The Senate has been controlled by the Republican Party since 2014, which profoundly affects the legislation that gets passed in this country. Even with so much on the line this election cycle, the two Georgia Senate races were highly anticlimactic in November. The state rules say that a winning candidate needs to have at least 50% of the votes, something that was out of the grasp of the four candidates vying for two seats: Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, David Perdue, and Kelly Loeffler.
This led to a run-off election in January that would decide whether President Joe Biden could achieve the sweeping legislation he promised during his campaign. If both Democrats — Warnock and Ossoff — won their seats, the Senate would be split 50-50 and the tiebreaking vote on anything would belong to Vice President Kamala Harris, effectively giving the Democrats control of the chamber for the first time in nearly a decade.
Photographer Virginie Kippelen was down in the trenches, so to speak, to document the momentous occasion.
This was my first assignment for the Agence France-Presse (AFP). I covered the November elections for the Associated Press Content Services and the photographer with whom I worked shared with me his contact for the agency.
Agence France Press is an international press agency based in Paris with bureaus located in D.C. and San Francisco. Virginie, born and raised in France, has lived in the U.S. for 25 years and has dual citizenship. Virginie doesn’t tend to work with many French media organizations, but she emailed the AFP editor a week before the Georgia run-off to see if they could use her. They contacted her just the day before the election asking if she was still available and interested.
My work is multifaceted: my website doesn’t fit the “typical” photojournalist’s profile, but I’ve walked the walk.
Virginie has a master’s in journalism, has worked as a freelancer for the New York Times National Desk covering Atlanta and the South, and has been an associate producer at the CNN Photo Desk, leaving her more than capable of covering this story.
The assignment meant going to as many polling places as possible and providing accurate visual documentation of the day. I hit my first polling place at 7 a.m. and, as expected, there was no line. A lot of people did early or absentee voting, very similar to the November election.
Virginie was searching for physical voters, of course, but soon she would be looking for physical polling locations.
I had done some homework the day before but did not find a solid listing for metro Atlanta. A poll manager in Fulton County told me that “due to security and safety, Georgia election boards only listed MY voter page to direct voters to find out their specific precinct.”
Maps and lists of precincts were provided at the county level and some counties did not release them to encourage voters to only report to their designated locations. This heightened level of security and caution led to a further challenge: actually gaining access, even remotely to the polling places.
As a member of the press, I had the right to exercise my profession and photograph the voting taking place, but in the state of Georgia, the acting poll manager has the discretion to authorize a member of the media inside.
Some of these managers let her photograph, others didn’t know what to do, and others simply would not let her in. Throughout the day, however, Virginie was able to visit enough spots that she could capture a variety of images. She was looking for everything from environmental portraits to candid shots to decisive moments.
I also had to file my images throughout the day so that the press agency had a constant stream of photographs to work with. That meant editing my pictures in my car, with a laptop, using my phone’s hotspot connection, and quickly writing captions before heading to the next place.
Virginie worked at this breakneck pace for most of the day, not getting home until quite late. She finished up filing them and had no idea where they would eventually show up, or if they would show up at all.
It was a nice surprise the next morning when a colleague sent me a link to a New York Times article with my images as an illustration. I later checked my name with Google Images and found a dozen of publications using my photographs from all over the world, even in Jakarta and Seychelles.
Working for an international press agency means that you have no control over the life lived by your images. But it’s always fun to see how far some of them travel.
Virginie’s editor called back that next morning asking if she wanted to do a follow-up on the story after Warnock and Ossoff had been elected. She said yes and took to the streets to cover the aftermath of the elections.
Nothing much was happening around me so I decided to go to the Georgia Capitol in downtown Atlanta. A dozen Trump supporters were demonstrating, some in militia outfit with semiautomatic rifles on their hips, some just ‘regular’ people. I stayed for an hour, took some images, and decided to leave as nothing was really happening. It was 2 p.m. on January 6. All eyes were now on D.C.
Editor: Eva Hambach, AFP photo desk, Washington D.C.
See more of Virginie’s work on her website.
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