Yunghi Kim is today’s guest blogger. She is a highly regarded freelance photojournalist based in New York City. From 1995 until 2008 she was represented by Contact Press Images. She has also been a team leader at the prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop. Learn more about here and follow her on Twitter.
I’ve learned from my 28 years as a photojournalist and the hundreds of stories I’ve covered, how to quickly recognize a big story. It was clear from the start that the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) had all the right elements to become huge. Unlike most of my projects, I wouldn’t be traveling to a far off war zone. This story was happening right in my own backyard.
I don’t recall a movement or an event in my career that has struck such a cord with so many Americans. OWS changed the dialogue in America and around the world as well. It successfully brought attention to runaway corporate greed and gave a voice to the working “99 Percent” of us. All of this only a subway stop away from my home in Brooklyn. How could I not pursue this story?
Like so many of my bigger projects over the years, like “The Comfort Women of South Korea”, the Rwandan refugee crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, my own desire to document the story in pictures would be my biggest motivation. To bear witness to history is a common drive among photojournalists. We want to capture actual events as they unfold and to create a visual story. Without this drive, I think it’s almost impossible to produce a meaningful body of work.
I was surprised to see the wide amount of support generated by OWS and enjoyed the creative ways in which they spread their message. Everyday there’d be a protest scheduled for both the opening and the closing bells of the stock market. Complete with the now well known slogans like, “The banks got bailed out, and we got sold out” Often the protestors would use humor, such as dressing up like zombies or taking brooms to Wall Street and pretend to sweep away the greed. I think this strategy hit a cord with Americans and helped to successful brand the movement.
Of course, other times there would be a more serious tone. As when the protesters would play “cat and mouse” with the police, or even outrun them so they could march the streets, free of escorts, as they saw fit. These tactics often ended in arrests.
It was no easy task for the NYPD, probably the biggest and best trained police force in the world. Mayor Bloomberg claims it’s the sixth largest army on the planet! During arrests, police officers would form huge columns which would block what you could see. Frustrating, to know something is happening and not being able to photograph it. They’d also use a technique called “kettling” where people would be locked into a certain area (protesters, journalists, whomever) circled by police. Anyone trying to leave would be arrested. It didn’t matter who you were, once an officer decided to arrest you, there was nothing you could do. Many times the arrests seemed random.
As a freelance photographer, the thought of spending thousands of dollars in legal fees and going through the court system became more of a concern as I spent more time working this story.
The protests were quite physically demanding. There was a lot of running, backwards, forwards, and sideways, during marches that would cover half the length of Manhattan. One day I ended up flat on my back (with another photographer on top of me) after being pushed by a police officer. Luckily I was able to find my glasses so I could continue shooting. Having a few new bruises at the end of the day was common among photographers.
Bruises are better than handcuffs any day!
I was fascinated by how efficiently OWS used social media to communicate with their supporters. They had their own live video streaming team with protesters carrying portable wi-fi enabled webcams. Everything they and the NYPD did was documented and shared almost as it happened. Eventually, I learned to utilize @Yunghi pretty well myself.
Zuccotti Park was another amazing scene. You could see Noble Prize winners, celebrities, average Americans and homeless people all rubbing shoulders and making speeches to one another.
If you had something to say, Zuccotti Park was the place to be!
Overall, this was a lot safer than much of my work. You didn’t have mortars going off or bullets flying around, but, it was often frustrating having to navigate around the NYPD. Still, I think my images stand up well and serve as a visual record of what I experienced and witnessed.
(The text of this post was edited by another incredible photojournalist, Ken Jarecke)
Did you field a camera and attempt to document the Occupy Wall Street protests? Tell us your story in the comments below.