Please note: I am not a trained photojournalist. My background is performance and event photography. The selection of photographs you just saw were only a fraction of the work I produced during the day. These selected images, my favorites, portray a fairly accurate picture, pun intended, of the events that I witnessed. A few paragraphs from now I will link to news sources that covered the event.
There are many parts to this story, but I only want to talk about two of them.
Part One: On Wednesday, September 3rd, I was contacted through my website to photograph an event on the following day. Starting at 6am on Thursday, there was to be an organized protest to raise awareness for a higher minimum wage across the country. There were events scheduled across 150 cities and the Chicago events still needed a photographer. The protests were organized by a group called Fight for 15.
After working out the details and preparing my gear, my body woke me up at 3:30am Thursday morning, a half-hour ahead of schedule. I grabbed a cab and arrived at the first location. Not knowing what to expect that early on the south side of Chicago, I quickly found out that all my preconceived notions for the day were to be tossed aside.
I arrived a few minutes before 6am, there were already news vans from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and WGN on the scene. After meeting my contacts, I began to shoot. As the day went on, more people came out in support of the protest. As more people arrived, more press arrived. There appeared to be a lot of independent news sources there, but I also saw press passes from Getty Images, Reuters, AP and Time Magazine (apart from the local news sources I previously mentioned).
The group Fight for 15 is doing what their name suggests: fighting for a $15 minimum hourly wage. Using civil disobedience, their goal was to protest the low wages the fast food industry pays by staging a sit-in in the middle of the road. They ended up blocking traffic and causing a disruption to morning commutes. A number of protestors refused to leave the road, which led to their arrests. Their arrests, apart from the amount of protestors present, helped them gain media coverage to help spread their cause.
That, from what I understand, was the basic logic of the day.
To repeat the statement I said earlier, I am not a trained photojournalist. I know I glossed over a lot of details and probably missed many others. Please, if you want to learn more from a different perspective, watch (or read) information posted by: WGN, FOX Chicago, NBC Chicago, CBS Chicago, ABC Chicago, and Reuters.
Part Two: The most fascinating aspect out of everything I witnessed was the fact I was in the middle of an actual media event. The majority of my work is photographing private events for small groups. Sometimes crowds get into triple digits, but not often. I’ve never photographed an event where the cops were actively involved. And you can sure as hell bet I’ve never covered an event with that much press coverage before.
I’ve casually photographed other protests in Chicago: Occupy Wall Street, a Slut Walk, and a protest against the Iraq war. I’ve also photographed fun public events like a pillow fight, a water gun battle, and a few zombie walks. These events were in no way the same as the events I covered for Fight for 15.
My photo of the police officer with the megaphone shows you what the situation was like as more people and more press got involved. I’m sure I lost count, but there’s about 18 different recording devices in that photo. Those devices range from mobile phones and audio recorders, to dSLRs and broadcast equipment. There are probably many additional devices cropped out or behind me, plus me being there as well.
(In the WGN link I posted, there’s a few seconds of me running around taking photos. I’m in black with a black backpack. I think it’s about the 1:10 mark.)
My education is in the media, both the creation and the study of it. There’s been a number of times where I’ve questioned or been concerned with how newsworthy events were portrayed in a public spotlight. To be part of the process for the first time still blows my mind a little.
A photo can lie without being manipulated in Photoshop. Take the press core in Haiti for example. Which is the real photo? The dead girl or the press photographing the events around her? This example is just about a camera. What about when you add in audio and video? Do you know how musical undertones in a video can sway and manipulate emotion?
Ferguson dominated the news for a number of days, then celebrity nudes were leaked online, which prompted the national debate on to cyber security and privacy. What about the NSA and Chelsea Manning? ISIS is now dominating the headlines. Before that it was Syria, Ukraine, and Russia. Domestic abuse and the NFL. The mid-term elections are approaching. The news cycle is relentless. Information is everywhere. What is to be believed?
Shooting this event left me with more questions than answers. I know some of the little tricks media creators can use that can potentially slant a perspective, but what else am I missing? It was a weird, surreal feeling to be in the middle of a media storm where people are trying to get their voices heard and are fighting for a higher minimum wage.
That brief moment of weirdness I felt happens daily for other people. Some people create news media for a living. Some are better than others. Some are willfully manipulative. Some are accidentally manipulative. Facts can take awhile to be uncovered. If a falsehood is spread too quickly, the truth will take forever to catch up. Watch the Hot Coffee documentary to understand what I mean.
What is honesty when it comes to media? Not just the news sources, but radio spots or political and commercial advertisements.
I honestly believe media education truly matters. I believe it should be taught in schools and I believe we owe it to ourselves to understand it better. The general public is over saturated with information and a lot of it has a bias.
If you want to learn more, you can start with things like: the Media Education Foundation, reading about the founder of PR Ivy Ledbetter Lee, understanding how German Propaganda was used in World War Two, how the U.S. Military is trying to manipulate social media, how political ads are used to sway public opinion, or how the social media filter bubbles can be a very bad thing.
For me, I just ordered two books: Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen and PR! – A Social History of Spin.
I’m sorry if you read everything and feel a little like Jake the Dog in this animated GIF, but I appreciate you making it this far. I really believe media education is important and I hope you do, too.