Protest happens in big and small ways all over the world. People gather to march with signs and slogans, stage sit-ins, and rally for common causes. Photographers bear witness to these events, documenting that they occurred, and in distributing the images, countless others bear witness, too.
In Rirkrit Tiravanija’s drawings (copied from photographs by other artists) he removes context about the scene’s place, time, and purpose, questioning how we view such imagery. With so many events and atrocities vying for our attention, how do we focus on, understand, or remember? Once we visually testify to an event, what happens next?
From the exhibition: Give a damn. (June 30 – September 30, 2018)
Often characterized as a “street photographer,” Garry Winogrand stumbled upon lively street scenes and quickly captured them.(1) In the 1960s and ’70s, he photographed real-life events, focusing on the media’s impact on public happenings. Winogrand used a wide-angle lens and tilted angle, while standing in the middle of the commotion, to document action-packed scenes.(2)
His Hard-Hat Rally, New York (1969) depicts a crowd of people gathered for a political protest. The flailing arms, charged facial expressions, and waving flags and signs suggest the surge of a mass. The sheer multitude of people, cut off at all four sides of the composition, heightens the crowded effect. Billowing American flags serve as a visual rhythm across the composition; several artists in Crowded use this strategy of repetition to unify a potentially chaotic scene.
Protesters’ signs provide some context for Hard-Hat Rally. “Impeach the Red Mayor” refers to New York Mayor John V. Lindsay, who served from 1966 to 1971 during a period of numerous antiwar demonstrations and civic strikes. The photograph’s visual characteristics accurately convey the tumultuous years in New York during the time of Mayor Lindsay: the lopsided perspective, close proximity of the figures in the crowd to one another and the viewer, and the zealous demonstrators contrasted with the smaller number of passive figures.
The microphones indicate the presence of the media, which dramatically transformed how people garnered support for political and social changes in the 1960s.(3) During the Vietnam War, the press began to publicize mass grievances on an unprecedented scale. Winogrand himself observed that everything began to happen for the benefit of the press.(4) The central protester reacts to the microphone, opening his mouth in dissent. In his series Public Relations, of which Hard-Hat Rally is one, Winogrand wanted to photograph these kinds of snapshots that express how the media influenced the nature of protests.(5) Hordes gather, aware that the media will broadcast their cause to a more widespread crowd.(6) Winogrand shows the impassioned protesters against the anonymous media—the viewer can only see the back of the press’s heads.
Who attended the rally by their own will and who was merely swept up by the crowd? Hard-Hat Rally addresses this question of crowds’ effects on participants. Research about urban strikes in 1960s and ‘70s America revealed, according to crowd theorist Clark McPhail, that “participants could not be distinguished from nonparticipants on the basis of deprivations or frustrations shared in common.”(7) Winogrand captures this interaction between participants and nonparticipants. The hardhat workers cannot necessarily be discerned from the anti-Vietnamwar protesters. The press itself possibly participates. The placid young girl in the composition’s center foreground breaks up the enraged, primarily male dissidents around her.* Unfazed by the media and political drive of the demonstrators surrounding her, she serves as a counterpoint to the crazed crowd.
From the exhibition: Crowded (February 28 – April 14, 2013)