Wulf Bradley recorded Georgia for the history books last year: from photographing the George Floyd protests in Atlanta to capturing Stacey Abrams’ portrait.
However, ahead of Tuesday’s Senate runoff election, he turned to a more personal story – the people behind Georgia’s election.
“Right now, because of the polarization of things, it’s easy to cling to your point of view or your side and completely drive out anyone who may think a fraction differently from you,” he said. Mr. Bradley wanted to provide a window to Georgians he might encounter in the grocery store or on Interstate 285, who are not necessarily reflected in the coverage of Georgia’s newly minted swing state status.
So he photographed a group of Georgians he knows well: his in-laws, the Gamel family. Mr. Bradley’s family moved from Ohio to Georgia in 2005. His wife, Jessi Nichols, was born and raised in the state her family has lived in since the early 19th century.
Three generations of the extended Gamel family are of voting age, from Muriel Gamel, 80, Mrs. Nichols’ grandmother, to her younger brother Dustin, who recently turned 20. They live just a short drive away from each other in the quiet Villa Rica workforce west of Atlanta.
And, like many families, their views are scattered across the political spectrum: Ms. Nichols’ late grandfather Gene Gamel was elected to the Blue Dog Democrat. Her father has admired Ronald Reagan since high school. Ms. Nichols first voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries.
“I have a feeling that many people are likely to experience that difference now when they go home and no longer coordinate with their parents or certain family members. It creates tension at family gatherings or holidays,” Ms. Nichols said. who returned to her hometown in 2018 with Mr. Bradley and their two children. “I think that’s another reason Georgia probably turned around.”
The interplay of these political views – across generations and within a single family – was something that Mr. Bradley wanted to portray in greater depth. “We allow ourselves to be cooped up in certain groups or labels and things like that and we almost identify with those ideologies and it becomes difficult for people to see people for who they actually are,” he said. “People aren’t that cut and dry. This experience is not that flat. People are complex. “
It was a bed of red impatiens that Muriel Gamel (80) warmed to Villa Rica. She planted them around her mailbox in the spring after moving to town nearly 13 years ago. “They got so pretty, and somehow these flowers made it feel like home,” she told me.
Ms. Gamel was born in 1940 in Hiawassee, a small town in the mountains of northern Georgia, and married at the age of 16. After her husband, Gene Gamel, died in 1981, she raised her children in Marietta, Georgia, to a single mother who worked various hospital jobs and then as a saleswoman in a Christian bookstore. The traffic and crime in Marietta eventually drove her to move to Villa Rica.
When our conversation turned to politics, Muriel declined. “I don’t want to go into politics,” she said. Then she added, “I’ve never voted for a particular party. I look at the person. “However, she believes that voting has changed over the past few decades due to increased partisanship.” It’s terribly different now than it was before. That was disheartening. “
Larry Gamel, 51, is the photographer’s father-in-law. He remembers waiting as an elementary school student while his father filled out his ballot behind a curtain booth. When asked who he chose, his father replied, “Son, the curtain is there for a reason. What happens behind it stays there. “Thinking about this civilian approach, Mr. Gamel said,” It makes sense especially nowadays when I see so many people on both sides just mentioning names. “
After his father died at the age of 11, he saw his mother Muriel, who couldn’t drive or write a check, got her hospital job, and supported her family. He says his politics are shaped by the experiences of people like his mother overcoming difficulties. “I believe in a safety net. I just don’t believe in a hammock, ”he said.
“The majority of people here are just trying to take care of the families, just to start, just to get their heads above the water,” he said.
Jessi Nichols, 28, the photographer’s wife, described Villa Rica as a bubble – “white and very right” – something she didn’t recognize as an adult. But their perspective changed. She started dating Mr. Bradley in 2008 when they were 15 and moved to live with his family in Lawrenceville after high school.
In an interracial relationship, she noticed how Mr. Bradley was treated differently when they were out. Through her conversations with him, his mother, and other friends, she began to reconsider the narrative that had made her believe.
“The way I thought would not benefit the majority. It would be beneficial to a hard-working white person, but it wouldn’t be beneficial to people who didn’t look like me, ”she said. “When I realized that, I began to sway more to the left.”
Since the 2016 election, Ms. Nichols has looked at the vote with a new sense of gravity: “To see how literally a single county can be the determining factor in whether or not someone is president – it’s very difficult, and I haven’t noticed because I wasn’t taught that. “
She voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 general election and plans to vote for Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the two Democrats, in the Senate runoff election. “I hope that they will be able to do some things that will help all Americans, not just the majority of the whites living here,” she said.
Thomas Samples and Ovie Samples
Ms. Nichols ‘step-brother Thomas Samples, 26, lives with his wife Ovie Samples, 33, and their three children in a house they recently built within walking distance of Ms. Samples’ family. Mr. Samples didn’t pay too much attention to politics in his youth. When he was preparing for the military in 2012, he followed the policies of the Obama administration more closely. “This all affected me and my family directly, so I was very informed and listened to the news radio every day,” he said.
Ms. Samples said she was concerned about the current political climate. “All the anger and pain – I’m burdened with it.” She emphasized the importance of fact-checking her children. “I just want them to make their informed decisions about how to vote,” she said.
Both voted for Mr. Trump in November and support Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the runoff elections. Ms. Samples said her Christian faith guides how she votes. Mr. Samples chose the candidates because they are for the police, for the guns, and for life.
And he suspects that the runoff elections will show that Georgia has changed less than the general election seemed to suggest. “I believe Georgia is still a red state,” he said. “It’s definitely a huge blue wave in 285, the Atlanta metropolitan area, but there’s so much state. Outside of Metro Atlanta, it’s the other way around. “
Ms. Nichols’ half-brother Dustin Gamel, 20, has worked as a forklift operator for a Walmart e-commerce distribution center for the past two years. “It’s one of the better paying jobs you can get at Villa Rica,” he said. When he’s not at work, he plays longboards, plays Dungeons & Dragons with a group of friends, and delves into video games – Call of Duty: Warzone, Monster Hunter: World, and the recently released Cyberpunk 2077.
He did not vote in November and does not plan to participate in the runoff elections. “I think I probably want to settle down with a job I like and my own house before I get into politics,” he said. And politics today, he shyly added, “is very argumentative.” For now, just going to work and paying the bills is enough to worry.
However, he was an outlier on this issue. Although the Gamels’ perspectives cover the political spectrum, his father and siblings agreed. When asked whether they would vote in the runoff elections, they answered without missing a blow: Yes.
Kristin Lin is a fellow in the opinion section. Mr. Bradley is a photographer and lives in Atlanta.
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