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An outsider's eye, an instant camera and America seen anew

A face mask decorates a large Superman statue in front of a building where tourists usually come to take photos, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Metropolis, ...
A sign reading "Cairo Chamber Commerce" hangs on an abandoned building, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in downtown Cairo, Ill.(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Trump supporters Roger Plott, 65; Bill Stevens, 76; Rick Warren, 65, and Jim Rainbolt 57, stand outside The Gunsmoke Club Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in We...
Youths play basketball at an outdoor court, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Meridian, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Two abandoned cars sit on the side of the road, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Meridian, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Demarkio Pritchett, 29, hugs his daughter, Mariah Pritchett 8, outside his grandmother's home, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Meridian, Miss. Pritchett, wh...
A tattered hat hangs on a fence at the Red Rock Canyon trail near Las Vegas Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A banner urging citizens to vote is displayed on the side of a street in Jackson Miss., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Tasha Lamm, 30, kisses her girlfriend, Alicia Mullins, 22, in front of their home in Bidwell, Ohio, on Monday, July 27, 2020. "It sucks being poor," s...
The Utah State Capitol building is photographed in Salt Lake City. Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. When it comes to politics, Utah has long claimed things are ...
A man wearing shorts in the colors and design of the U.S. flag walks down the street, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Metropolis, Ill. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
The front of a Dollar General store is seen in this Friday, July 31, 2020, photo in Kentucky. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A train track leads into a street next to silos in Mound City, Ill. on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A couple carries prizes won in arcade games on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. at the Mississippi State Fair, which is held every year in O...
An abandoned fire truck sits in a field partially covered by overgrowth, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Cairo, Ill. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Doris Miller 86, tends to her makeshift store selling Trump souvenirs in front of her home, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Vienna, Ill. This is a deeply con...
Children watch a pig race at the annual Mississippi State Fair, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A giant hotdog replica stands on the side of a highway in Lesage, W.Va., Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
People spin around in an amusement ride at the annual Mississippi State Fair, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Bison graze in a field, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Orderville, Utah. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A house is dwarfed by a cotton field surrounding it in Yazoo City, Miss., Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A mural of Breonna Taylor is among the painting of portraits painted on the facade of a building, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. Taylor was...
A Confederate flag hangs in the window of a home of a young Black woman in Shawnee Ohio, on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Confederate flags have become a sy...
A man waits for customers at a carwash which he spray painted as part of his design efforts in Yazoo City, Miss., Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong...
Wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and a knife on her hip for self defense, Mama Rose poses for a portrait, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Louisville, Ky...
Horses graze in a field, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Athens, Ohio. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Jack-o'-lanterns line the entrance to a home as part of Halloween decorations, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Meridian, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Women collect water from a trough in Athens, Ohio, on Sunday, July 26, 2020. People have been using it for at least a century, since horses were water...
The facade of a bar is decorated with a Confederate flag in Meridian, Miss., Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Voters in Mississippi face a series of governmen...
A road sign is illuminated along a highway in Ohio on Friday, July 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A face mask decorates a large Superman statue in front of a building where tourists usually come to take photos, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Metropolis, ...

A sign reading "Cairo Chamber Commerce" hangs on an abandoned building, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in downtown Cairo, Ill.(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Trump supporters Roger Plott, 65; Bill Stevens, 76; Rick Warren, 65, and Jim Rainbolt 57, stand outside The Gunsmoke Club Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in We...

Youths play basketball at an outdoor court, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Meridian, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Two abandoned cars sit on the side of the road, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Meridian, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Demarkio Pritchett, 29, hugs his daughter, Mariah Pritchett 8, outside his grandmother's home, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Meridian, Miss. Pritchett, wh...

A tattered hat hangs on a fence at the Red Rock Canyon trail near Las Vegas Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A banner urging citizens to vote is displayed on the side of a street in Jackson Miss., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Tasha Lamm, 30, kisses her girlfriend, Alicia Mullins, 22, in front of their home in Bidwell, Ohio, on Monday, July 27, 2020. "It sucks being poor," s...

The Utah State Capitol building is photographed in Salt Lake City. Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. When it comes to politics, Utah has long claimed things are ...

A man wearing shorts in the colors and design of the U.S. flag walks down the street, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Metropolis, Ill. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

The front of a Dollar General store is seen in this Friday, July 31, 2020, photo in Kentucky. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A train track leads into a street next to silos in Mound City, Ill. on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A couple carries prizes won in arcade games on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. at the Mississippi State Fair, which is held every year in O...

An abandoned fire truck sits in a field partially covered by overgrowth, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Cairo, Ill. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Doris Miller 86, tends to her makeshift store selling Trump souvenirs in front of her home, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Vienna, Ill. This is a deeply con...

Children watch a pig race at the annual Mississippi State Fair, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A giant hotdog replica stands on the side of a highway in Lesage, W.Va., Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

People spin around in an amusement ride at the annual Mississippi State Fair, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Bison graze in a field, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Orderville, Utah. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A house is dwarfed by a cotton field surrounding it in Yazoo City, Miss., Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A mural of Breonna Taylor is among the painting of portraits painted on the facade of a building, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. Taylor was...

A Confederate flag hangs in the window of a home of a young Black woman in Shawnee Ohio, on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Confederate flags have become a sy...

A man waits for customers at a carwash which he spray painted as part of his design efforts in Yazoo City, Miss., Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong...

Wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and a knife on her hip for self defense, Mama Rose poses for a portrait, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Louisville, Ky...

Horses graze in a field, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Athens, Ohio. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Jack-o'-lanterns line the entrance to a home as part of Halloween decorations, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Meridian, Miss. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Women collect water from a trough in Athens, Ohio, on Sunday, July 26, 2020. People have been using it for at least a century, since horses were water...

The facade of a bar is decorated with a Confederate flag in Meridian, Miss., Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Voters in Mississippi face a series of governmen...

A road sign is illuminated along a highway in Ohio on Friday, July 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Through the lens of an instant camera, through the eyes of an outsider, oft-neglected corners of America take on a very different cast.

There is beauty in the swing ride at the Mississippi State Fair, seats suspended against an azure sky. There is humor in the giant statue of a hotdog alongside a highway in Lesage, West Virginia. There is desolation in a street scene in Cairo, Illinois.

Photographer Maye-E Wong was part of an Associated Press team that drove the backroads during the run-up to the 2020 election. She illustrated stories about currents of racial tension that still ripple through towns that once expelled Black people, about how claims of a gentler political culture in Utah turned out to be far more complicated than the folklore, about people in coal country who were isolated from COVID-19 and race issues and so much more.

But Wong, raised in Singapore, also brought along an Instax camera that made prints immediately, without the complications of her professional equipment. Fully in the moment, she used that camera to compile a visual diary — “a collective portrait of a dysfunctional family,” as she describes it.

There are photos of the many people they met, from the Mississippi man whose wife had been put in a medically induced coma to the unemployed casino workers in Las Vegas struggling with poverty. Some supported Donald Trump and some didn’t, and so many opened their arms to the visitors.

But the Instax photos — tangible, color-saturated art-on-the-spot — also capturing slices of American life and the American landscape: Youths playing basketball on an outdoor court in Mississippi. A pig race at the state fair. Women collecting water at an old trough in Ohio.

Exquisite images of a Mississippi cotton field and bison grazing in Utah give way to shots that are less so — a Dollar General in Kentucky, abandoned cars in Meridian, Mississippi. There is irony in a Superman statue, usually a favorite spot for tourists to pose in Metropolis, Illinois.

In these pandemic times, there is no one around. And Superman wears a mask.