Election Day as seen by the Magnum Foundation community around the world — by Sumeja Tulic
“On November 9, the Magnum Foundation had a regular staff meeting, about eight people gathered around the center piece of our new office — a big wooden work table that is usually covered with laptops and prints of photos to be installed here and there. That day it also had strewn about a few “I Voted!” stickers that had fallen from our coats. The sun was slowly coming down and making the cracks between buildings in lower Manhattan visible and we in the office grateful: another unexpectedly warm November day about to turn into a pleasant evening as global coverage of Election Day seeps into our Instagram feed by our community of fellows, grantees, and collaborators.
The series began in Munich, where traces of the US presidential campaigns were seen on the quiet vitrine of a bookshop near the Ludwig Maximilians University.
After Munich came a photograph from Abuja, Nigeria. The citrusy orange walls of the beauty salon in Abuja — similar to Donald Trump’s hair and skin complexion as jokingly captioned by Rahima Gambo — were the only reminders that it was Election Day in the US.
As the day progressed, the feed was building a visual and textual narrative of an event that had overtaken TV screens in the New Delhi Airport, a hospital room in Beijing, a private apartment in Yereven, a laundromat in Queens, New York City, a restaurant in Toronto.
Many of the captions were actually photographers’ opinions: the conventional “who” and “what” replaced by “I”. Well, how else to caption cotton flowers blooming in a tiny 800-person Inupiaq Native village in Alaska that is disappearing into the sea and must urgently relocate due to erosion, without saying that only one of the presidential candidates believes in climate change?
As the election results streamed in, so too did messages of shock and solidarity with the photographs and captions. The script flipped. The staff in New York City was not calming and encouraging photographers dispersed around the world and dealing with the implications of dangerous or depressing climates — the photographers were doing that for us. They were reminding us that, now more than ever, the world needs the Magnum Foundation to continue its work: to support in-depth, independent documentary photography that engages, challenges, and activates us, around the globe.
In Iran, people were aware of Trump’s victory around 11 a.m. of the morning after the dramatic election night. Since the morning newspapers in Iran are published at 3 a.m., the newspapers had to risk guessing which candidate would be elected. Abbas Hajimohammadi sent a photograph of a newspaper that guessed it wrong: the cover page had a photo-shopped photograph of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran, standing next to each other.
Looking at that photograph in New York felt really good, though it soon came second to how good it felt to protest in front of Trump’s Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York while it rained. (Yes, the weather also changed for the worst.)
Just two days after Trump was named the President-elect, Magnum Foundation’s What Works multimedia project opened at the Bronx Documentary Center —an exhibition that “tackles what seems to be more elusive by the day – positive storytelling that displays a kinder side of humanity in the face of intolerance,” as described by TIME Lightbox. Nine Magnum Foundation fellows from Iran, Ukraine, Slovenia, Syria, India, Ecuador, China, and the Philippines had produced over the year a collective project showcasing local examples of bridge building amongst groups that might otherwise be in conflict.
Hillary Clinton’s concession speech (which reverberated off the gallery walls as the Magnum Foundation and Bronx Documentary Center teams sequenced and installed prints) offered reassurance to little girls that they are “valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve [their] own dreams.” I found that to be a profoundly sad reminder of what is still up for debate. And the fact that we need the urgency and explicitness of What Works (or even find it to be a new model), to prove that coexistence, tolerance, humanity, love, equality, and the respect for human dignity actually exists and works in our modern world, is in essence telling of who we are as individuals and as societies.
Much like Clinton’s concession speech, calling attention to the fact that the seven billion of us on this planet actually can and do find ways to work and live with each other is not only necessary, it is our duty.”
— Sumeja Tulic, Magnum Foundation Fellow