Although my apartment in Burbank charged extremely reasonable rent for the area and was conveniently located, it was small, in an old building with frequent plumbing problems. As a freelancer, I’d worked from home for years even before the pandemic, but I traveled frequently. During the COVID lockdowns, it became abundantly clear that I needed more space to function effectively. Throughout the pandemic, many of the things that had tied me to my life in California slowly fell away. Los Angeles started to feel stagnant. I’d begun working more in Arizona than California, both in my personal projects and commissioned ones. I frequently wondered why I was paying to live in California while working and spending most of my time in Arizona.
After traveling regularly between California and Arizona over the last couple of years, I was familiar with the sights along I-10. But just minutes after crossing the border into my new home state, I noticed a new billboard with a clear message: You moved to Arizona for more freedom, so don’t vote like you did in California.
And so after a lifetime spent living in reliably blue states ― Massachusetts, New York and California ― I found myself in a purple swing state just months before the midterm elections. Not just any swing state, but one that proved pivotal in 2020 and is being closely watched in the current election cycle as an indicator of how future elections may play out nationwide. Arizona has a number of election denier candidates on the ballot who openly hold and promote views I personally consider extremely dangerous to women, immigrants, minorities and the institution of American democracy.
I began to wonder about the others who’d moved here recently: the new Arizonans, an influx of voters. Where did they come from? Why did they leave where they’d been living and choose to settle in Arizona? And above all, what is on their minds as we approach a critical election, which could determine the future of this country? Knowing the rest of America is watching Arizona closely, I wanted to find out.
I decided to explore two things simultaneously: the state itself and the people who live here.
I embarked on multiple road trips to explore the state I now call home, searching for visual cues to help me understand my new surroundings and making pictures reflecting my emotional state as I adjust to my new home. I’d spent time in Arizona previously but never as a resident, and I found my perspective shifted. Unsurprisingly, religious and conservative political imagery and messages were prevalent throughout the state, along with American flags and the beautiful landscapes. I also found moments of humor. An adult video store was conveniently located next door to a 55+ retirement RV community in Apache Junction. Political signs showed evidence of human intervention, whether it was Donald Trump’s face extracted from a Kari Lake sign in Tucson, or a sign that had been altered to read “Marxist Kelly” in a small town near the massive mine in Morenci. Other messages were urgent, like a billboard in Phoenix depicting the five conservative Supreme Court justices which declared “Religious Extremists Want to Control Your Body! VOTE!” (it’s not wrong).
I also spoke with and photographed a number of people who had moved to Arizona from out of state since 2020. Though it was a small group of people, I was intrigued by the wide range of answers to my questions. Some cited wanting to be closer to family as a primary factor for moving here, while another was striking out on her own after growing up in the Midwest. One picked Tucson specifically due to the birdwatching opportunities in the area. Many mentioned the comparatively lower cost of living as an incentive to move here. Others selected it with their children in mind. There was a wide span of ages represented, from recent college graduates to those moving here with retirement approaching. No two people I photographed had moved from the same state.
When asked about the election specifically, answers ranged from fatigue and resignation to a feeling of energetic urgency and action. Some had donated their time to political campaigns, while others acknowledged they still had research to do to really understand the issues before voting, especially as new residents. Many spoke of concerns that echoed my own unspoken fears, particularly regarding human rights and voting rights.
As a woman, the knowledge that I now live in a state that doesn’t recognize my right to make my own medical decisions is terrifying. As a white woman, I’m fully aware it’s significantly worse for those who carry less privilege than I do. I worry about what it means for our future elections if election-deniers are voted into office. Above all else, I’m concerned for the future in a state with leaders ― both past and current ― who prioritize corporate handouts over the well-being and sustainability of life for its residents and the environment, in the face of unprecedented drought. What will happen when Arizona runs out of water entirely?
This election is just a step, a blip in the grand scheme of things, but some of the decisions made will have long-standing repercussions, potentially damaging the very structure of the country further. I’ll be watching, along with the rest of America, to see how the New Arizonans shape the future.