Photographers' Blog

A voice of Occupy Wall Street

By Andrew Burton

When the Occupy Wall Street movement began their Spring Training sessions earlier this year, I realized I had focused much of my coverage throughout the fall of 2011 on the most sensationalistic events – large marches, mass arrests and sporadic violence. It dawned on me that I had seen very little photojournalistic work, from myself or other photographers, looking at Occupy Wall Street’s more mundane or personal aspects – essentially, who the protesters were beyond the demonstrations.

SLIDESHOW: LIFE OF AN OCCUPY ACTIVIST

I decided to approach Austin Guest to see if he’d be interested in allowing me to follow him as an individual. Guest is an organizer, videographer and creative-action planner in the movement. I had seen him lead marches, moderate group conversations and give speeches – in essence, I had been impressed at his ability to speak to groups and lead large rallies. Austin was open to the idea and over the past month I’ve tried to spend as much time with him as possible – before, during and after events, with friends, at the bar, eating dinner, shopping for supplies and training for future events.

What I found in Guest was a fascinating character – a Harvard-educated man who had been living in Brooklyn for the past seven years, working with Align, a community based organization focused on housing for low-income communities. Guest, who worked two blocks south of Zuccotti Park, was initially skeptical of the movement, but by mid-October, 2011, had been won over. He says a key moment was October 1, 2011 – a day in which over 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. On that day, Guest was on the pedestrian level of the bridge, watching hundreds of protesters getting arrested on the vehicle-level below him. He found himself simultaneously mic-checking the group (leading a conversation) about what the protesters should do, and filming the arrests. Later that day, he went and logged the footage for Occupy’s media team.

“In the world I came from, you had to work for years to get seniority enough to be in charge… [you were] constantly being disciplined if you weren’t on the right message, it was hierarchies… here I was being trusted with this really vital and important role to keep these people safe and document what was happening to them and it felt really empowering,” Guest said.

Guest quit his job on November 19 and has focused on the movement full time. He believes the country’s socioeconomic structures should be direct democracy, distributive work models, mutual aid and contributing based on your abilities. And while he never permanently moved in to Zuccotti, he believes the space was a model for how things should be organized.

The inevitable eviction of OWS

By Lucas Jackson

The inevitable has come to pass. Occupy Wall Street has been pulled, kicking and screaming, from Zuccotti Park, its physical home in lower Manhattan. For two months now the staff and freelance photographers of Reuters in New York have been documenting the evolution of both the idea of “occupying” and the physical campground that has planted the seeds of a global movement. Since September 17 there has been an almost daily visual record made of the metamorphosis that has taken place in Zuccotti Park. This is a man-made concrete block of a park. I must have walked through it dozens of times but it formerly had little use to anyone other than maybe offering a spot to rest while walking through lower Manhattan or a seat that could be used to enjoy lunch on a warm summer day. It took a group of demonstrators who were intent on “Occupying Wall Street” to give this park its day in the spotlight and as a photojournalist it has been fascinating to watch.

At first we had no idea how long the demonstrators would stay. In the early weeks they slept on cardboard pads on the ground in sleeping bags. In the beginning we documented them asleep as office workers gingerly stepped through them on their way to work. At first the NYPD would resist the attempts of the campers to attach tarps to trees, lines holding tarps would be cut, structures would be taken down almost as soon as they were raised and people slept underneath plastic to shield themselves from the rain.

The seemingly haphazard layout, centered by an ever-evolving kitchen area, changed to include more specialized sections that were ringed by campers who claimed any open bench or ground space that was not already ‘occupied’ by someone else. A deadline to evict the movement came and passed. I was there that night. Jessica Rinaldi arrived at midnight and I followed in the wee hours of the morning to document a massing of support for the movement in the park in the face of an impending NYPD eviction that never came. We documented the elation of the demonstrators as they marched through lower Manhattan and resisted the attempts of the NYPD to contain their physical presence. Tents came, and were allowed to remain. The campground morphed into a small town complete with covered areas for congregating and planning. “Working groups” managed the planning, cooking, and met to come up with when and what to do for future demonstrations, they came together to think or brainstorm how to reach out to help the movement grow.