DPP Home Profiles August Bradley: 99 Faces Of Occupy Wall Street

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

August Bradley: 99 Faces Of Occupy Wall Street

August Bradley goes viral with a personal project that was simple to execute and brought immediate media attention

This Article Features Photo Zoom

As the Arab Spring showed us just this last year, communication has become, for all practical purposes, instantaneous. Sharing images, thoughts and words with a global population has become as simple as running a Twitter account, and because of it the world of photography is meeting a new class of citizen photojournalist. Still, despite a middling economy, there's plenty of room for traditional photojournalism in the digital age. As a new project from conceptual photographer August Bradley proves, efforts can be maximized to produce images that are seen throughout the world in only a few short days.

August Bradley is known for portraiture that's incredibly detailed and highly stylized, with deep literary references and complex, psychological motifs. He refers to his intensely cerebral approach to portrait and commercial photography as "conceptual," but for a more recent project, Bradley decided to do something that was a little less complex, at least in execution. Bradley was on a trip in October 2011 to do a presentation at Shoot-NYC, an event sponsored by Hasselblad and Broncolor. While there, he chose to use a bit of his limited free time to take a look through his lens at the controversial Occupy Wall Street protest movement. Titled the "99 Faces of Occupy Wall Street," Bradley shot a series of simply lit, straightforward portraiture that centered on the people of the largely faceless movement.

Bradley, who comes from a marketing background, says that his initial impulse to document Occupy Wall Street (OWS) came from two principle sources: a desire to move more significantly into portrait work, and a personal curiosity and lack of understanding about the movement in general. "The entire movement seemed like this big mystery," he explains about his preconceptions. "There are no front people, there are no personalities widely identified with it. It's as if the entire movement was behind a Guy Fawkes mask, making the mask an appropriate symbol…the mystery of it was intriguing to me."

Once live as a dedicated website portal (www.99facesofoccupywallst.org) that he kept separate from his own, attention to the project was almost instantaneous. "The site went live late on a Wednesday," says Bradley, "at which time I posted it to my blog, Facebook and Twitter account (@augustbradley). That Thursday and Friday, most of the OWS blogs, Twitter accounts and digital publications were posting it including a home page post on Adbusters, the media publication that inspired the occupy movement in the first place. That sent a big spike in traffic and hundreds of Twitter tweets and Facebook posts."

"On Monday," he continues, "I sent emails cold (not knowing anyone there) to the New York Times, Washington Post and Huffington Post inquiring about their interest in the series. The Washington Post and New York Times both responded quickly, expressing interest in working it into their online publication schedules. Then the next morning (Tuesday) the police raided and evicted the OWS camp, and the story hit a new level of urgency and interest. The Washington Post ran it on their Arts & Culture blog immediately, pulling comments from my project description and from my blog post into their article. The New York Times Lens Blog (one of the most influential and widely followed photography blogs) called, asking for images resized to their specs within three hours, and did a 20-minute interview for their article, which ran the next morning. This led to discussions about the series in Slate, The New Yorker (on their websites, posted by editors) and many others. The Huffington Post contacted me a few days later about doing a story. With this media attention, traffic to the site skyrocketed, Facebook had over 2,500 'shares' (i.e., people who posted it on their walls), and tweets were well into the thousands… I knew it would get some attention. It was a headline with growing momentum. But I had no idea it would go this far in just a week.  I'm still getting requests from publications all over the world."

Bradley notes that despite a few Internet trolls and a bit of paranoia about FBI and police profiling from the Occupiers at Zuccotti Park, the feedback and attention was overwhelmingly positive. When asked about the longevity of the project, and why he thinks that this particular series struck a chord, characteristically Bradley is both realistic and optimistic about the long-term possibilities. "The project is certainly riding the news-cycle momentum of the larger Occupy Movement story, he says, "but within that collection of competing headlines, I think this project really gave a personal touch to something that seems impersonal.  The idea of a large movement, especially one without any personalities at the forefront, does not resonate as well as the story of an individual looking at you right in the eye."


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