Greetings from Zuccotti Park
October 27, 2011 7:06 AM   Subscribe

New York City photographer Matthew Septimus has been taking portraits at the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests And posting the results on Flickr. The results are inspiring.
posted by jcrcarter (30 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: It was not clear when this was posted that you were a friend of the photographer. Friend-linking like that on Metafilter is really not okay. -- cortex

It's pretty sad that my brain went instantly to "Oh good nice clean data for the facial recognition software"
posted by The Whelk at 7:09 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

This one's great.
posted by pmcp at 7:14 AM on October 27, 2011

I like how Jesse Jackson's picture is unlabelled and unremarkable among the other faces - and not on the first page. That says something to me about the movement.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:14 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is the highest technique you hope to achieve?
"To have no technique."

The most important theme and/or similarity of these people is that there is no theme and/or similarity of these people.
posted by nickrussell at 7:15 AM on October 27, 2011

Who Occupies? A Pollster Surveys the Protesters: "The protesters as a group are young, but Zuccotti Park is not nearly the youth-only movement depicted in the media. While 49% of protesters are under 30, more than 28% are 40 or older. Only one-third of the crowd considers themselves Democrats — nearly the same portion who say they don't identify with any party. (Zero respondents labeled themselves Republican.) ... So the survey tells us that the Zuccotti Park protesters are underemployed at twice the national rate, lukewarm to warm on Obama and broadly in favor of taxing the wealthy and encouraging a Tea Party-style populism on the left."
posted by kliuless at 7:28 AM on October 27, 2011

There are some really good photos in there. He could use an editor.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:39 AM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

"I don't know what the world may need, but I'm sure as hell that it starts with me. And that's a wisdom, I have laughed at."
posted by Blake at 7:39 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are some really fantastic shots here.

Damn, I really have to get better at portrait photography. Because these clearly show that when you know what you are doing, you can capture some beautiful moments.
posted by quin at 7:44 AM on October 27, 2011

Where are the racist signs?
posted by cjorgensen at 8:00 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been ranting about this on twitter for a while now. When I see pictures from occupy____ that don't look like every single other picture ever taken at a North American protest in the past decade, maybe I'll start to "get it." I kind of rely upon visual cues for my visceral reactions and while everyone keeps telling me "these protests are different," I just dont see it. Portrait series are a lazy way to cover news (And I'm certainly guilty of employing the technique) but I feel like occupy deserves a different, better treatment. If anyone thinks they've seen it, by all means, post here.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:11 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

look it's mr. stevens and band of rubber montages.
posted by clavdivs at 8:15 AM on October 27, 2011

In the future, we will look back on this era as the culmination of the failure of globalism.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:23 AM on October 27, 2011

Pretty sure 75% of those people are homeless.
posted by dhdrum at 8:35 AM on October 27, 2011

It seems like he is making a lot of classic super-low aperture, super-tight DOF mistakes (this is one example - blurry nose a lips, sides of face are super-focused).. I agree with Ice Cream Socialist, he could use some editing.
posted by mbatch at 9:03 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Apparently I don't know how to link properly. THIS is one example.
posted by mbatch at 9:04 AM on October 27, 2011

@mbatch, here's another in the same flava. Also, this. The Exif data doesn't show the settings used, but I 100% support your assessment. ???. At least the photographer has initiative, which can be more important than technical ability.
posted by 200burritos at 9:21 AM on October 27, 2011

mbatch, I think it's less about technical quality, and more that the really nice communicative pictures are being diluted by the tedious ones.
posted by Magnakai at 9:26 AM on October 27, 2011

(FWIW, I don't necessarily mind a defocused photograph if the contents are worthwhile.)
posted by Magnakai at 9:27 AM on October 27, 2011

Oh, I agree Magnakai - I'm not nitpicking so much as saying that he seems to be making a fair amount of that same mistake, which does get a bit tedious as you flip through all the pictures..

Initiative is, often, more important than technical ability but initiative in a vacuum? So, yah.. keep taking some bad pictures but have a good editing process to limit them to only technically bad pictures that happen to have interesting content.
posted by mbatch at 9:34 AM on October 27, 2011

It depends on your purpose, mbatch. It seems that he's using flickr to document as many protesters (participants?) as possible, rather than putting up some sort of polished portfolio. I love knowing this guy is down there & I don't care if his nose is blurry. If you look at the reflection in the sunglasses here, it looks like the photographer is using a film camera (is that a Rolleiflex?), which aside from seeming kind of impressive, may explain the lack of EXIF data.
TheGoldenOne - I'm curious why portraiture strikes you as a lazy or ineffectual way to document a protest, particularly one proclaiming "We are the 99%".
posted by jcrcarter at 10:16 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

jcrcarter- I didn't say portrait series were ineffectual (although this one ain't doing it for me) but as far as lazy goes, I promise you that it is WAAAAAY easier to go into a situation, pull people aside and make portraits than it is to go into a situation and make intimate, meaningful images of something actually happening.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 10:50 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

cjorgensen: "Where are the racist signs?"

Indeed. What this protest is missing is an award for most outrageous sign.
posted by pwnguin at 12:37 PM on October 27, 2011

Well, I'd be satisfied with some atrocious grammar or misunderstanding of basic governing principles as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:41 PM on October 27, 2011

Madame Defarge, is that you?
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:13 PM on October 27, 2011

I love the out of focus nose effect affectation that comes with low-aperture photography portrature. It seems to fit with the ideas ideals of these protests in particular--the singular person protesting for the rest of the 99% who aren't there. The sharp focus on the eyes represents the person who is there while the blur represents those who are not.
posted by GregorWill at 1:57 PM on October 27, 2011

It's quite simple to fix - use depth of field to achieve the compositional effect of isolating the areas that are important in the image - that means adjusting the aperture when photographing a sign, to incorporate all the text, and focusing on the eyes when photographing a face. Shooting wide open all-the-time is not great technique, especially if you're also using an auto-focus lens.

Then edit with extreme prejudice.
posted by a non e mouse at 2:43 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The ones in focus are alright..
posted by ReeMonster at 3:07 PM on October 27, 2011 far as lazy goes, I promise you that it is WAAAAAY easier to go into a situation, pull people aside and make portraits than it is to go into a situation and make intimate, meaningful images of something actually happening.

I completely disagree. These portraits aren't lazy, in fact they are as intimate as intimate can get. Photographing strangers is a very intense, personal, often difficult experience. Conversations take place, negotiations, explanations, questions, rejections, reactions -- which all are "things actually happening." I live in upstate New York, so I haven't had a chance to get down to Zuccotti Park yet, but because of these portraits, I feel like I've been there. What's actually happening down there is that individual people from disparate backgrounds and economies and job sectors and cultures are getting together to find a collective voice. Their very individuality, to me anyway, is intimate and meaningful.

As far as editing goes? This reflection shows that they were taken with a square-format film camera (you can see him using his hand to block out the light in the viewfinder on top). The fact that so many of the photos are as in-focus as they are is pretty amazing; these cameras can be really hard to use, especially on the fly in the middle of an event (as opposed to a studio situation, where you can take dozens of the same shot to get the right one.) I'm also guessing he's using a digital back; the costs of developing this much film, this quickly, are mind-boggling.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 4:50 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

P.S. Here's a better reflection shot, where you can see the photographer in action; looks like he's using a Rolleiflex -- so it's possible these are indeed all film images. (You can see a larger version of the image here.)
posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:42 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, let me say thank you to all who have taken the time to look at this project that I am completely obsessed with. Even more importantly, thank you to all the people who graciously allowed me to take their portrait. And thanks to my good friend John for introducing the work to Metafilter. All in all the reception I received at the park was incredibly inspiring. And the traffic I see of viewers is overwhelming.
If I can say one thing to all who have not yet visited one of the Occupy Wall Street locations close by, a visit is a must! This is a historic moment. One too long in coming. And when you get there, please have as many conversations as you can.
Now about the photographic project itself. I am not the type that speaks too much about my art. I prefer to let the viewers experience and decide for themselves. It is interesting to read the critiques. Some like Flyingsquirrel get it from my point of view and others need to take themselves a little less seriously.
For those that are interested in the process, I am shooting with a Rollieflex with a 2.8 Ziess Planar lens. To get closer to the subject I am attaching a Rollenair close-up lens. And yes, I am usually shooting wide open. Depending on what my camera store has in stock I either use Kodak Portra 400 or a comparable Fuji brand.
Because of cost consideration and the way things work out, I am usually only shooting one frame of the person's face and if they have something interesting below their neck, one frame of that.
Lastly, I am not looking for perfection, I am looking for experiences. What experiences should be edited out is not interesting to me.
posted by matthew7 at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

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