On Nov. 8, New York City-based photojournalist Justin Wee set up a mini photo shoot at the front of a bar in Brooklyn where locals had co-organized what many believed was going to be a victory party for Hillary Clinton. That's where his photo series Where Do We Go From Here? was born, Wee writes an email to Bustle. Originally, he had thought he would be taking pictures of women sharing their thoughts on Clinton becoming the first woman president — but when Donald Trump was named the new president-elect, Wee realized his photo series would become an entirely different story.
Wee described the atmosphere in the bar as "jubilant" at first, even overly relaxed. Most people in the room were expecting Clinton to win, including Wee himself. Wee said he was so busy shooting and interviewing 15 different women, one after another, that he didn't even realize how somber the atmosphere had gotten until later on. "Everyone was in great spirits until they weren't," Wee writes. "The last girl that I shot came up to me and said she needed to be distracted from the results, which was the first moment that I got clued into what was actually going on. That was the moment that swing state results were being projected in Trump's favor."
Wee recalled people crying in the corner or staring at the television screens in disbelief. He himself felt confused and frustrated. He'd asked all of the women in his photos to share what made them feel empowered throughout the election, and why they voted for Clinton to be the first woman president. By the end, none of it seemed to matter.
But "seemed" is the operative word — because from there, Wee decided to turn the project into a "rallying cry" for people who felt equally devastated by the election results, a visual reminder that mobilizes others to take action and continue fighting for what they believe in. "I reached out to the women again... and asked them how they were staying empowered in spite of the results, and how their own form of personal activism was taking shape," Wee writes.
Interestingly, Wee noticed as he sifted through the different portraits that many of the women looked cheerful, reflecting the mood from earlier in the night night. "I only really had a couple of frames from each subject that fit the new tone of the piece I was looking for," Wee writes. "Most of the portraits from the published series were 'test' moments where I just asked the women to relax and give me a neutral expression."
But ultimately, Wee writes that he hopes both the women who are featured in the project and those who view it will feel inspired to remain resilient during Trump's presidency. "I think we all feel as though our contributions in the scheme of things is too minute to really affect any real amount of change, so I hope that the series can energize everyone to band together and realize that we are not in this alone," Wee says.
"If you have something to say, you need to step up and say it," he continues. "I hope everyone who sees the project can feel the same way and be pushed to hone their own sense of activism."