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Occupy

1:

to engage the attention or energies of

2a:

to take up (a place or extent in space)

b:

to take or fill (an extent in time)

3a:

to take or hold possession or control of

b:

to fill or perform the functions of

4a:

to reside in

Thus reads the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of occupy as a transitive verb, but since its incep-

tion in September 2011, the Occupy Movement has deepened the meaning of what it means to take up

a space (as opposed to taking up arms), to

fill

time (rather than waste it), and to engage the attention or

energies of our collective consciousness in the process. A transitive verb implies two things: it is an action

and it must have a direct object. While the Occupy movement has clearly taken the form of a series of

ongoing actions against corporate domination and social and economic inequality, what has never been

as clear was the movement’s prime objective. Criticized for what appeared to be a lack of direction, the

Occupiers’ experiment with direct democracy was misconstrued as lacking organization, when in truth

the movement was and remains deeply and ethically committed to a different form of collectivity, one that

does not mirror the vertical hierarchical societies they are critiquing. Instead, the Occupiers favor a more

complex, nonlinear dynamic that eschews control from the top down or from an exclusive, centralized

elite. What the Occupiers understand about transitivity is that the direct object does not have to be any

particular thing at all; indeed, the direct object of their actions has always been us, and a call to engage in

a dialogue that should remain necessarily and forever unfinished, open and participatory. Regardless of

where one stands on the issues, it cannot be denied that in terms of public reception, the Occupy move-

ment has already been the catalyst for a major transition in social thought:

We are the 99%.

So how do Annie Appel’s portraits of 663 Occupiers take up a space, fill time, and engage the attention

and energies of their viewers? How do they

occupy

our consciousness? In many ways, her portraits per-

form the group dynamics that the movement lives by, and they are as much about our reception as they

are about the subjects she photographed.

It starts with a question:

How long have you been an activist?

Appel does not just aim the camera and shoot.

Each image is the result of a deeper transaction. After an initial exchange of names, a conversation en-

sues. In an age when social media has speeded up communication to 140-characters or less per tweet and

then depersonalizes the message by sending it out to a vast network of “friends,” Appel, armed with her

vintage Rolleiflex, a twin-lens reflex camera that dates back to the late 1940s, slows the interaction down

by moving closer to her subject and hand cranking the film advance between each shot. These are long-

exposures in a different sense of the term. By using film instead of digital, which she equates to a “one

night stand with a hooker,” Appel becomes heavily invested in each shot. The cost of film means she has

only two to three shots to get the portrait right, so she must continually adjust herself to the subject and

the environs at hand to get that decisive moment. Nothing can be overlooked; these portraits are the op-

posite of candid. The conversation is integral to the process to get the subject equally absorbed and fo-

cused; there is no small talk.

If you were in charge, what is the first thing you would do to make the world a better

place?

By this point in the exchange, there is no way to answer that glibly or without reflection. The close

proximity of the large camera eye and the slow unfolding of the two-way process create an intimacy. No

portrait “sitting” was shorter than a fifteen-minute conversation, and no two encounters were ever the

same. The quotations that accompany these images are drawn from these longer conversations. Appel’s

penetrating eye is thereby joined by their individual voices. The photographs, coupled with these person-

alized reflections, are particularized portraits of a relationship. Though the bond formed was temporary

and interventionist, the resulting image does more than document a subject’s activist engagement. Theses

images are models

for

engagement.

Karen L. Kleinfelder