Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Here yesterday, gone today….

One of my favourite artists, JR, was in New York some time ago, and pasted up some images from the ‘Lakota, Dakota Nation’ project that is part of Inside Out, the global, participatory enterprise launched by JR after winning the TED prize last year. I’m a big fan of JR’s work and have recently been writing about it in my academic work, so it’s always a pleasure to see his images on display in a city.

I was staying in SoHo during my recent trip to New York and walked past these two images every day:

Hugely striking, not just for their close-up intimacy, as characterises all of JR’s work, but also, especially in the second of those two pieces, for their placement. For that face to run on its side along the top of the building was a counter-intuitive decision that works really well.

In addition to those two locations, JR’s work was also on the best-known spot in Manhattan: the wall at the corner of East Houston Street and Bowery:

This image works really well in this setting: the black and white photography stands out against the urban background, the shape of the section of face that is featured seems to fit the space of the wall particularly well.

It was lucky that I photographed it when I did, because unbeknownst to me that wall was about to be transformed. Within two days, JR was gone and Faile were putting up a very different image, involving stand-out colouration, images from pop culture, fragments of text, and collaged figures, as has become their signature. The wall at East Houston and Bowery works so well because its size, shape and location next to the plain white wall of a building mean that large-scale portraits such as JR’s work beautifully, but also busy, flattened, pop images like Faile’s also seem to draw energy from the location.

When I went by to see it, Faile were putting the finishing touches to it, and there were many happy passers-by like myself taking photographs, including the legend herself, Martha Cooper.

Occupy Wall Street – an essay in images

I’m in New York for a conference on law and the image, so this afternoon I went to see the Occupy Wall Street protest that has been happening there for a number of weeks now. As most people will know, Occupy Wall Street actually occupies Zuccotti Park, which is close to Wall Street, and is a conglomeration of disparate protests, protesters, issues and aims, loosely united under the banner slogan ‘We are the 99%’. Many of the issues being raised and protested there are to do with corporate greed, fraud, exploitation, and so on, but many are also protesting about issues such as campaign financing, the dispossession of native Americans, the stop and frisk laws that allow police officers to search individuals based on stereotyping rather than on evidence-based grounds, and many more.

Many others have written about Occupy Wall Street, and the various related protests occurring around the globe, including in Melbourne. For a sample, check out an excellent essay by McKenzie Wark; today’s Guardian article about the arrest of Naomi Klein at a related protest; and the We Are The 99% tumblr site.

Instead of adding a lot more words to what has already been written, I thought I would put together some of the photos that I took today, to try to convey a sense of the protest and the place it is taking place in. To situate it, you have to imagine a small city park, no grass, just concrete, with some floral beds and a lot of trees. The park constitutes a small open space in the midst of some of New York’s most corporate and most solid skyscrapers. (To add a further, uncanny, dimension to the protest’s location, the park is diagonally across an intersection from the World Trade Center site, where the 9/11 memorial is, and where new skyscrapers to replace the lost Twin Towers are being busily constructed.)

This little park is filled with people: protesters, journalists, photographers, tourists, visitors. Around the park’s perimeter, police officers lean against barriers, monitoring the protest, and stepping up at frequent intervals to instruct people taking photographs or speaking with protesters to ‘move along’ and ‘clear the sidewalk’ (no doubt this is part of the claimed right to control the sidewalk that Naomi Klein adverts to in her account of her arrest).

Here, then, is a glimpse into Occupy Wall Street, as it took place on the afternoon of 20 October 2001.

What will happen at Zuccotti Park? How long will the protest last? No-one knows the answer to these questions, and they are probably the wrong ones to ask. What’s more important is that the protest is happening now, and that fact, each and every day that it is there, creates a politics in public space and demands a response. The lines of police outside the park, the rows of police vehicles in the streets, and the well-documented behaviour of the ‘white-shirted’ officers in their arrests indicate that the repression of the protest will be brought about some day (perhaps assisted by the weather, as the seasons shift from summer into autumn and winter). But even if that happens, Occupy Wall Street will have shown itself to be a formidable political peformance.