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Postcards From Americans: What Motivates People To Vote

Homestead, Fla. - Simone Allison
Homestead, Fla. - Simone Allison

After the 2016 presidential election, photographer Katie Hayes Luke felt that media coverage of the 2016 election and the apparent surprise about the results indicated a disconnect between the public narrative and the voters' private views.

"What came clearly into focus was that our nation is sharply divided over issues," Hayes Luke said. "There was an underlying dialogue in our country not playing out on our television screens.

"As a journalist, I wanted to explore what motivates voters to go to the polls - issue by issue, person by person. Media often treats large national issues like the people who vote on them — all believe the same things, but the truth is that most of us are not just bricks in a wall. We vote based on what affects us and our families."

In 2017, Hayes Luke started the project Postcards From Americans. This visual representation of our collective American conversation includes voices from across the political spectrum and aims to bring together diverse perspectives. Not everyone in these images is an American, because the reality of our political landscape is that the policies enacted by our leadership have global impact, including on those who seek to work or live in America.

McAllen, Texas: Victoria Weber
/ Katie Hayes Luke
McAllen, Texas: Victoria Weber

Brownsville, Texas: Rusty Monsees
/ Katie Hayes Luke
Brownsville, Texas: Rusty Monsees



Brownsville, TX: Michael Benavides
/ Katie Hayes Luke
Brownsville, TX: Michael Benavides

How long did you spend working on this project?

Technically started the project in 2017, but really began in earnest in early 2019 while covering immigration along the Texas/Mexico border. I am going to continue the project through the 2020 Presidential Election.

What do you hope will resonate or stick with people the most?

Postcards from Americans reconnects subject and viewer to one critical truth: we may not agree with each other, but we are all invested in speaking up for a better America.

What was your favorite photo?

The nature of the project — meeting real people in real places on tight schedules — means that these images aren't the polished, highly-produced work you might find in another time or from another photographer. But the magic of the project exists in the way the photos connect the people in them to the words they've written, and I've found a number of images I love because of the great meaning in what the subjects have shared, and not just the image alone.

It's been a good reminder that some images in a project are there because they are important to the story, and not because they are striking standalone photos.

What was the most challenging part of this project?

The most challenging part of the project has been finding conservative voices. Distrust for the media in general is a discussion I have a lot with potential subjects.

San Antonio, Texas: Bella Garcia
/ Katie Hayes Luke
San Antonio, Texas: Bella Garcia

Austin, Texas: Pamela Williams
/ Katie Hayes Luke
Austin, Texas: Pamela Williams

Pflugerville, Texas: Robyn Sandoval
/ Katie Hayes Luke
Pflugerville, Texas: Robyn Sandoval

San Antonio, Texas: Melanie Harrell
/ Katie Hayes Luke
San Antonio, Texas: Melanie Harrell

Any interesting experiences you would like to share?

By training, I am a grassroots journalist. I find stories and subjects by just showing up or knocking on doors. When I first envisioned this project, I thought that I would drive through towns, eating at the local diner and talking to people on the street. I have had to change the way I report and find subjects because of COVID. Now everything is produced ahead of time and I have to consider social distancing when photographing subjects. It is a big change, but I am trying to be flexible and make things work.

My kids are also out of school and doing virtual learning for the next semester, which means that they can travel with me across the country while working on this project. They are getting to meet many of the people that I photograph and we have a lot of conversations about how issues affect people and their lives.

Iola, Texas: Dwight Bollin
/ Katie Hayes Luke
Iola, Texas: Dwight Bollin

Zaira Gonzales poses for a portrait by the grave of her brother, Christian Gonzalez, in Palestine, Texas. Christian died in Falfurrias, Texas in September of 2012 while crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico.
/ Katie Hayes Luke
Zaira Gonzales poses for a portrait by the grave of her brother, Christian Gonzalez, in Palestine, Texas. Christian died in Falfurrias, Texas in September of 2012 while crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico.

McAllen, Texas: Nathaniel Castilleja
/ Katie Hayes Luke
McAllen, Texas: Nathaniel Castilleja

Photographer Katie Hayes Luke will continue to work on the project up until the 2020 presidential election.

Follow her on Instagram:

Katie Hayes Luke @katiehayesluke

Postcards From Americans @postcardsfromamericans

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.