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Why Occupy?

In broad daylight, on a city street that could be anywhere in the world, stand five armed policemen clad in

black. Two additional officers in this group wear white shirts, signifying they are in command. All seven

of the men form a semi-circle around an eighth officer kneeling atop a woman he has pinned, face down

to the ground, his knee planted firmly in her lower back, a fistful of her green jacket in each of his hands.

The woman’s white face is pressed against the black asphalt of the street, in stark contrast to the bright red

of her open lips —shouting for him to stop.

Stunned by this image in the New York Times (September 24, 2011, by staff photographer Andrew Hin-

deraken), it was difficult to believe that the violent scene occurred on the streets here in the United States.

When the Occupy protests erupted in Los Angeles a week later, I went to see what was going on for my-

self, grabbing my 65-year-old Rolleiflex, a pocketful of black and white film, and as always, my journal.

It was seven in the morning when I came upon the sea of tents surrounding City Hall. Not a soul was in

sight, until Marco climbed out of his tent - a bandana covering his nose and mouth, a second bandana

rolled and tied around his forehead. He agreed to let me make his portrait, so I took out my journal and

wrote down — his name, how many days he’d been protesting, what he hoped for as he dedicated him-

self to this global call for change. “Free education,” was his response. His razor-sharp focus, his clarity,

contradicted the image of Occupy protesters that was flooding the corporate mainstream media. At that

instant, I committed to showing up every Thursday (my day off from running a photo lab), for as long as

the activists were camped out at City Hall. I wanted to craft the larger portrait, to reveal the story from an

insider’s perspective. For ten consecutive weeks, I returned each Thursday and made portraits. At home in

my studio at night, I processed the images, posting portraits every Monday for use by Occupy LA’s media

group. When the protesters were evicted, I naively imagined my part done and the photo essay completed.

It would prove a short-lived reprieve, for in a matter of weeks I found myself compelled to research cheap

airfares – five flights for $540. Spanning twelve cities and eight states, The Occupy Portraits: APhoto Essay

is comprised of over 500 black-and-white portraits of activists (from California to New York), and journal

notes from the road trips (both written and video), made between October 2011 and May 2012. Estimates

report approximately 1500 cities globally protested in support of the Occupy movement.

In solidarity with many of the ideals of Occupy, my photographic process seeks transparency. Every por-

trait created during the essay is presented, in the sequence in which it was photographed, allowing the

viewer to retrace how I became acquainted with, both, the Occupy movement and with my own growing

sense of an activist’s responsibilities. Additionally, each person photographed may receive a copy of their

portrait. Art for the sake of humanity, as we awaken notions of prosperity through equality across America

and the world.

If we can harness the momentum in this country right now, we can begin to repair the damage we’ve done,

to ourselves and to the world, through the deadly combination of our aggression, arrogance, and apathy.

With this goal in mind, I know that I can do the greatest good for this cause by offering up, from deep

within myself, this documentary essay of portraits. I can only hope that history will find that these photo-

graphs both chronicled the movement and inspired others to continue to take bold action in the name of

a universal justice.

Annie Appel