Finding hope and strength behind and in front of the lens at the Women’s March

I‘m one of several women who will document the Women’s March on Washington this Saturday and contribute their work to “UnPresidented: The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump and the People’s Response,” a photo book covering the protests and celebrations around the inauguration. For the women in the group, we’ve grown accustomed to capturing images of protests and political events in the nation’s capital, but we all agree that there’s nothing quite like what’s about to happen this week in D.C.

We are up for the challenge of capturing the clash of world views in the American political system but we’re also looking for images of hope and strength to encourage and sustain positive change in a system so many think is broken. At the same time, we want our work to revive a sense of unity and strength on the subject of women and minorities, in particular because of Trump’s public denigration of them during his campaign.

My own motivation to document this historic week comes from my avid interest in social studies as a young child. I voraciously studied the photographs of the civil rights and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s in my textbooks. The images of protest of black people, women, Vietnam veterans, and all of the Americans who supported their causes taught me about the United States and its history. It was a way for me – an immigrant kid born in Pakistan – to learn about a place that was my own but whose history my family did not share yet. More importantly, through photography I learned about the values of Americans who were very different from me – and why I should care. I hope my efforts to document this week will do the same albeit under very different circumstances.

From left, Lorie Shaull, Chantale Wong, Shamila Chaudhary and Arpita Upadhyaya © 2017 Joe Newman

That sense of history – and that we have been here before – is not lost on us. Photographer Chantale Wong recalls participating in several protests since moving to D.C. in the late 1980s. “I remembered the feelings of empowerment, of hope, of change we have made and of changes we can make. This one upcoming will be very different – at the dawn of a new administration that promises to roll back so many of the gains I have seen in my lifetime.”

Wong and others worry about the impact a Trump administration will have on a younger generation of women but also on the broader progressive agenda. Arpita Upadhyaya, a photographer and professor of physics said that “as a woman of science I have been shocked by the anti-fact, anti-truth and anti-science agenda of the incoming administration. I would like to march to voice my anger and outrage over this and the many other injustices including the assault on human rights and women’s rights that we fear will take place in the near future.”

As I make my own peace with the current political reality, I remind myself: sometimes our leaders represent our values, and other times they do not. When leaders fail, ordinary citizens step in to hold them to account. We must seize the opportunity to show the world, the president-elect, his team, and our fellow Americans what we stand for, what we believe in, and what we will fight for – and that this fight not just about policies, but also about American norms of human decency, equality, and respect.

Mica Powers is a photographer who intends to do just that, expressing shock “that we are going from such a historic and well-liked President to one who is divisive, racist, and sexist. For this I march, as the next four years will be anything but calm, orderly, and inspirational. I am hoping to document the sisters in the movement (and the brothers that support us), moments of emotion, and ultimately moments to show that we are stronger together than apart.”

We must seize the opportunity to show the world, the president-elect, his team, and our fellow Americans what we stand for, what we believe in, and what we will fight for – and that this fight not just about policies, but also about American norms of human decency, equality, and respect.

Similarly, photographer Lori Shaull views her work as a form of civic engagement and education. “Documenting the event is my way of participating in the march. On my Flickr page and in Wikimedia Commons, I’ve been experimenting in using Creative Commons with attribution licensing on my photos so that small news outlets, blogs and really, anyone can make use of them. Even though I give up control of where they will be displayed and what people will write about, it’s empowering to me to document events from my own perspective through photography and allow others who won’t be there or can’t afford to pay for high quality images to make use my work.”

Victoria Pickering, who has prolifically documented D.C.’s political culture and protests, believes the real benefit of large marches like the Women’s March “is the hope and empowerment that the participants give to each other. The more that the participants remember these feelings, the more likely they are to continue to take the daily small actions that may lead to sustained change, such as participating in community organizations or running for local office.”

Pickering’s view resonates with so many of us who search for clarity and guidance on how to be constructive, useful, and impactful during what promises to be one of the most challenging political transitions in American history. It is this very need that motivates this group of women photographers to march and to document – and we look forward to engaging those who will join us, both in celebration and in protest, as an opportunity to learn and grow as Americans.