Protest America: Gun Reform Artist Statement

There are certain events in life when you remember exactly where you were when you heard devastating news that changed your life; be it a personal tragedy or a shared community event. I will always remember the heartbreaking day of February 14, 2018 and the horrific school shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. My stomach drops every time a school shooting occurs, however this one shook me even deeper to the core. I grew up 25 miles away from Marjory Stoneman and currently have a nephew who goes to high school in south Florida. When I saw the first headline of “shooting at a south Florida high school” I was overwhelmed with panic, hoping that my nephew was okay. When I realized it was another school, with so many victims, I felt guilty and sad for all of the families that would be grieving because of their loss.

I began the series Protest America March 24-27, 2012 while photographing protesters in Washington D.C. during the health care arguments at the Supreme Court. The goal was to focus on protesters with signs that contained language that was not supportive of civil, rational discourse about health care reform in America. With a sad irony I later returned to Washington D.C. six years to the day, March 24, 2018, to photograph the
March for Our Lives protest that was organized by students at Marjory Stoneman who, a little over a month prior, had lived through unthinkable violence at their school. It was an extremely spontaneous decision for me to go, but I felt compelled to do so to demonstrate my support to all students who have witnessed this type of tragedy. While my goal was to seek out protest signs that were off topic or obscene, as was the case with so many in the health care debate crowds, I also was interested to see if there were counter protesters who I could additionally photograph. However I found no counter protests and very few signs that compared to the obscenities of the health care protests.

The contrast of the two different protests was extreme. While I encountered large, contained crowds for the health care protests outside the Supreme Court and Upper Senate Park, those numbers were dwarfed by the 800,000+ people who showed up for March for Our Lives. The energy of the crowds was extremely different too. While those who opposed the Affordable Care Act were outwardly aggressive and angry with their signs and language, the March for Our Lives crowd had a collective sadness and weight to their demeanor; everyone was overly friendly, supportive, and upbeat but there was an underlying sorrow within the crowd. Because of that sadness I chose to de-saturate the color images and put a sepia wash over them, mimicking the mood of the crowd. Unlike the health care images, I also chose to keep the black-and-white images completely free of manipulation. The scale is small, reflecting on the idea that this movement was created by children who have had enough of tragedy in places they should be safe, their schools. Both of these experiences of documenting the protests were emotionally and physically draining but necessary for me not as a photographer or artist, but as a human being who attempts to make sense of brutal, senseless acts of violence and how we as a society choose to communicate with one another.

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