Emily Anne Epstein
Emily Anne Epstein
Emily Anne Epstein is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees visuals. She has worked as a photojournalist, reporter, and the managing editor of the New York Observer.
Calla Kessler / EchoSight / The Atlantic

Photographing the American Dreamers

When we asked Atlantic readers to show us what a successful life looks like, we received hundreds of submissions from around the country. Then, we smashed them up.

  • Matt Eich

    A Husband Captures His Wife's World

    Photographs of Melissa Eich, a speech pathologist in Charlottesville, Virginia, taken by her husband Matt Eich

  • Katie Martin / Emily Jan / The Atlantic

    My Lifelong Frizz-Ease Addiction

    How I became convinced my hair wasn’t curly, it was defective

  • Jessica Chou

    Millennials in the Gig Economy

    Photographs of freelancers living in Los Angeles, made by photographer Jessica Chou

  • Ann Sophie Lindström

    The Equestrians of North Philly

    How a riding club counters crime with horses

  • Trenton Moore

    Working in the Cloud

    Photographs of the offices of the cloud-computing company Rackspace in Texas, Virginia, and New York, made by photographer Trenton Moore

  • © Emilie Richardson

    Veterans Returning to Civilian Life

    Photographs of military vets making their way as civilians in New York City, made by photographer Emilie Richardson

  • Jason Hawkes

    A Dizzying Tour of London

    Incredible photographs of England’s ever-changing metropolis

  • Justin L. Stewart

    Struggling to Make Ends Meet

    Photographs of a working family in Los Angeles, made by photographer Justin L. Stewart

  • Andrew Lichtenstein

    The Power of Protest Photography

    A new exhibition captures the rallies, riots, marches, and demonstrations that erupted in New York City between 1980 and 2000.

  • Elizabeth Conley

    A Church for the Unemployed

    Photographs of the NorthWest Bible Church’s Between Jobs Ministry in Spring, Texas, made by photographer Elizabeth Conley

  • ‘America's Strengths Are in Its Immigrant Communities’

    Gifriends

    Zuleyma Peralta, 29, Ph.D. candidate
    Lives in Sunnyside, Queens; emigrated from Mexico

    To me, America really means trying to look for the American dream. When I came here, I came from the mountains of Guerrero. My parents were poor. My dad was struggling; even though he was a teacher, he wanted me to have a better future, so he brought me here. It wasn’t my choice, obviously, but I’m really glad he did, because he opened a world of opportunities here for me. Every day I just wake up and try to make him proud. I’m currently doing a Ph.D. Making sure that their sacrifice, and the sacrifice that they’re still making, is really worth it. And to me that’s what America symbolizes. The fact that you can come here and make something of yourself, even if you come from nothing.

    Gifriends

    Robin Glazer, 61, Director at the Creative Center at University Settlement Lives in Jersey City, New Jersey

    America’s strengths are in its immigrant communities, and all the amazing things that they’ve brought to the table and influenced. I was in education for 22 years as an art teacher for a public school system here in New York. And I will tell you that every year as my classes became more diverse and rich, the artwork that came out of that was more diverse and rich. The teachers were influenced by it, the administration was influenced by it.

    The best American is somebody who is inclusive of all, respectful of all, curious about all, doesn’t shut anything down—which is kind of an oxymoron in the fact that I really cannot talk to Trump supporters now and I do shut them down in my mind. People felt disenfranchised. They needed somebody to blame.

    Gifriends

    Darryl Scherba, 68, Architect
    Lives in Upper East Side, Manhattan

    For the last 300 or so years, we’ve been a pretty unique place in the world. Most immigrants, when they come here, they have a better understanding of what America means than most natives. We have an unbridled spirit. Optimism. A belief in the future. A sharing of disparate pasts. And a coming together, unlike most other countries in the world. And I think we’re unique in the sense that we’re a melting pot of so many nationalities.

  • When Tragedy Forces Us Together

    Gifriends

    Michael McLean, 50, Construction Worker
    Lives in Upper West Side, Manhattan

    I think America is at its best under turmoil. Not war, although we do respond very well to war, but when there’s a need—there’s a crisis. We are the most giving country in the world, as far as philanthropy, so when there’s a crisis, we’re at our best.

    An American is someone who bleeds and is willing to defend our country. Somebody who realizes the big picture—you’re only a piece, part of the whole. Someone who can put aside their biases, their personal, political opinions, and realize what's better for the greater good.

    Gifriends

    John Moody, 35, State Farm Agent
    Lives in Charlotte, North Carolina

    I think America is unfortunately at its best when there are events that force us to come together—9/11, major storms, catastrophic events—are what really brings us out together. Kind of like the church shooting we had in Charleston, South Carolina. We were living in Columbia, South Carolina, at the time and it really kind of brought everybody together. There wasn’t any kind of violent protest or anything like that. People were just hugging and kissing.

    Gifriends

    Carlos Alvarado, 45, Production Manager
    Lives in Riverdale, Bronx

    Right now I think we live in two different countries. You have the urban, cosmopolitan lifestyle. And then you have a rural life that thinks that we’re all liberal elites or whatever. I think if we all just talked to each other, we could see that we have a lot in common. You know? America is at its best when we’re all together. I’m not sure if it’s a good example, but when 9/11 happened, we all became Americans. It wasn’t white, black, Spanish. We’re all Americans. So I’m not sure if a tragedy would get us together, but maybe. When we’re together is when we’re at our strongest.

  • ‘The Constitution Is a Work of Art’

    Gifriends

    Thomas Cheeseboro, 49, Warehouse Worker
    Lives in Harlem, Manhattan

    America’s strength is that we are “a free country” and we are a leader in the world, the free world. Freedom of speech, the rights that we have that most countries don’t have—that’s America’s strength. Creativity. Ingenuity. Thoughtfulness. Love for your fellow man. That’s what makes America.

    Gifriends

    Anthony Verdille, 35, Retirement Services
    Lives in Massachusetts

    I think America’s always been at its best. I don’t think it matters how bad we are, how bad we think we are. I think … the people who travel across the world, know how well we are doing, regardless of what situation we’re in. I think we’re diversified, innovative, and leading. We always want to be leading in everything we do. And I think that’s the history of our country. I think that’s kind of what each person delivers.

    Gifriends

    Naomi Shaanan, 64, Retired
    Lives in Israel

    America is a great democracy with a beautiful history. People came out from religious persecution, and that’s what created a nice country. The Constitution is a work of art. And Americans are very proud; they’re very sure of themselves and very sure of their country.  

  • ‘I Don't Know If We've Been at Our Best Ever’

    Gifriends

    Mike Puckett, 26, Comedian
    Lives in Brooklyn

    I don’t know if we’ve been at our best ever. Well, maybe the past eight years, I guess I’d say, because we had a president most people (that I know) were excited about. I know that means I live in a bubble, to some extent. But also because even though we have a lot of problems we’ve become more aware of them, and at least started a lot of dialogues that I don't think were being had otherwise.

    Gifriends

    Kevin Hines, 52, Kite Flyer
    Lives in Midtown, Manhattan

    I don’t mean to go off on America, but in order for America to really be America, we say “the land of the free, home of the brave.” A lot of people in America don’t feel free. They don’t feel like America is with them and it shouldn’t be like that. We should embrace each other. Our differences are just what they are: differences. But we are all the same, in our own unique ways.

    Gifriends

    Ollie Corchado, 26, Actor and Courier
    Lives in Washington Heights, Manhattan

    During the Olympics this past year, I feel like everybody just loved everybody. We were just like, “yes, we are on top, man.” We got Michael Phelps and Simone Biles just kicking ass, and like doing awesome. Everybody just loved everybody. I think that’s when America’s at its best. When everybody focuses on the positives, and not so much on the negatives. There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens, but if we just focus on the positives I really think that’s when we get things going. You don’t quit, you don’t give up. And even if you lose, the idea is you pick yourself back up. That’s the big American quality that I think is cool.

  • ‘I Know We're Going to Get Through the Next Four Years’

    Gifriends

    Zarmina Amin, 30, Doctor
    Lives in Miami, Florida; originally from Pakistan

    Everything’s always been great. We’re welcoming, we’re honest, and everybody here is very hardworking. I’m an American and I love this place. I hope that Donald Trump proves to be a good president, which I don’t doubt that he will be, and everything goes for the best for our country.

    Gifriends

    Brittany Grey, 28, Social Entrepreneur
    Lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn

    I definitely think we’re at our best when we’re just working together and really just trying to be more understanding, rather than fighting everybody to have the same beliefs as us. Because we have to have understanding. I don’t feel that the people who voted for Trump are necessarily bad people, but there’s something deep down that we don’t understand about them and they don’t understand about us, so there’s gotta be some type of dialogue for us to come together.

    Gifriends

    Lewis Long, 51, Art Gallery Owner
    Lives in Harlem, Manhattan

    I think America is at its best when it really values the vast differences of its people and when it provides opportunities for those people. We’re at a pivotal time in our country. Demographics are changing. I think structurally, our economy is changing. There is less labor required to do the work that’s been done. And so, there are a lot of people that are fearful.

    I think it’s going to be a difficult year. I think there are going to be convulsions from approaches that are nontraditional, from leadership that has been polarizing and hasn’t really made efforts to kind of resolve some raw feelings. I think that it’s a big unknown, but at the end of the day I think that the spirit of the American people, you know, it’s resilient. I think that ultimately our democracy is strong enough to overwhelm any type of behavior. I think in the short term it may feel like a setback. But I think in the long term it will galvanize, mobilize people, and will make us a stronger people, a stronger country.

  • Angela Jimenez

    Winning the Race Against Time

    Age can’t keep these senior track and field athletes from the finish line

  • Ryan Collerd

    The Municipal Life of Philadelphia

    Photographs of workers in Philadelphia's Municipal Offices, made by photographer Ryan Collerd

  • Mark Meyer

    Exploring Alaska's Roadside Glaciers

    Some expeditions require little more than a car and semi-serious walking shoes

  • © Amanda Swinhart

    The Caregivers and the Elders

    Images of caregivers at work in their offices and in the homes of the elderly clients they serve, made by photographer Amanda Swinhart

  • Scott McIntyre

    Choosing to Become an American

    Just after the election,The Atlantic sent photographers to naturalization ceremonies across the U.S. to meet people on the day they became citizens.