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Tuesday, 01 March 2011
<< More from the Madison Union Protests Is This What Democracy Looks Like? >>
Are You There to Document or to Participate?

I've now been to the protests in Madison on two successive Saturdays, to take pictures, as I've posted about before here and here. Before I've gone, I've made mention of it to friends and family, and even posted on Twitter and Facebook about my intentions of going. The reaction has been interesting, to say the least. They've ranged from the mild "be careful out there" to "they're hyenas... bring a long lens and be scared". My actual experience has not matched the warnings. As I've said before, while the crowds were loud and animated, I never found them to be dangerous, and I've never once felt scared or intimidated.

Of course, others have had very different experiences, as have been documented in videos like this from Freedom Works:

Instapundit also recently linked to this blog post with suggested rules for taking a camera to a demonstration, which were adopted from Marine rules for a gun fight!

3. If your shooting stance is good, you're probably not moving fast enough nor using cover correctly.

4. Move away from your subject. Distance is your friend. (Lateral and diagonal movement are preferred.)

5. If you can choose what to bring to a demonstration, bring a long lens and a friend with a long lens.

So why the difference? Why are some people encountering very harsh reactions, with different levels of assault, while I can go to these protests and photograph people with impunity and without fear? The answer is simple. I have gone to document the protests, while others have been participating.

The Freedom Works video above is a wonderful example of this. First, allow me to give the required disclaimer that I do not endorse the behavior of the protester who assaults the camera operator. It was wrong, and he should not have assaulted anyone. But what is interesting in that case, is that the camera person was there with an interviewer and confronted that protester... and the protester was not exactly happy about it. There was no interview going on, and the protester made it pretty clear that he wasn't interested in talking with them. Yet the camera crew kept invading his space... pushing for a response... and boy did they get one.

The camera crew was participating and confronting... not simply documenting. They poked a bear, and they got bit. In fact, it seems to me that they did this with the sole purpose of getting a "response". Not an assault mind you, but some kind of tirade that they could put up on YouTube. I'd actually be pretty curious what that entire video looks like, as it's clear that there was a certain amount of conversation going on before the video takes place that was edited out. What questions were asked? How did he respond?

After I've posted my pictures from the protests, I've had various friends comment on my pictures as if they reflect my own view points, even though they don't. What was interesting was talking with some fellow area photographers at a Cream City photography event, who also have gone to the protests. The phrase that I had used, and they also most commonly used was "I put my photojournalist hat on when I went". In other words, we went not to engage or protest, but simply to observe and document... no matter how it actually correlated to their own political views. Of course, nobody in that group felt any fear either.

But why would I, of all people, do that? After all, I have strong political opinions. The problem is that when you go to something like this with a camera, you have to go with that intent, or you end up missing a lot. Photography is an art where time is critical. Certain opportunities only exist for a small period of time, whether that be a group of protesters in a certain area, or specific lighting in a forest. If you get caught up in the politics and your own views, then you close your eyes to the pictures all around you. You miss shots you never even imagined because you went with preconceived notions of the pictures you thought you'd get.

And the reality is... the people there want to be documented. That's the entire reason they are there! Of course, as anyone who watches Reality TV knows, the camera changes everything around it. People act differently when a camera is pointed at them. But people act even more differently when they are confronted with an interviewer. At that point, you are not merely documenting the protest. You are attempting to change the protest with your own views. Of course, you have every right to do that. But at that point, you have become a protester yourself, and you shouldn't be surprised at the emotions that this will create among passionate people.

# Posted at 10:32 by Nick  |  Comment Feed Link 1 Comment  |  No Trackbacks

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Wednesday, 02 March 2011 16:15:59 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
So these FreedomWorks videos... who makes them, who pays for them? Can we identify the reputation and experience of the reporters or camera operators?
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