One little thing……can you see it? This visually minor detail represents a major mindset, and can be so divisive that the pure artistic statement of the woman’s body will become buried in an avalanche of distorted perceptions.
Lately I’m more and more concerned as a visual artist and street photographer. What can I put on social media without fear of this absurd and capricious avalanche? I’m beginning to question myself regularly, trying to guess whether or not I’m now living in a time when the practice of daily censorship in regards to images, ideas, and beliefs may not be a stray, wandering thought or a cafe conversation over a latte on a rainy afternoon in Greenwich Village.
I stumbled on an evening protest one night in Union Square. It was cold outside, but still agreeable. My son first registered the tumultuous procession heading towards Broadway, and insisted we investigate. I was not interested in yet another protest heading towards Washington Square Park, banging out tired phrases to a disinterested pedestrian population, no new ideas or energy able to galvanize or excite. He reminded me that he’s eighteen and a legal adult, and wanted to make a new plan for our evening. So I went along and discovered a crazy mixed population of protesters with signs and flags and energy that was infectious enough to carry me along.
The anti vaccination protest was filled with people from all neighborhoods in New York City. It was ethically diverse and hard to pin politically. I couldn’t figure out whether it was republican or democrat….it seemed to be a collection of people that otherwise had very little in common besides shared humanity but who were able to find one major connection. Intense anger at people on the street who were masked resulted in mockery and near physical altercations. Men carrying flags painted with obscenities against the current presidential administration were used as banners to shock onlookers and block traffic. My son became afraid to walk with the demonstrators, instead opting to follow at a distance because he did not want to be photographed or associated with the group. I watched masked shoppers along Broadway in Soho stop in wary appraisal, some being verbally abused for wearing masks in public by people carrying adulterated American flags. I felt uncomfortable and, as the crowd thickened, heading towards City Hall, I wanted desperately to put on my mask but I resisted the desire out of fear that I’d have a sudden problem in the crowd. I am a true believer in the power of the mask to mitigate spreading disease, and I began to feel a sense of revulsion for the young men attempting to bully and humiliate masked onlookers who were out doing early Christmas shopping with family and friends. Arguments broke out and some of the young men in the protest thrust themselves belligerently into the personal spaces of mask wearing observers, space generally reserved for close friends and family.
As the March ended, the boisterous and callous departed, leaving in their absence a candlelight vigil shrouded in peace, resignation, futility and a flickering alternation of hope and despair.
Despair over a once certain and productive future whose loss was now being respectfully and solemnly lamented by this now nearly silent group. A graveside service for a perception of a future devoid of true autonomy, even as it once existed within a social, democratic framework that did not necessarily always champion individual rights of choice, but rather protected the ideas as rights of existence in a country that is becoming hard to recognize and remember. The expression of disagreement equally protected, a privilege we have been promised as citizens of the United States of America.
I want my images to be impactful and utterly truthful. But some of that raw truth has had to be broadened to include pieces of an image that at one time would have been deemed entirely inoffensive, now reserved for my personal website. I’ve learned to recognize the perils of one small detail, and the reduced visibility and dissemination of ideas and images that don’t conform to the prevailing establishment increasingly affects modern photographers of life. As an image maker I am aware and sensitive to my rights to photograph the world as it appears to me, and always prefer to leave my images to speak for themselves, unadulterated. With this realization is the knowledge that I have to make concessions, or risk being trapped in a hastily conceived cloud of euphemism that was once called freedom of the press.