New York City: OWS: Under the Blue Tarp
These photos were taken at Zuccotti Park in New York City when the Occupy Wall Street encampment existed. Over a period of one month, up until the day before the NYPD removed the encampment at around 1a.m. on November 15th, I photographed inside thirty-five homemade shelters and gathered quotes from their inhabitants. Many of these images were made in complete darkness. (You can see my images of the other aspects of Occupy Wall Street spanning the first two months of the protest in a tight edit or through a wide edit.)
Please see the captions; the demonstrators answer my question "Why are you here?" To give the essay some coherence I limited my project to only homemade shelters as oppossed to store bought tents, which later emerged at Zuccotti. To give it a sense of democracy, I tried to gain access to every homemade shelter and photographed inside all that would have me.
Thank you to all the camps who knowingly opened your temporary homes not just to me, but to everyone viewing these images. A special thanks to Chilligan, wherever you are.
As far as I know, when OWS first began, people who were overnighting slept out in the open. I think it was about a week in before the homemade shelters started to appear. At first there were just a couple, perhaps just Camp France and Camp Namaste. Namaste was fairly simple, made from cardboard and rope, covered with a tarp, and France, which housed a group of friends, was large and more elaborate, with a mattress and a table inside. As time went on, camps became more sophisticated. The day before the raid, in preparation for the weather, Camp Swag Shack was working to completely elevate as many camps as was possible.
It wasn't until mid-October that I asked to photograph inside a camp. Camp Misfitz was the first to welcome me. It was incredibly dark - far too dark to focus my camera, so I guessed at the distance. Later, I realized that before I took any photos I could shine a flashlight and manually focus once, and as long as no one moved much, most of my images would be in focus.
Some shelters were so small that I had to photograph with my body contorted in a little ball or lying on my side, but the real challenge in the very dark camps was to time and frame the photos by people's voices and outlines. It often wasn't until I photographed that I realized what the camp looked like. It was by looking at the back of the camera that I first saw, for example, that there were pet rats in the camp, or that there was an additional person sleeping inside.
Everyone I photographed gave consent - in the case of a sleeping person I either didn't photograph them or I had spoken to them for their permission at an earlier time. The majority of the camps had names; one or two created a name when I asked what the camp's name was. I secured a quote from at least one person in the camp as to why they were there, but not always on the same day that I photographed, either because of darkness or the mood in the camp at the time.
Even before the raid, some camps were destroyed, for a number of reasons - weather, deconstructed for cleaning, by the police or taken over by another in the park. Some people built new camps or joined another. I photographed just once in most camps, sometimes for just a minute or two, sometimes I stayed and enjoyed the company.