Picturing Dissent: 50 Years of Protest Photographs
The photograph has long been instrumental to the act of protest. Though photographs have always played a defining role in our collective memory, they have never been more immediate or reproducible. Advancements in technology have given rise to new avenues for self-documentation and citizen journalism, while social media has allowed us to bear witness in real-time. Just as the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989 are widely remembered in relation to Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin’s iconic “Tank Man” photograph, the viral Facebook Live videos showing law enforcement deploying water cannons on a crowd of activists throw the spotlight on recent protests at Standing Rock.
In anticipation of the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, Aperture’s editors highlight images of protest that are a testament to the ever-evolving visual language of dissent.
“Sharon Hayes draws on the tradition of women performing actions in public spaces as a challenge to gender norms, male power, and the patriarchal monopoly on authorship. For Hayes’s series In the Near Future (2009), she had herself photographed in public spaces carrying placards from historical protests, such as one that reads “I AM A MAN,” from the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, and another demanding “Ratify E.R.A. NOW!,” from the failed struggle to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s. Hayes’s photographs, depicting herself as a lone picketer protester adopting a pastiche of historical issues, bring up discomfiting issues of artistic agency and political efficacy, as the collective and performative nature of protest becomes a gesture of remembrance.” —Eva Díaz
Eva Díaz is Associate Professor, History of Art and Design, at the Pratt Institute. Sharon Hayes’s work originally appeared in Aperture 225, “On Feminism.”
“Roye is especially concerned with what it means to belong. To that end, injustice and inequality are at the center of his focus . . . He has walked in rhythm with foot traffic all over the United States in the past few years, hoping to show ‘the faces of those whose lives are spent living in protest.’ The resulting series, When Living Is a Protest, reminds us that to walk is to bear witness, for we are pilgrims, all.” —Garnette Cadogan
Garnette Cadogan is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. Radcliffe Roye’s photograph originally appeared in Aperture 223, “Vision & Justice.”
“When a small group of protesters occupying Gezi Park in Istanbul, opposed to its proposed transformation into a shopping mall, were teargassed by the police, Turks were outraged both by the disproportionate use of force and by CNN Türk’s failure to report on the protests. Referencing CNN Türk’s decision to air a documentary about Antarctic penguins instead of the protests, a gas-mask-wearing penguin became an unofficial protest mascot, and Turkish activists adopted a disciplined process of self-documentation, producing photos and videos that demonstrated the peaceful nature of the protests and the disproportionate responses of the police and the military.” —Ethan Zuckerman
Ethan Zuckerman directs the Center for Civic Media at MIT and is a principal research scientist at MIT’s Media Lab. Mehmet Kacmaz’s photograph originally appeared in Aperture 214, “Documentary Expanded.”
“I was filming on-site in Tijuana when I took this picture. One man stares ahead while the other reads a gossip magazine, possibly avoiding my gaze. Resting under their makeshift shelter, they tell me that many here are orphans.
“Outside the frame: a man squats along the hillside, his face buried in a scavenged Marie Callender’s fettuccini alfredo; a Caterpillar tractor buries waste from a massive mountain; people scurry at its base, collecting copper pulled from wire (it’s in high demand); seagulls swarm. Some here describe journeys made to the United States to work construction. They slept in canyons outside construction sites. When their jobs were done, they were deported.
“A friend once described his hometown of Tijuana as a future city. Now, I wonder how many more people find themselves here, on the front line.”—Laura Hanna
Laura Hanna is a filmmaker, media activist, and political organizer. Her photograph originally appeared in Aperture 224, “Sounds.”
“When revolution is understood not as a will to seize or preserve power but instead as a reorganization of the body politic, revolution emerges as a language that is constantly shaped by those who use it, as we have seen in the last decade around the globe . . . The future of journalism cannot be limited to journalism as a profession but to our capacity to imagine new forms that will help transcend the genealogy of colonies, mandates, and sovereign states and their knowledge regimes. This is what makes our historical moment so exciting. All around the globe, people are inventing—and sharing with others—different forms of colaboring, cothinking, comapping.” —Ariella Azoulay
Ariella Azoulay is the author of Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (2012). Jeff Lautenberger’s photograph originally appeared in Aperture 214, “Documentary Expanded.”
“From scenes of a community’s joy to scenes of anger and protest, Allen’s work expresses a profound cultural shift toward grassroots, proletarian ideals that in recent years have influenced millennials across the country. Resonating with a long history of social justice photojournalism, his images reveal influences of the Black Lives Matter ideology, both as a political program and as an ethos. In Allen’s more confrontational photographs, the sense of injustice and indignation conveyed by the people who populate his images is palpable. These are people who understand that through action and mobilization it is possible to create change.” —Aaron Bryant
Aaron Bryant is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Photography at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. Devin Allen’s photograph originally appeared in Aperture 223, “Vision & Justice.”
“During the 2013 protests, Mídia Ninja became one of the most instrumental collectives to provide on-the-scene coverage: Several videos posted on Twitcast reached as many as one hundred thousand viewers. With a huge portfolio documenting conflict situations, they were able to confront major news providers whose coverage had been critical of the protests, forcing some to adjust their content and provide a more nuanced portrayal that included not only scenes of vandalism on the part of protesters but also scenes of police violence.” —Ronaldo Entler
Ronaldo Entler, a researcher and photography critic, is a professor at the School of Communication of Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation (FAAP), in São Paulo. Mídia Ninja’s photograph originally appeared in Aperture 215, “São Paulo.”
“At first, we only had the oral history to inspire us. In 1989, I was organizing some ACT UP activists to disrupt trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to protest the high price of AZT, the first drug approved to treat AIDS. We knew that activists had done this only once before, in 1967. Abbie Hoffman had led some Yippies in a counterculture prank, throwing dollar bills from the visitors’ gallery onto the trading floor below. We drowned out the opening bell with marine foghorns and threw fake hundred-dollar bills that read “FUCK YOUR PROFITEERING” as our homage to Hoffman. Finding this photograph online years later completed the circle. I know that joy well when all of your planning pays off and your activism succeeds. I too smiled as I was led out of the exchange, and I pumped my fists as the price of AZT was lowered three days later.” —Peter Staley
Peter Staley is a long-term AIDS and gay rights activist, first as a member of ACT UP New York, then as the founding director of Treatment Action Group (TAG). Arty Pomerantz’s photograph originally appeared in Aperture 224, “Sounds.”
“Rights for women to be treated as equal citizens have been won over many centuries, a process requiring countless protests and demands for recognition, and in struggles marred by frustration and defeat. Yet equality has not been accomplished. Parity in wages and income between men and women has not been attained, and sexism and violence against women are still prevalent. Hell, studies show that women are still doing more housework than men.”—Eva Díaz
Eva Díaz is Associate Professor, History of Art and Design, at the Pratt Institute. Goshka Macuga’s work originally appeared in Aperture 225, “On Feminism.”
“Takuma Nakahira, who got his start in photography and criticism only around 1965, had by the end of that decade already become one of the most influential figures in contemporary culture in Japan. Nakahira’s incisive writing cut apart standing views in literature, film, politics, and especially photography, and he published both articles and photographs at a feverish rate. He wanted a relation between these two activities that could come closer than complementarity—a joint force of action, perhaps . . . Provoke: Provocative Materials for Thought—the short-lived photography journal that Nakahira helped to found, which blazed its trail across the Tokyo cultural scene in those years—took its name from such intertwined desires. Writing and photography should illuminate the world, explosively, and they should set each other ablaze as well.” —Matthew S. Witkovsky
Matthew S. Witkovsky is Sandor Chair of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago. Takuma Nakahira’s photograph originally appeared in Aperture 219, “Tokyo.”
“One of the more stringent collectives to rise out of the unrest of 2013 is FotoProtestoSP. Its thirty members include several well-established veterans of Brazilian photojournalism, such as Maurício Lima, Marlene Bergamo, Fernando Costa Netto, Keiny Andrade, Ignácio Aronovich, and José Francisco Diório. Their manifesto radiates indignation with the country’s political structure and asserts a desire to explore the critical power of photography beyond private media platforms and art institutions . . . According to Renato Stockler, one of the group’s members, its objective is to occupy the city’s leisure spaces and to remind residents of the power people have when they unite around a common cause.” —Ronaldo Entler
Ronaldo Entler is a professor at the School of Communication of Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation (FAAP), in São Paulo. Jeff Lautenberger’s photograph originally appeared in Aperture 215, “São Paulo.”
“In 1922, Alexander Chizhevsky, a maverick Russian scientist, argued that revolutions and social movements are influenced by the eleven-year solar sunspot cycle. He claimed that for the last two thousand years, mass upheavals have tended to occur during periods of peak sunspot activity. Chizhevsky’s heterodox theory of revolution contradicted Marxist historical materialism and landed him in a Stalinist gulag.
“Now fast-forward to September 17, 2011—the first day of Occupy Wall Street. In the very early morning a coronal mass ejection hits earth, triggering spectacular auroras. And while Occupiers establish their Zuccotti Park encampment in Lower Manhattan, the sun is erupting in an abnormally high number of sunspots. Coincidence?” —Micah White
Micah White is the author of The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution (2016) and the cocreator of Occupy Wall Street. This photograph of the sun originally appeared in Aperture 224, “Sounds.”