Essay by Kaela Connors

Kaela Connors Written for Introduction to American Studies 10AC: Culture Wars University of California at Berkeley April 26, 2012

History by Those Who Live it

The March on Wall Street photo proves the lasting effects of the economic crisis caused by the housing market crash as the image was taken two years after the market collapse and still captures the emotional and disastrous intensity of the event occurring years prior. While the focus of the shot rests on the young man bellowing his frustration and anguish with exerted force, the photograph requires a closer look at the details and scene depicted in order to extract its full meaning. It is only after thoroughly observing the image that the racialized and unequally distributed effects of the recession may be read in the photo.  The compilation of the text painted on the picket signs, the glowing faces of the crowd, and the narrow focus of the shot honing on one particular young man all work to show the particular devastation of the recession on certain groups of people and to highlight the emotional and social reactionary consequences within a setting removed from the structural workings of the economic market system. The signs held in the photo give the image a recognizable context and are the only objects clearly linking the scene to its purpose. The text of the signs makes the protest a familiar scene, with messages proclaiming ‘hold banks accountable’ and ‘reclaim our democracy’ in which it is easy to identify the photos as one of the many snap shots of the protests that occurred in downtown financial districts following the 2008 financial collapse.  The signs float above the crowd symbolizing the overarching themes of the protest. While they are not the main focus of the shot, their message is clear. The concise, easy-to-read slogans can be clearly seen by passing audiences and are quickly understood by using the language associated with the larger Occupy Movements. The brevity and simple design of the signs contradict the complexity of the situation at hand; however, serve to imitate the modest demands of the people—who wish to transform an unjust system that deviates from the original principles of democracy and fails to meet the needs of the population it is there to serve. Looking away from the homemade picket signs towards the sign officially representing the group at the center of the photograph brings another layer of purpose of the photo to the from which one is able to gather assumptions about the crowd being represented. The sign is professionally made, insinuating the legitimacy and collaborative efforts produced by the group. It contains words such as, ‘youth lead,’ ‘brothas,’ and ‘West Bronx,’ which all carry heavy associations now being tied to the protest and the victims of the economic recession. The prominent words of the sign allows one to assume that the protest is led by young people of a minority background in the poorer regions of large metropolitan cities, of which were the most affected by the economic crisis. While not the focus of the shot, the signs serve to identify the context of the photo as well as represent the hardest hit groups of the recession. The individual faces, expressing a spectrum of emotion, embody the many representations of the photograph. By observing each face, one may realize the multi-ethnic and diverse composition of the protesting group. There is a large representation of young, minority women suggesting that they are most affected by the bare economic conditions in facing gender discrimination while looking for a job and having to combat the recent surge of anti-feminism brought by hard times.  The array of strong facial expressions contributes to the protests’ cause, each opening their mouth backed by stern emotion as a mechanism in voicing their indignation. An important observation is that each person seems to be involved and fully invested in the protest chant, emphasizing how much is at stake without a unified effort and noting the widespread depth of those affected by the recession in that they all take part in enforcing justice and seeking accountability through their own actions. Each face is unique in representing individual ethnic minorities and background, yet they all come together in common purpose due to widespread injustice and tragedy. As one of the defining features of the shot, the faces of the protesters illuminate the emotional expression captured in action as well provide a demographical context of the group most affected by the economic crisis. Probably the most important aspect of the shot is the focus on the isolated man, walking against the gradient of people charging in the opposite direction and beating a fist to his chest in aggressive declaration. This single individual makes the shot distinct from any other frames that could have been taken at the same event. He is not only the subject of the photo but also a product of the economic crisis, which made young, minority youth like him react and take action against the uncertain future and criminal injustices imposed upon them. His expression is of frustration, anger, and anguish; mirroring that of the general population. He represents the unconventional leadership that arose out of protests such as the Occupy Movement or March on Wall Street.  He illustrates the transformation of ordinary citizens into sociopolitical leaders, demonstrated by his center stage position in the shot along with his unbroken stance braced to call attention to the cause at hand. While the photo features many elements, it is the spectacle of the man bringing life into the photo that serves as its most important subject. The economic recession was an event that rippled through the middle class and eventually crashed upon the lowest and most vulnerable of the population. The 2008 economic crisis was caused by the criminal behavior of high-ranking businessman and bankers who experienced little consequence due to their irresponsible and deceptive actions. The photo serves to represent those most affected by the decline and also illustrates the methods by which people used to react and criticize the founders of the broken system so as to hold them accountable against their exploitative actions. The three prominent elements of the photo--characterized by the signs, faces, and subject—all contribute to the context and underlying purpose of the photo in revealing the demographic, procedural, and social platform from which the protestors took a stance and stepped forward in achieving their goal of promoting awareness, transparency, and accountability. < Back to previous page

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