In Protest

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...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
— Constitution of United States of America

On the afternoon of March 25, 1911, hundreds of workers, including children as young as 14, desperately pounded on the locked doors as acrid smoke torrid flames spread across the building with startling speed. Frances Perkins was having a leisurely afternoon when she heard the pointed wail of sirens rush past her home. As the fire engines kept coming Frances became curious and followed them. What she saw changed her life – and the course of the labor movement as we recognize it today. Over one hundred people, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, died in the fire – either from the flames themselves, smoke inhalation, or jumping out open windows of the ten-story building. Locked exits in commercial structures were commonplace in the early twentieth century to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was a completely preventable, man-made disaster.

The beginning through the middle of the twentieth century saw unprecedented change driven by the skillful use of political action. Are contemporary remedies to our collective angst as well served through demonstrations similar to those decades ago? Are we well served by protest in 2018, when issues have magnified in complexity? Is our use of protest more reflexive habit than solution? I have photographed my share of modern protests, and though I was not alive in the fifties and sixties, I can’t help but feel that modern demonstrations don’t hold the transformative power they once did. Why, in the age of social media – when organization is easier than ever, have protests lost the unified grip of the public’s consciousness? The ironic truth is that the very strength of the modern world, our untethered ability to connect with each other on a somewhat perfunctory level, may be crippling the effectiveness of organization.

Ask any seventh-grader who Rosa Parks is, and he or she will explain the story of her refusal to give up her seat on a bus; however, The Montgomery Bus Boycott did not possess the political power it did due to happenstance – it was a masterpiece of discipline and logistics. The spark for such a flame never could have emanated from Twitter despite such a combustible public atmosphere, and it never would have gripped the nation as it did. Martin Luther King had given several variants of his famous speech prior to the summer of 1963. The speech wasn’t immortalized in history until the Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, where no logistical detail was too small to avoid having been painstaking considered. The venue, sound system, intimate media vantage points and a myriad of additional laboriously considered factors transformed a great speaker into an immortal icon.

In a world where every citizen wields greater reach that only a carefully considered few did in years past it’s no wonder that we find our organized demonstrations lacking in sustained organization. What does this mean for the future, and will we find a new way to turn the fine clockwork of progress? If photography is simply a mirror that reflects our joys, sorrow, misgivings and hope, what does this series of photographs say about us?

A Crisis of Confidence

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Comparison is the thief of joy.
— Theodore Roosevelt

My progression through photography in the last five years has not been linear. I have had many small successes and a few large failures, but the larger trend is heading in the right direction. Looking back, one of my most substantial missteps has been failing to see the importance of documenting things that hold value to me but perhaps very few others – friends, family and personal moments. It’s all too easy to forget what initially drew us to photography and to begin creating work for an audience, not for ourselves. There is a charming poetry to everyday life, the quiet moments that form our real memories and the things we care about most deeply. It is these very moments that may end up being the most important photographs we ever take. At its heart, photography is a true record of life – real moments and memories, good and bad.

The issue of confidence is a notable through line among much of my internal struggle with photography, and I believe this is why it is so easy to be lured into creating work for the consumption of others and not for our own satisfaction. Over the years my library of printed photographs has grown large; however, I can count the number of framed prints I have displayed on one hand. This was my first suspicion that something was amiss with my work. Let me rephrase that; it was my first suspicion that something was amiss with my own view of my work. We all view our own work through a somewhat distorted lens simply by the fact that we have a deeply personal connection with each image. This is why getting some distance from our own photographs and curating each project with a critical eye is important, but it can become a source of creative paralysis when we become excessively critical. It is clear with even a quick search online that there is no shortage of talented photographers, and it’s all too easy to begin comparing our work to what we see. With this realization a natural question may be, why bother creating images when so much excellent work has already been realized? Honestly, I’m not sure I have the answer. Perhaps it is simply a reckoning with ourselves, an instinct to locate a form of truth in a chaotic world or a need for meaning. All human beings, at some level, need to find meaning within our own existence. In any event, I’ll continue taking photographs, not because I feel my images are special, but because I have something to say; I am compelled to create.