November 9, 2011

Protest In the Present Tents: The Overarching Symbol of Occupy

My intent was to comment on the Vancouver Occupy portraits presented on the new CNN photo blog. What happened, though, is that pic #4, above, took me off in another direction.

Over the past few months, the Occupy symbol that has come to characterize both the soul and the footprint of the movement — even if relegated to the background — is the trusty camping tent. Sprouting like mushrooms, they represent the public reclaiming space from “the man.” From Denver to Oakland, they start tearing down tents, it’s like bulldozing people’s rights, hopes and homes. So yes, when I saw this, my eye skipped right past the Occupier to his shelter, and, just like there are cool brands (iPad) vs. evil brands (Exxon, JPMorgan), you can’t get cooler than Coleman right now.

And, because symbols reverberate, I thought I’d offer two variations on the theme.


Please check out the photo-story Ben Roberts just did in which he had the unique, if thoroughly common-sense idea of photographing inside the tents at Occupy London’s St. Paul’s Churchyard. What’s brilliant about the story is how much the photos personalize what’s up in these camps. I experienced this first-hand hanging out at Zuccotti last week. It’s the first time, however, I’ve seen photos successfully convey the same feeling of intimacy and domesticity. (Here’s the BBC story, although the pictures are larger on Ben’s site.)

Daniel Shea NPR Picture Show

Then finally, take a look at this photo NPR’s Picture Show published about six months ago by photographer, Daniel Shea. (Full post here.) Yes, Shea’s work predates Occupy, his subject matter is specific to coal-burning plants laying waste to small town America, and the photo captures a guy in Racine simply camping in the shadow of one such plant. In spite of all that, however, I’ve found myself returning to this photo over-and-over since Occupy started, captivated as I am by the tent as an activist symbol and a hopeful counterweight to all the ugly business that’s been going on under our noses and behind our backs.

(Occupy photo: Mario Strim)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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