Photographs ©Joao Canziani
To read Joao’s statement and view all 99 portraits, please visit ninetynineportraits.com
On October 17th I received an email from Joao. He’d jogged through Zucotti Park the night before and felt inspired by what he saw.
“Something important is going on in this country.”
He proposed that we collaborate. He’d make the photographs. I’d do the interviews. I replied letting him know that I was off from work that week and was planning on going down to check it out. I also included several links to some of the other photographs that were appearing from Occupy Wall St.
He didn’t even give a thought and suggested we meet later in the week. The next day I went down to Zucotti by myself to check it out and quickly learned that it’d evolved into something that was hard to describe. There was certainly an indescribable energy, but it was also very clear that it’d turned into a bit of a media circus as well, with hoards of cameras everywhere.
I wrote him back saying that I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the interviews because I didn’t want be another ‘media’ person covering the story. We agreed to meet on Thursday, October 21st.
When I arrived I walked around the park, finding Joao, his assistant Adam Krause and internKatie Friedman, busy at work. The park was packed and the seamless set up caused plenty of curiosity. As I chatted with Joao I could tell he was having a great time. The atmosphere, the people, the moment put a big smile on his face.
I’m not sure what my purpose for being there was, but then again, I’m fairly sure I wasn’t alone in that feeling. I roamed around the park a few times. Chatted with Adam and Katie. Chatted with Joao about the project. We sort of kicked around the 99 portraits idea and commented on the fashion of OWS. Some clearly wanted their photographs taken, others were a bit reluctant, one guy thought the flash was a secret monitoring device from the CIA, the girl who got pepper sprayed was there, so were the police who couldn’t have their photographs taken, there was a kid from the Eastern Bloc with a pet rat, a bunch of finely dressed young ladies and dudes, homeless junkies, anarchists, students, smelly protesters, gawking tourists, asshole photographers.
Thinking back on it now it was a bit surreal.
I couldn’t make it the second day. They decided to wake up early and try to photograph more of the actual protesters.
A few weeks later Joao sent me some of the photos. I wasn’t sure what to make of them. The flood of photographs coming from OWS as well as the increasing media coverage had made me a bit jaded. But I thought they were good, pretty good actually. I just didn’t know how people would react to them given that it seemed every photographer in New York City was now working on documenting the movement.
Joao however was very excited about the photographs. My skepticism never got him down. It didn’t matter to him what others were doing. He had to make these photographs for himself. He had to be there and look these people in the eye.
A couple days ago ’99 Faces of Occupy Wall Street’ by August Bradley hit the LENS Blog. I sent the link to Joao. Again, it didn’t phase him. He was more excited than ever about the photographs he’d made and couldn’t wait to show them to people.
Then I realized something. I was projecting my doubts as a consumer of photography onto Joao, forgetting that he’s an incredibly determined and confident photographer. It simply doesn’t matter to him what the other photographers were doing. He believed in himself and in his work. That’s all that mattered to him. Plus, he thought the photographs were pretty damn good.
Now that the series has been published, I’m curious how it’ll be received. Does it matter at this point? Not to me. Zucotti Park was raided and shut down last week. Joao (and many others) seized the moment, following his instinct, making the photographs he wanted to make. I’m honored that he brought me along for the ride. It’s an experience, and a moment in time I’m not going to forget anytime soon.