The (Un)Official Occupy Wall Street Photographer's 15 Favorite Frames
Shankbone headshot courtesy of Billy Name
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David Shankbone has been photographing the Occupy Wall Street protests since organizers began planning in Tompkins Square Park. Since then, he's documented hundreds of the people and events that are making the Occupy movement what it is and what it will be. Here, his 15 favorite pictures from the last several weeks, as well as some behind-the-scenes perspective on what's really going down at Zuccotti Park.
Read our interview with Shankbone.
Date: September 3
This is the OWS planning session in Tompkins Square Park, which is in my neighborhood. The camera phone quality is low, but as far as I know, there are no other public images of a defining pre-occupation moment.
Date: September 17
This was taken on the very first day of OWS. It's the Wall Street bull sculpture barricaded, guarded by a cop who looks like a character out of a Dick Tracy comic. This sculpture and Wall Street itself remain closed off to the public, so the OWS movement has lived up to its name.
Date: September 23
I read somewhere that this is one of the most famous signs to come out of OWS, and I believe I was the first to photograph and publish it. It was taken just two days after Georgia executed Troy Davis. I thought it was brilliant cross-messaging to conflate Davis with the corporate personhood controversy.
Date: September 24
Ginia Bellafante’s infamous New York Times story from the day before I took this photo credited this woman, Zuni Tikka, as a "default ambassador" for OWS. That was a meaningless phrase that was simply not true, and I felt it was shameful for journalists to start picking the movement’s leaders for it. But even though I'm not usually impressed with toplessness for shock value, Tikka's use of it was the most effective I've ever seen. Her matching scarf and panties under the trench coat is visually cool, but her sign scolds you, and if you just want to look at her breasts you won’t escape the sexualized political message scrawled underneath them.
Date: September 24
The initial days of OWS were full of college kids, hippies, and hardcore activists—the sorts of people the public doesn't take seriously. It was on day eight when I started to see evidence that OWS was resonating with "everyday people." This mother and child made me realize OWS was becoming something big.
Date: September 25
The OWS library appeared on day nine, and it has grown to be a relatively impressive collection with its own blog. "The People's Library," as it's come to be known, was the first concrete sign that a community was taking shape for the long haul.
Date: September 28
This is my most well-known OWS photograph: the Goethe Girl. She is all over the internet because she strikes a chord with straight guys and she flies in the face of how the protesters were initially portrayed. In a four-minute web video about her posted by the San Francisco Chronicle, Zennie Abraham said that this photograph "signals the start of a movement." I doubt I will ever receive a better accolade.
Date: September 30
It is hard to fully capture the "human microphone," for which protesters shout in unison to amplify meetings without electricity, but I did it here. If it was just the woman in the foreground shouting then it could be about anything, but the woman shouting at the same time in the background, along with a handful of other people scattered about, conveys the idea. It’s also a nice crowd shot.
Date: September 30
This was the large march to police headquarters to protest the pepper-spraying of female demonstrators the week before, and it’s my favorite shot of the NYPD interacting with the crowd. It really exudes a sense of drama.
Date: September 30
One of the now-infamous drum circles. I was sitting right at the foot of these guys on the edge of the dance area, and they were so entranced by the same beat that they looked like they were choreographed. The intensity of these people stays with me; they moved forward together like dancing soldiers, spontaneously copying each other’s moves.
Date: October 5
I was walking through City Hall Park on the day of the first big union march when I ran into Victoria Jackson, the 1980s Saturday Night Live cast member turned evangelical Tea Partier. She was filming a video of OWS and she asked to interview me. She was so friendly and sweet, but she's also an unabashed bigot. All that I could think about when we were talking was that this bubbly woman thinks I'm vile because of who I am and what I believe. Despite it all, I still love her in the Toonces the Driving Cat sketches.
Date: October 6
This guy is arguably the face of OWS. His photo is everywhere. He even made the cover of The Economist! He was there for about a week, and every time I saw him he was wearing this hapless kicked puppy look, an American flag, a tie, and a dollar taped over his mouth. In every photo of him it’s the same thing. I marvel at the insight this kid had to craft the perfect OWS image, such that he illustrates the movement in many high-profile news articles.
Date: October 6
Naomi Klein was the first big name to embrace OWS to a degree that she went down to Zuccotti to officially address the crowd. I photographed Klein at the Brooklyn Book Festival in 2010, but she had put on so much weight that she was unrecognizable from the head shots she was still using for publicity back then. I never uploaded my shots from that day because people get mad at me if put up a photo that strays too far from how the public thinks they look. I was so glad to have another chance to shoot her, and she looks fabulous.
Date: October 16
This is just too adorable for words, and, in my opinion, the best photo on the Awwcupy Wall Street blog. Everyone from Andrew Sullivan to Forbes has used it.
Date: October 25
So much has been written about how many attractive people you see at Occupy protests. At first it was fun, but then it became a meme and I got tired of it. At this point the movement is so widespread you see all types: black, white, sexy, ugly, young, old, rich, poor. There are now models, like the guys pictured here, marching next to fragile old ladies, and that's great.