The Family Samantha (34 days)…a restructuring of the ownership of wealth in this world. Kenny (34 days).

Annie Appel’s Occupation

By Ian Sternthal

“It is up to us, to all of us together, to ensure that our society remains one to be proud of: not this society of undocumented workers and deportations, of being suspicious of immigrants; not this society where our retirement and the other gains of social security are being called into question; not this society where the media are in the hands of the rich. These are all things that we would refuse to countenance if we were the true heirs of the National Council of the Resistance.”

Stephane Hessel

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Annie Appel was frantically making the rounds of the L.A Art Book Fair with a checklist, crossing off the names of publishers and artists she wanted to present her work to. I admired her hustle, and gladly obliged when she came up to my booth and insisted on showing the black and white portraits she had been making of people at the Occupy Wallstreet protests that swept throughout the United States during the Fall of 2012. Each image in her series presents a protestor, alongside a quote describing the changes they wished for. She had spent months travelling with her 4X5 camera and film, she recounted, spending her savings in order to try and cover as many of the protests as she could. The Occupy Portraits: A Photo Essay is comprised of approximately 450 black-and-white portraits of activists (from California to New York), shot between October 2011 and May 2012.

The Occupy movement first flared up throughout the world in May 2011, when demonstrations erupted in Madrid in the wake of the pamphlet Outrage, published by Stephane Hessel. It seemed to spread like wildfire. By June, tent cities sprung up throughout Israel, spreading by the end of the summer to cities around the world. The uprising seemed to transcend the economic grievances of the Western Capitalist world, and began to spread to societies dealing with political and social inequality, most notably with The Arab Spring. Many of us hoped that somehow this awakening of collective consciousness might disrupt the increasing centralization of wealth and power amongst the worlds “1 percent.” Sadly, not only has little changed, but the situation has worsened.

Wild Bill (12 days) …pass the job bill, and get my grandkids out of Afghanistan. I lost my son five years ago in Iraq, and I’m a Vietnam vet.

The Family

Looking at all of the faces I felt sad. Not only did I sympathize with her struggle as an artist working with limited means, but I had also participated in the wave of protests that swept through Israel just a few months before the Occupy movement took root throughought the U.S – to protest the rising cost of living, and the consolidation of massive amounts of wealth in the hands of a few. Tel-Aviv was littered with tent cities, made up of masses of people who moved onto the street in protest of the many socio-economic injustices that continue to cripple social justice in Israel. Even after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, very little has changed. Same thing with the Arab Spring. Events that was meant to empower people politically – ended up exposing just how politically powerless we really were.

Most of my friends in Tel-Aviv took to the demonstrations like moths to a flame – as if the excitement of the crowds might be enough to fill the many cavities that riddled their overly privileged, and occasionally vacant selves. Rothschild Boulevard turned into a hive buzzing with excitable hippies – with collective kitchens, group discussions, and film screenings. In Levinski park – where homeless refugees frequently sleep outside, a new community began to develop, made up of queer radicals and refugees. Every night they would sit in a circle and discuss the issues their communities were struggling with, creating proposals for social change that would circulate and intermingle with similar testimonies from other tent cities.

I watched with interest as people came together, and clashed. Media personalities quickly reacted with a variety of declarations about just what was going on, what the implications might be, how radically ‘new’ this all was. Looking back – I think that if anything these gatherings were as much a reaction to loneliness as they were to people’s economic struggles. A community was forged by masses of people all struggling in their own ways. And yet, as it seems with most everything in our 21st century world – our limited attention spans would not be able to sustain the pursuit of any real change. We could just post about it on facebook. My friends and I were mostly bourgeois kids maligning our inability to buy apartments, or eat out at our leisure. We moved on to over things.

Yet there were others with graver needs, for whom a limited attention span was a luxury that could not . They were the last to pack up and move on. Refugees, social outcasts, and those struggling to rise above poverty were unable to continue protesting while still carrying the same heavy hopeless load that had led them onto the streets in the first place. Once the media had tired of the story, these last few stragglers were violently evicted by the Police with little or no notice, and with little sympathy from the rest of us. Therein lies the sadness.

The Family

Tim (7 days)…general fairness. Taylor (11 days)…converting back to the barter system.

Income inequality has increased faster between 2008 and 2010 than at any time during the previous 12 years – at least in most countries, OECD expert Michael Förster told Deutsche Welle. Warren Buffet has publically underlined the injustice of a tax system that allows him – on an income of $46m – to pay only 17.7% in taxes, while. his secretary pays 30% tax on an annual income of $60,000. The super wealthy can use tax havens and financial secrecy to put their money where it cannot be taxed. It’s estimated that a quarter of all global wealth – as much as $32tn– is held offshore, and is untaxed.

It is time to deconstruct the oft repeated notion that the wealthy are deserving innovators entitled to the masses of wealth they accumulate, or that the have nots are somehow culpable and responsible for their own insolvencies. Annie Apfel’s photographic series reminds us that these nameless masses – whether to you they are symbols of heroism, or lazy have-nots who leach from society and contribute nothing – are made up of individual faces that cannot be reduced to any cliché. It is in this spirit that I present a selection of portraits with their accompanying captions, alongside the following excerpt from her journal.

Reuben (54 days)…more jobs and more homes for the homeless, immigration status for everyone, and to find my mother.

The Family

Journal Excerpt

24 May 2012


Awoke still so tired and sore from the making of Occupy portraits at the NATO protests three days ago. Photographed seventy portraits of groups and individuals while marching eight miles through the streets of Chicago. Stooping and bending and weaving while walking and photographing, and with zero sleep the first day. Afraid to ask the boss for the day off for yet another Occupy shoot, I worked at the photo lab 10-6 on Saturday, flying out of Los Angeles at 11:30 that night, followed by a subway ride straight from the airport at 6 a.m. into an empty downtown. Empty, except for pods of police preparing for their day, and groups of NATO soldiers, wearing their pressed dress uniforms, berets tilted to the side, briskly walking with their briefcases. Small groups of protesters began to appear, looking at their maps, armed with sun hats and water bottles, and wearing t-shirts with slogans and buttons with phrases like, “SCREW US – WE MULTIPLY,” or “I’M NOT DUMB ENOUGH YET – REMIND ME AGAIN WHY WE’RE AT WAR.”

Such a difficult scenario in which to create portraits. A marching crowd, surrounded on all sides, every few feet, by menacing police on a mission, and more media coverage and people with cameras than can be imagined – an estimated 3,000 protesters and 3,000 police, all crammed into a confined area and on a strict timeline, under threat of arrest, or worse.
Two protesters I photographed were beaten by cops – one with 5 staples at the top of his skull after being struck with a police baton for peacefully protesting outside the Chicago Art Institute where NATO hosted a dinner – the same protest where a professional photographer with an official press pass was struck by police batons in the back, as well as on his camera. Yet another activist with press credentials whom I photographed had been held with his media team and interrogated for hours days before the protest – much of their gear confiscated or broken by the officers, who promised them violence at the upcoming permitted march – all of this recorded live-stream on video, unbeknownst to the cops, and broadcast on the internet in real time. “We’ll be looking for you,” promised the police, literally while the whole world was watching. Suddenly the police vanished as mysteriously as they had appeared, with no formal charges ever being made against the media team they’d been tormenting.

Annie Apfel

The Family

Anne (L.A police Captain, left) …Is it worth it? Too soon to tell. I hope they will all get jobs – that is why they are here, isn’t it?