Introducing: What Democracy Looks Like / by Hannah Harley

With the advent of the summer semester, thus begins the unveiling of four months of networking, traveling, and on the rare occasion, photographing. The project began as a seedling with the fall semester's work, titled The Homefront. The exposure to the massive political machine through Hillary Clinton's campaign office intrigued me. 

It's a complex world, filled with people desperate to make a change, to really help individuals. Sure, everyone is debating on what's the best way to do that, but I think most folks get involved due to a genuine interest in helping people. 

And that's what I found. In January, I began seeking out elected officials that I knew - either personally, through a friend of a friend, or even just through newspaper articles. The end result led me to a bunch of individuals who were generous enough to let me document their environments, into their campaign spaces and offices. 

It was important to me that these were the offices of elected officials, the places where democracy happens. The title, THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE is a popular chant among marchers and activists throughout the United States. 

The meetings included brief outlines of the official's current work, information about their town/village/county/state. Each was passionate, deeply, deeply passionate. And their passions were complex and intricate -- far from the elusive 'single issue' politician. 

As with every body of work, not every photograph made it into the final edit (like the above image, which is a pen holder, featuring this elected official's election dated), but proved to be valuable in informing me. 

One of the benefits of attending a school like Parsons is that I receive weekly critiques on my work. One thing my professors struggled with was grappling with my silent point of view. They asked week after week, "Where are you in this work??"

I thought I was being an unbiased documentarian, but upon some soul searching, I realized that I was researching. I was gathering information for how politicians exist within their spaces, how they curate their world, how they work to make their communities better. I wanted to embed myself into this world - however briefly - to satisfy a taste for the political that the Homefront first gave me. 

Eventually I realized that my interest in this project springs from a silent goals. 

I want to be a politician. 

Or do I? That's the thing about being 23 years old - you feel like the world is at your feet, that everything (and often times, nothing) is at your feet. I want to try on politics, shadow it, study it, immerse myself in it to try to grasp this enormous mechanism that makes decisions that affect you everyday. 

Should I be taken seriously? Perhaps not. This is coming from someone who also wants to operate an ostrich farm (what majestic creatures!) and live in a tiny Parisian attic apartment (perhaps with a bird feeder for the pigeons?).

But it's something to explore. With such uplifting conversations with the individuals behind these photographs, I have to say that I have a renewed hope in the political system and in my (future) place within it.  

I would like to thank some seriously incredible elected officials. These generous people were so gracious and encouraging throughout this entire process. As a way to respect their privacy, I will keep their identities hidden unless they request differently. A sincere thank you. 

Catch the full series at WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.