Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 12, 2011

Nina Berman at Occupy Wall Street: The Statue of Liberty Re-Imagined

As I wrote on Tumblr the other day, what caused me to immediately sit up and take notice of Occupy Wall Street was how the signage and symbolism applied familiar cultural messages and metaphors in fresh kinds of ways. This convinced me that something larger and more significant was underfoot.

If I had to generalize about the mixing and mashing, a consistent pattern I’m seeing is the blending of died-in-the-wool American patriotic symbolism with activist, civil rights and anti-war imagery. With that in mind, what I see reflected in this photo (and I’m sure you’ll see more) is the Statue of Liberty beautifully re-imagined in a young face with brown skin (consistent with the country’s demographic trend line).  At the same time, I see Angela Davis, but even more so, the unforgettably bitter, yet conscientious gestures of John Carlos and Tommy Smith on the winners stand at the ’68 Mexico City Olympics. If stretching a bit, the blanket even has a Native American feel to me, the “rainbow” and androgynous flavor here symbolizing the widening social net of this nascent and magnetic movement.

And then, I’m also attracted to the distant tree and the delicate orbs of blurry light which, by way of abstraction, not only serve to soften the hard effect of the towering landscape but, given the transformational quality of dusk, lends the magical quality of nature … and the approaching holiday time. People wouldn’t be responding to this protest wave if it didn’t represent hope reclaimed and a little bit of joy, driven, as it is, by some crazy notion of liberty and justice for all.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY NINA BERMAN/NOOR.

See all Bag Occupy Wall Street coverage here.

(linked image 1: AP; linked image 2: unidentified)

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for Reading The Pictures here.

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