Friday, February 21, 2014

Being In and Documentation Of...Viva La Revolución!

One section of those involved in the rally
A student organizer
This week, I learned that it is very difficult to both be in the revolution and to photograph it. Have you ever noticed how few selfies there are from Che Gueverra, Castro, or Subcomandante Marcos? I'm not comparing myself to those people, I'm just suggesting that it is difficult to be in charge of imagery while caught up in the moment.

A student and faculty member lead the chants

Building on several years worth of criticism and thwarted attempts at dialog, this week, students, faculty, and community members gathered to protest budget cuts and the abandonment of UNCG's educational mission by the leadership of the university and to say Enough is Engough. Four years ago, I read a book about the decline of liberal arts education in which the author discussed a meeting where he was asked to teach extra classes so that the positions of adjuncts could be eliminated as a money-saving measure. As I read that, I thought, that is where I will draw the line when this happens. Then, last week, I sat in a faculty meeting where it became clear that we had reached my projected line.

I participated in this rally and it was the only spark of hope I have seen for higher education in North Carolina in the last year (combined with the courageous act of civil disobedience undertaken by the Guilford County Schoolboard I almost began to feel that change was possible!) . Over 500 people came out to share their anger, despair, pain, and hope. The students too have a line and the administration of UNCG has clearly crossed it. I hope the students can keep up the momentum, keep hammering until this corporate administration is shattered because the faculty have lost their way. They have become timid and obedient, two qualities that do not bode well for a profession that exists to challenge existing knowledge and expand the boundaries of understanding. 

I was able to concentrate on photography for the first 20 minutes and then it was my turn to speak. We were not allowed to use bullhorns; I am one though. I told the crowd:
We are not under attack; we are up for sale. There is no budget crisis; there is a moral crisis; we do not lack funds, our leaders lack vision.
It was hard for me to stop shaking and pick up the camera again. I did take a couple more shots. This was important because in one of the panoramas I was able to count the number of people present in a section of the crowd thereby giving a good idea of the numbers of the crowd as a whole. Luckily, there were many other photographers and videographers there, some from news stations such as WXII, YES! Weekly, The Greensboro News & Record and the Triad City Beat. Laath Martin came to document the event as well and I look forward to seeing his work. He has created a fantastic photographic record of the Moral Monday marches in North Carolina.

Students were there to support the ASL program, to express their continued anger about rising fees, to show their love for their faculty, and to demonstrate commitment to their education.

So,  I don't think it is so much the importance of remaining unbiased (an illusory possibility anyway) that makes it difficult to photograph events in which you are involved; it is the attention that is required for photography. Eventually, too much of your brain is occupied by your involvement in the event and you can't both look through the lens and be creating the subject at the same time.
Supporters for UNCG's ASL program

I hope there are more protests, though, so that I can test this theory to the fullest.