Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 2, 2011

Nina Berman at Occupy Wall Street: Beyond the Hula Hoop

Nina Berman sent me this photo immediately after I read Glenn Greenwald’s post last Wednesday titled: What’s behind the scorn for the Wall Street protests? The photo was taken Sept 20th, Day 4 of the “Occupy Wall Street” action, just before the pepper spray incident and before the encampment downtown had taken root.

In his post, Greenwald discusses how threatening the protests are to institutional forces in both parties — particularly progressive critics harping on tactical and organizational issues, including the lack of a clear message or media strategy. Greenwald’s rebuttal to this “lack of professionalism” is that “young people speaking their minds,” as the song says, are exactly the ones to reject formalities and methodologies and just take to the streets to “channel widespread anger into activism rather than resignation.”

Given the costs and risks one incurs from participating in protests like this — to say nothing of the widespread mockery one receives – it’s natural that most of the participants will be young and not yet desperate to cling to institutional stability.

These words, of course, are offered to insulate the photograph as I can’t imagine anyone looking at this street scene — progressives included — without at least some amount of eye-rolling. What I would ask you to do, however, just as an experiment, is to:

…Close your eyes for a second and try and look at this photo again as if the 60’s had never happened.

…Take another look at this photo without a shred of irony.

…Think about how much this marketing age has so divorced us from our own bodies and so turned us into objects — whether objects of obsession or objects of manipulation — that the sight of too much skin (beyond our own intimates, and outside the billboard, magazine, video or movie screen) can be downright terrifying.

…Look at this photo as if “game playing” was widely understood as a clever intervention that, in the discomfort induced, successfully shakes people out of their Stepford-like stupor for a moment.

If you can manage to do all that, what you’ll see — in a society that has otherwise shunned freeform demonstration — is not randomness, frivolity, disorganization or nostalgia, but rather the hip-shaking arrival of New York City’s “first responders” to the utter collapse of economic justice.

PHOTOGRAPH by Nina Berman/Noor

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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