American Women

American Women

Glenna Gordon, 2019 Winner

American Women is Glenna Gordon’s attempt to understand the women at the forefront of the battle for America’s soul, in the ongoing aftermath of America’s unhealed wounds from the Civil War. She photographs women from both sides, women of the far right who fight against justice, equality and inclusion, and the progressive women who work to forward those causes. Women, Gordon argues, are the ones who do the work of change. They raise the next generation. They pave whichever path we choose to take.

Tara Bradley is a member of The Order of the Confederate Rose, a group describes itself as promoting the "honorable memory of the Confederate soldiers, Southern Symbols, true history, and true Southern Heritage." Here, Bradley poses as a Confederate widow (known as a "Black Rose") next to a wreath laid in a Confederate cemetery in Raymond, Mississippi on April 21, 2018. "It's not that I want to forget [slavery]," Bradley says. "It's not that I try to pretend it didn't happen. I don't. It happened, and there's nothing we can do about it."

A boarded up house in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, once a bustling area that is now filled with empty lots and abandoned houses.   

Amanda, the "den mother" of the League of the South, a neo-confederate group that publicly advocates for southern succession, and privately endorses slavery. This portrait was made at their annual convention in Wetumpka, Alabama on June 30, 2017. The League of the South takes great pains to distance itself and differentiate from the KKK, yet promotes many of the exact same ideas under a different outward facing rhetorical stance. The argument about "optics" pits different hate groups against each other as they vie for local power. LOS is almost completely male in its power structure and women like Amanda can only play informal roles. Amanda is not from the south but when she met her now husband online as his nutritionist and moved to Mississippi to be with him, she joined. She said that all the people at the meeting (which did include Klan members) were the greatest people she'd ever met. This reporter was forcefully ejected and escorted out of the meeting without clear cause.

"We're trying to get the women to realize they're wrong when they go out and do something with another race," Jennifer told me at her home. She and her husband, Roger, insist they aren't racist – they just want people to be separate. "There are two definitions to racist – one is loving your own race, and the other is not liking a person of another race. I can work with anybody... I wouldn't want to have a family with them, but I treat them all with respect," Jennifer insisted. She works in food service and claims to get along well with her coworkers of different backgrounds. Though she said she was hesitant to join the Klan because she is shy, she is now all in and is the right hand woman to Imperial Komander Amanda, the head of the Women's branch of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, one of the most active chapters in America. She regularly brings her children to Klan events.

On Sundays, Isner generally visits several churches. The wife of a pastor and an ordained minister herself, Isner's religious base is a big part of her political platform and appeals to many voters in Alabama, where the church has historically played a crucial role in fighting Jim Crows laws and for other social justice issues. On Sunday, September 23, she stopped at the Revelation Baptist Church in Montgomery for her third service of the day.

Elaine Willman hosts community leaders in her "War Room," which is what she calls the basement of her Montana home. Though many insisted that they were racist and saw no color at all, they also spent time that day in and in their lives protesting immigrant rights and the advancement of Native Americans. Elaine's home is coverd in Native American art, and she insists she loves the people, just doesn't like the tribal leadership.

School kids tour the historic home of enslaved persons and learn about their lives and labor in Holly Springs, Mississippi, through a program called "Behind the Big House."

Girls help their mothers organize the Holly Springs pilgrimage, which tours fancy plantation houses. They do not include any slave dwellings.

A carpet beater displayed as it would have during the pre civil war era in a rare remaining dwelling lived in by enslaved people in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

On her website, Ayla Stewart, "A Wife with a Purpose," promotes #tradlife—traditionalist homemaking and white culture—and the "white baby challenge," in which she encourages "white people to have children to combat demographic decline." She poses here for a portrait at a public park in the southeastern USA with her six children on August 16, 2017. She insists that she isn't racist and has black friends. To her, racism has only one singular definition, and anyone who calls her a racist is just wrong or hasn't taken the time to learn about her views. Nazism, however, has three definitions, which she can delineate with ease.

Laura Loomer, an anti-Islam activist, is unique in her role in the extreme right because she is Jewish. After being continuously trolled by David Duke and others, which included pictures posted of her photoshopped in to gas chambers, she decided to get a nose job so she could further her own agenda without appearing so Jewish. Her antiIslam activism drives islamophobia in the USA, and she also plays the important role of victim within the far right twittersphere. Lauren Southern and others enjoy taking pot shots at her, and Pamella Geller was quick to distance herself from the toxic Loomer as well.

Irma Hinojosa is the kind of woman who complicates the way we understand far right activism – she is the head of Latino's With Trump, and while she argues that she supports "legal immigration," much of her rhetoric is strongly anti immigrant and pro border and security. She live casts, youtubes, and creates content constantly for her nearly 100,000 followers. At a freedom of speech rally in Washington DC organized by Richard Spencer and well known anti semite Baked Alaska, where someone gave a shout out to John Wilkes Booth in front of the Lincoln Memorial, she was the only woman who spoke on a line up of nearly ten people.

Amid intense arguments about "optics", many groups on the far right insist that they are not Nazis and do not publicly use swastikas. Privately, many do this often and with "irony." Image provided by a woman who with a leadership position in a group largely responsible for the violence at Charlottesville in 2017, who has since left the movement.

A woman flips through her pocket Bible during Good Friday services at a church in rural Louisiana. Though the community was devastated when a white supremacist burned down three historic black churches, the churches also preached about forgiveness for him and his family.

Photographer's Statement: 

“The echoing horror of slavery cuts both ways” Imani Perry
On June 22, 2017, I flew from New York to Atlanta, grabbed a rental car and headed to a budget motel at the intersection of Highways 85 and 231 in Montgomery, Alabama. The next day, I headed twenty miles north on the 231, and 150 years back in time to a moment before America’s Civil War.
I was headed to the annual convention of the League of the South, a hate group that believes that slavery wasn’t so bad and the South should still try and secede.  My goal was to document the women who lead and participate in hateful or racist groups on the far right, in an in-depth, long-term project.
Women provide the far right with a dangerous, and seldom examined, veneer of femininity, domesticity, and normalcy that helps accomplish their toxic agenda.
In Wetumpka, the one-road town where the convention was held, there were Klansmen, tattooed greasers, and burly men in fatigues. There were also well-dressed southern ladies, and men in button-downs and khakis. The mood was angry as speakers like David Duke and Hunter Wallace and others riled up the crowd.
I was forcefully ejected and escorted out by armed heavily armed men before 3 pm. Shaking, I drove to the nearest motel parking lot and hyperventilated until I puked.
On Sept 20, 1028, I retraced my steps from Brooklyn to Atlanta to Montgomery, to the same intersection of Highways 231 and 85, to a budget motel directly across from where I’d stayed a year earlier. This time, I took Highway 85, the Martin Luther King Expressway, ten miles east and toward a radically different vision of America’s future.
This time, I was covering Tabitha Isner for the New York Times Magazine. She was a long-shot progressive Democratic candidate for Congress, facing a ten-year Republican incumbent.
We spent the weekend on the campaign trail, in black churches and community centers. Everywhere we went, people were welcoming and excited to see a candidate who stood for change and wanted to represent them. We were given heaping plates of BBQ and macaroni and cheese. We were embraced, encouraged and acknowledged.
On Sunday morning of my weekend with Isner, I sat next to her in a pew at historic black church in a city rich with history and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, and lowered my head. I struggled to hold back the tears. Going to Montgomery the second time had been an opportunity for synchronicity – I saw the same exact geography through an entirely different perspective.
And I immediately knew what I wanted to do next.
With the support of an Aftermath Project grant, I will to retrace my steps and continue the project I began, but look to the other side. Just as war is only half the story, hate and the toxic voices of white supremacy are only half the story.
I’ve visited homes of white supremacists nationalists, conservative extremists, the alt right, militias, racists, haters, xenophobes, Klansmen and Nazis. The night before the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, I drove through the dark woods to a remote cottage without cellphone service and was “tested” by a group of hardcore neo-Nazis by being given a piece of pizza with bacon.  I’ve been threatened and harassed. I I’ve seen the aftermath of America’s unhealed civil war wounds in women who are actively working against justice, equality and inclusion.
Now, I want to meet the women who are fighting back.
My goal as a documentary photographer is to understand the women who are at the forefront of the battle for my nation’s soul, so I must continue to add layers of understanding and imaging to the work I’ve already done.
Men may hold the highest officers and the most power, but from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Amanda the “Den Mother,” of the League of the South, it is women who do the work of change. They raise the next generation. They pave whichever path we as a nation may decide to take.
Over the course of the next year, I will meet the neighbors of the Klansmen and Nazis, groups like Be the Bridge, which brings black and white women together to have hard conversations. I will seek out baptism, PTA meetings, local rallies, food banks, demonstrations, and sites of healing and change.
I will photograph portraits, landscapes and objects, with accompanying writings based on extended interviews and deep encounters. Ultimately, I will organize this new work into diptychs with my old work, pairing opposite sides of this fissure together based on geography and ideology.
Both through my encounters with women and the resulting work, I hope to create conversations that grapple directly with our nation’s unhealed wounds.
We must face our past and examine our present. We must look people in the eye, and engage with those with whom we disagree. The only way out is through, and the only way to reconcile our nation is to understand both the forces that are tearing it apart and the people trying to put it back together.
NOTE: The images here include work from Gordon’s grant-year-in-process and also from her project about women of the far right (which her Aftermath Project grant builds on).

Glenna Gordon
glenna.gordon's picture

Photography is a tool to tell specific stories about specific places. It is a way to visually explore and explain the world around me. It is a means of learning that our heroes are flawed and our enemies are human.  


I first visited Africa in 2006 after I’d finished my master's in print journalism. Soon after, I moved to Uganda where I lived and worked as a writer and reporter. I always took pictures, but it wasn’t until 2010 when I was living in Liberia that I began to focus on photography. 


My work is now a combination of personal projects and assignments in Africa and elsewhere. Recent projects include work on hostages of ISIS and Al Qaeda, the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, on Nigerian weddings, and Liberia after war.  


My images have received many awards including LensCulture’s grand prize for visual storytelling, PX3 first prize in portraiture, PDN winner for personal project, and awards from Magenta Flash Forward, Communication Arts, American Photo, and others.