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The Things We Have to Fear

Mike Belleme traveled through the South asking people one question: “What is your greatest fear or concern?

Photograph by Mike Belleme

When Mike Belleme began traveling through the South to collect photographs for his series “States of Fear,” he asked his subjects a simple question: “What is your greatest fear or concern?” He expected their responses to be “irrational, the result of political fearmongering.” But in interview after interview, he discovered that their fears run deeper than politics. It’s far more personal, Belleme says, “the result of things that are happening right around them.”

His photos capture Southerners in everyday moments, often quiet and reflective. A coal miner fears losing the life he’s known: “I’m too old to change now—don’t want to.” A refugee fears extremists will kill his family in Iraq: “There is no way back, I would be stupid to go.” A stylist at a funeral home fears for her children’s future: “For them to stray from their faith would be, in my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to them.” A police officer in Kentucky, who at first appeared strong and resolute, fears talking about his emotions: “My biggest fear is expressing to the ones in my inner circle, my friends and family, that I love them.”

Damien Trott, pictured above, works as a mascot for Liberty Tax Service in Columbia, South Carolina. Standing on the roadside, he fears getting jumped by gang members. Only 21, he was once hospitalized after being attacked. He now spends his workday in a state of constant anxiety. “You never know what might happen,” he says. “Protect yourself at all times.”  

Starting September 23rd, Mike Belleme takes over the @NewRepublic’s Instagram to share photographs from “States of Fear.”