in charge of the future. Ali Levens, portrayed above, is a student from rural Kansas. When she grows up she wants to be a civil rights lawyer or a journalist. She's still deciding."
6 of 29
Savana Ogburn

"Something good that has come out of this difficult time in the U.S. is how it has acted as a wake-up call for many people, spurring more protests, marches, and speaking out than I've seen in my life thus far. This has been incredibly inspiring to me as a young person to see how people banding together and taking action can create if nothing else, a sense of togetherness, and that in itself embodies America today. This image was taken during the Atlanta Women's March where 60,000+ people gathered despite super heavy rain — it was my first protest experience and one that I'll never forget."
7 of 29
Emiliano Granado

"My road trip through the American West started on Venice Beach because what else could be more American than starting a road trip on Muscle Beach? My goal was to photograph how Americans recreate, with a particular focus on how we interact with the West (the geography and the concept). Something like where The American Dream, Leisure, and Manifest Destiny collide."
8 of 29
Matthew Salacuse

"As the middle class slowly disappears, so do our hopes of the American Dream."
9 of 29
Myles Loftin

"I think this election has brought us together more than ever. It's kind of forced us as Americans to realize that change doesn't happen through the efforts of a few individuals and that it requires you to put aside your differences for a combined effort against injustice. I also think that Americans haven't let this election get in the way of their happiness. We've gone through worse in this country, and just as before we'll continue to fight."
10 of 29
Will Anderson

"I came to the U.S.A. from the U.K. 20 years ago. It was a few days after the September 11th attacks when this photograph was taken. There was a lot going on that day in Union Square from antiwar protests to silent vigils. A woman covering children's faces with the nation's flag to show solidarity to the victims of the recent attack caught my eye. As an immigrant I always wondered what the background of these people were. Was she the mother? Were they immigrants like me? Were they all born here, or just the kids? Were they rich, poor? First generation, 5th generation? It will always be a mystery. I find this image relevant to today because it is a person in her own way teaching children about compassion and solidarity to people of all nations and all faiths and that is hopefully the true spirit of this country's future."
11 of 29
Jordan Tiberio

"This is actually a part of a bigger body of (currently) unreleased work. The project, tentatively titled The Winter Storm, was inspired by the post-election climate and the Resistance. I wanted to find a way to express all the emotions I felt after November 9th, and found an outlet through this series. The one thing I can speak to the most is being a woman, but unfortunately the majority of white women voted for Trump. I read a lot about all the Women's Marches after the inauguration, and was saddened by the lack of intersectionality demonstrated at some of those events. The biggest aim for this series was to show all women, and those who identify as female, on the same playing field, to help those who may not understand or see intersectionality in their own worlds question or change their way of thinking for the better.

"I photograph the subjects underneath a pane of glass, make prints of the photographs, freeze the prints in a block of ice, and rephotograph them as temporary, fleeting objects (which is the final product). The ice in a way represents the glass ceilings we women are born under, but also showing how some of us have ceilings more cracked than others, dependent on social class, race, etc."
12 of 29
Sara Hylton

"I recall looking deeply at Maria and her daughter who had just arrived to the United States from El Salvador, trying to connect with everything they had just been through. They emitted this profound sense of vulnerability and fear — at the age of 20, Maria had risked everything for her daughter. Yet above it all, I witnessed in them an undeniable strength and resilience, they were together and had endured something most of us could only dream of. This to me is America — despite all the turmoil, there is still hope for something better and brighter."
13 of 29
Jin + Dana

"This image was taken at a rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The phrase 'Freedom is Not Free' on the back of this woman's jacket in bold lettering really stood out. It can be interpreted in many ways, but when we see it we can't help but question the paradox of the statement. Why is freedom not free? What will the idea of freedom mean to us in the future?"
14 of 29
Emily Berl

"This photo was taken at the Pismo Beach Sand Dunes in 2015. On a drive back to Los Angeles from the Central Coast of California, my friends and I decided to explore the dunes because they were something we'd heard of but never seen before. When we found them, we were blown away by their sweeping beauty; they seemed endless and completely ours. I chose this photo because it reminds me of the possibility our country provides. This is a place that can hold beautiful surprises right around any corner. This potential gives me hope."
15 of 29
Sharokh Mirzai

"I think it’s fundamental to realize oppression didn’t start in 2017 and it’s time for all of us, of all levels of privilege, to look inward and take time to reflect on how we can do better for all people, both in our country and around the world. It’s never hopeless but real change needs to start from within."
16 of 29
Michelle Groskopf

"This young woman embodies Los Angeles for me. She's direct, bold and beautiful. Los Angeles won't sit down for injustice, she'll fight even if it's from the beach."
17 of 29
Maciek Jasik

"When you build a gleaming spire in the desert overlooking a huge empty lot, you're saying, 'I'm desperate to seem like a winner.'"
18 of 29
Shaughn and John

"Central California is known for its majestic coastline and rich agricultural history. The Sisters of the Valley are continuing this tradition by harvesting a unique crop of their own. Located just outside of Modesto, the sisters are growing medicinal marijuana which they use to create CBD oils and salves. In addition they further enhance their products with a monthly blessing under the power of a new moon. Endless testimonials from clients all over the world, including both patients and doctors, affirm the reason the sisters have dedicated their lives to this healing plant. When asked about their stance on religion and prayer their answer is simple, 'We're not about teaching people how to pray. If you can't figure that out you've come to the wrong sisters. We're about the medicine, we're about the plant.' What resonates most with us about the Sisters of the Valley is their endless commitment to healing through the use of cannabis. They redefine what it means to be a nun at this moment in time, and challenge us to examine our ideas about a group of people we thought we understood."
19 of 29
Arielle Bobb-Willis

trust anyone
who says
they do not see color.
this means
to them,
you are invisible."

Nayyirah Waheed
20 of 29
Diane Russo

"This photo was taken at a queer party in NYC called Reggay. To me, America is about love, and dancing, and sweaty connection. You can find that everywhere, even if in some places it's hidden."
21 of 29
Jacqueline Harriet

"Earlier this year I went to an elementary school class participating with Teach for America teachers in Houston, Texas. We met students who had written letters to the president the day after the election. Many of the students were children of immigrants, many undocumented, and they spoke about their fears for their families and their friends' families' safety...fear of the 'wall' especially."
22 of 29
Sam Cannon

"Sometimes we have to agree to disagree. It can require a lot of patience, but I love living in a country where we are encouraged to speak our minds and stand up for what we believe in. At our worst we become two opposing forces, fighting to tear the other down. At our best we can learn from one another and build a stronger society because of our differences, not despite them."
23 of 29
Maggie Shannon

"This image of a young girl taken at the Women's March in D.C. embodies the hope I have for America. Her youthful passion and determined look acknowledge that there's a fight ahead but we're ready for it."
24 of 29
Meron Menghistab

"I made this photo in Harlem, after asking the kids about themselves and what they were up to that day. We joked a bit, I made the photo, and they ran off, but I noticed that the younger brother patiently waited to answer only after his older brother did. I saw myself in him, and how I’ve always looked up to my brother. Our sole purpose is to make it better for them, like those before worked to make it better for us. They’re my hope, they’re why we spend the time to do better, they’re my America."
25 of 29
Benjamin Rasmussen

"The Badlands are a geography of erosion created by wind and water and time. The landscape there redefines erosion as something creating beauty and complexity instead of destroying it. This couple, who have traveled out to South Dakota to see this, would have seen a different landscape, however slightly, if they had come as children 60 years earlier. America is also in flux. But I hope that the movement towards equality and fairness is strong enough to withstand this period of cultural and moral regression."
26 of 29
Jheyda McGarrell

"This is a self-portrait I took after the election, filled with sadness and anxiety for the future. To me, this photo represents the concept of 'existence as Resistance.' My family is entirely comprised of Mexican and Guyanese (Caribbean) immigrants. Their strength and the beauty of our cultures inspires me to look internally for the power to keep pushing towards a better life for people of color and queer people. Our bodies are political, and living the best life we can is revolutionary. To live in a world, where we are made to feel like our cultures, hair textures, skin color, etc., are wrong and undesirable is to live an act of resistance. As a young, Black Latina who is the children of immigrants, I represent an America built on the backs of marginalized peoples that have never been able to enjoy their creation, and the optimism for a better life in the future. I represent to myself, and hopefully others, that even filled with pain and anxiety, we can still find power inside, to continue the fight."
27 of 29
Graham Walzer

"Even while staring adversity right in the face, never ever give up."
28 of 29
Andrew B. Myers

"In light of federally legalized (and hopefully sustained) same sex marriage since moving here, I photographed this image of Tony Tasset's steel rainbow in Los Angeles."
29 of 29
Lauren Withrow

"I met these two teen girls in my hometown last fall. We walked the alleys and they told me their stories, but all their pain and sadness seemed to go away when they looked at each other. I admit, I easily sink into a dark outlook on life, especially with all that is on the news. Then I find little reminders of beauty and love in the world and unity as a human race is necessary."

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