Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Photographing Occupy Wall Street

The Luxury Of A Cooperating Subject

Want a glimpse into a photographer's dream?  How about a newsworthy and photogenic subject that seeks publicity?

When the Occupy Wall Street movement spent the Autumn of 2011 camping out in Lower Manhattan, I grabbed my camera and headed toward the sound of banging drums.

a photo of a drummer with occupy wall street in new york city

Photographs containing people demand our attention in unique and compelling ways.  Photographers often seek out 'the human element' to add appeal and a sense of scale to their images.

Unfortunately, suspicion of photographers is common and in some cases, well deserved.  Why are you taking my picture and what are you going to do with it?

Typically, I try to get someone's permission before photographing them.  This prevents misunderstandings and gives the person a chance to contribute to the final image.  Cooperation doesn't hinder photographic opportunities; it builds trust and opens doors.

But introductions weren't necessary at Zuccotti Park.  No one there was camera shy.

On the contrary, when someone risks life and limb to promote a message, every camera becomes an ally.

a photograph of an occupy wall street fracking demonstrator in a gas mask

The OWS protestors posed enthusiastically day after day in spite of the chilly air and the formidable police presence assembling just a few feet away.

I admired their commitment, and after a while, I found myself taking some of their messages literally.

a photo of an occupy wall street sign that says your camera is a weapon

a photo of an occupy wall street sign that reads treason and wall street
I did my best to suspend judgment even when the rhetoric seemed a bit over the top.

After all, I wasn't the one who spent freezing nights sleeping in a tent pitched on concrete.

a photo of the occupy wall street encampment at zuccatti park in new york

Passersby converted muscle power into electricity.

a photo of people generating power with bicycles at the occupy wall street encampment

a sign about bicycle power generation at the occupy wall street camp at zuccatti park

Protestors of all shapes and sizes participated in the event.

a photograph of a baby at the occupy wall street encampment in new york

Some stayed for a day or two, while others stuck it out for the long haul.

a photo of an occupy wall street demonstrator in new york

My objective was only to capture a moment in time.  Their moment - and our moment - in an interesting time.

a photo of occupy wall street demonstrators holding signs at zuccatti park in new york

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lenses: 24-105 f/4L IS, 70-200 f/4L IS, 16-35 f/2.8L II

Note: Many of these photographs were taken at high ISO values (800, 1600, and 3200) in order to freeze motion in a limited amount of light.  The technology to capture low-light images with this much detail and without the use of flash has existed for only a few years.  Amazing!

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved


  1. The photographs feel very intimate, so that I felt like I was there more so than when I saw images in TV news or newspapers.

    1. I appreciate that perspective very much. I want my photos to convey the sense of 'being there' and I actively choose my shots with that goal in mind.