Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Tag: activism

NYC for Beto Phone Bank 3 Days Before the Mid-Terms

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I’m lucky to engage in many interests and am part of a community to each one. They are varied, and one of them, paintball, tends to sway to the political right side, the other, table top war-gaming, swings left. I wont get into the nuances of each, suffice to say I am passionate about each activity, and my social media reflects it. I hear from the right views and I hear from the left. Like most of us, I tend to shout on social media because of the polarizing politics of post 911 America. Those who either regurgitate (re-post memes), spew, pulpit (virtue signalling), express, state, and declare tend to do it in an echo chamber of like minded people.  I’m guilty of that, and I’m proud to state that due to interests listed above, I have followers from both sides, so occasionally a good dialog occurs.

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That being said, I am keenly aware that stating your political views on social media may be cathartic, but it really isn’t changing anything. After two years of Trump America, I decided I’d be more involved. Summer of 2018 I discovered a Gen X Texas Congressman who was running for Ted Cruz’s Senate seat, Beto O’Rourke. Ironically I got turned onto Beto by following an article about how Cruz’s campaign sought to demean Beto by posting shots of him when he was playing in a post punk Grunge band and the pics went viral because apparently Beto was hot. I fell down an internet rabbit hole of Beto and learned quite a bit about him. He’s a Texan, I agreed with his platform and the way he expressed himself. I felt a kindred spirit in Beto and shared as much on Social Media. I spread the word, but wanted to do more. My “politik” friend, Justin Heyman and I had long talks. He is a more experienced activist than I, and outlined what could be done; mailing post cards to swing voters in Texas, donating to campaigns, and phone banking.

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I committed to all three and am a Beto backer in earnest. I joined a phone bank taking place in a Chelsea design studio, Stonestreet Studios. When I confirmed for the phone bank the option to post on Face Book was offered, my feed motivated two others to attend.

Justin exclaimed, “Democracy is contagious”.

 

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The phone bank experience was euphoric, instead of screaming into a contained cyber space, you are directly connecting with real people whose votes matter to advance an individual you believe in. This particular phone bank was located 5 blocks from my home, and took place from 5 pm to 8 pm. Three hours given to democracy is a meager sacrifice in any estimation, but sometimes actions can snowball into something far larger. On this gambit I set off as instructed, a MacBook air and iPhone in hand. I emerged out of an elevator into a working studio filled with young women, young gay men, and the heady air of hope. We introduced ourselves by stating our names and why we were here. The women where concerned about the right for them to receive healthcare and governance over their bodies. The gay men worried over the homophobic tone of national conversation.  I smelled a little fear on a few, but overall the tone was of warriors out for blood and ready to battle. Ted Cruz was detested unanimously and everyone knew what was at stake,

Beto had narrowed the gap and Texas may very well turn blue.

Victory was in sight, but not in hand. The hosts who lead the phone bank explained as much, backed up by being in Texas the week before canvassing. There was an excitement in the air as the process was laid out for us.

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This night would prove to be “throw your jacket down on the ground democracy”. We packed couches, crevices, desks and studio floors to make calls.

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A script we were told to follow (it was known that you could deviate wording as your confidence in the message grew) that essentially started off as informing the Texan recipient that there is an election on Nov 6th and could Beto count on them to vote for him. Upon a confirmation you would then go into determining from them a plan to vote. How would you get to the polls? Before work, or after work? you know, “the polls are only open from 7am to 7 pm”. One of my 50 calls that night I connected with a woman who didn’t know her polling location. I took her address, located her polling location on line then asked her to get a pen and paper and write it down. Right down to which door to enter. Then you end with asking for a promise to vote. The word of a Texan is no small thing, it is important that Beto supporters actually do vote and posing this question has a positive impact on participation. Rosie the event organizing explained that.

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The calling element was quite interesting from a technology standpoint. Integrating your mobile phone and an online interface you followed a flow chart of canvassing and recording outcomes. One dial in with an id and you stay connected as you follow a registered voter sample. In two hours I “called” about 50 numbers and spoke to about 15 who had pre-voted Beto, 15 answering machines (you just hung up and logged as a call back), 5 times chatting with spouses or relations and securing their support, 5 hang ups (Texans are polite what can I say?) 7 wrong numbers, and 3 voting plans. Those last three were the golden ticket you hoped to find in your effort. That’s where you make a difference. One gentleman named Thomas I spoke with was an 84 year old who said he’d vote “for that Beto, he seemed a good honest guy”. I went over the address of the polling location, he waited to till I finished then declared, “Yea I know where it is, I’m gonna walk on over”. He was sweet and it was an honor to connect with Tom from Texas.

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The UX of the system was more or less stable, but had an uncomfortable lag that you have to adjust to. Overall I was impressed with the tech. It could identify if the sample had voted in 2016. It worked best with head phones and embellishing your script with enthusiasm increased by how familiar you became with the process. A lovely Spanish speaking woman shared the couch I was calling on. She was extra valuable to the movement as she spoke fluent Spanish and hearing her canvas in soft fluid Spanish was invigorating. My friend Justin and his wife Nadine were diligent as well. Everyone had a laptop perched on their laps and a phone gripped tight in hand. There were sandwiches, cookies and an engaged atmosphere. Will Beto win big on Tuesday? That I cannot say, but I’ll say thirty people spending a Saturday night before the big election in NYC who were calling Texans and doing something proactive and proven to aid Beto’s victory.

It was a lovely feeling and an honor to state, “Hi, my name is David and I’m a volunteer for Beto O’Rourke’s Senate Campaign”.

 

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If you are a patriot, and passionate about your feelings being an American and want to do more, I suggest visiting the website of your candidate and learning how you can volunteer and make an actual difference.

To learn more about Beto for Texas click here.

All images made with an iPhone Xs Max and processed in Snapseed.

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I Can’t Breath- But I Can Photograph

My favorite image of the day, to look up and see this display of people coming together with a flag flying was dramatic.

My favorite image of the day, to look up and see this display of people coming together with a flag flying was dramatic.

I want to establish right off the bat that this post is about photography, not the politics. My choosing to take my camera and record the protest does not indicate my personal feelings nor alignment. What I do feel is that as photographers we have a duty to record the world around us. We don’t have to make a living at it, but we are the observers whose observations can outlive us. Future generations will be able to look at your images and share an experience based on what you photographed. That is a scary thought in of itself, and photojournalism is extremely subjective and barely objective. I certainly seek objectivity in the matter, and feel I pretty much got it. I barely spoke to anyone; actually the only person I had a full conversation with was a NYC Parks Dept officer. Our conversation consisted of the fact that it was peaceful.

I don't usually shoot in panarama mode, but when I do it's for really really really big crowds.

I don’t usually shoot in panarama mode, but when I do it’s for really really really big crowds.

However this is the internet and people throw opinions around like police hand out tickets so at the end of this post, I’m going to speak my mind about the recent issues surrounding this protest. It’s my soap box, you can choose to not read or make your comments. Now, back to the photographic portion of this post…

Pissing off the Police Union is where he is.

Pissing off the Police Union is where he is.

As I stated earlier, I believe it is both your civic and artistic duty to participate as a viewer/observer/recorder of the important social issues that occur in your lifetime. I’m not saying you should go well out of your way, but if these occur locally, be there and f8. They are societal milestones, events, and gain the interest of the masses. They can often define the ascendant generation. Going to and placing oneself in the epicenter is a solemn privilege that you as a creative should encourage.

“The world is going to pieces, and people like Biderman and Hill are photographing stars.”

– David George Brommer, December 2014.

I have shot a few demonstrations in my day. The first was a NORML rally at William Patterson College in NJ in the latish 80’s. The next would have been great anti-Iraq war protest that took place in 2003 in NYC. I rolled through the Occupy movement when it was in full force. I heard about the #MillionsMarchNYC from local channels, and put aside the time to go shoot it. Having watched the other protests, mainly the Ferguson and the SF/Oakland ones, I was a bit wary of getting caught up in a mele. I would be simply a citizen armed with a camera, and my opposing force would have truncheons, shields and tear gas. In the back of my mind a spot fear appeared. We all know what fear is right? It’s the mind killer! Mostly I feared getting gassed. I had seen the nasty canisters bouncing up to a CNN crew and the journalists all getting a good hit of it in Ferguson. I dug out my Israeli issue adult gas mask size three and stuffed it into a WW2 vintage ammo sling bag. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and if worse happened, I could keep my vision intact and the cameras clicking.

When protesting, protest in Patagonia. Oy.

When protesting, protest in Patagonia. Oy.

Noon: Inspect the camera arsenal for today’s shoot. I go for the Sony RX10 because I want a telephoto lens to pick out faces and signs a distance away (24 to 200mm f2.8). It’s also weather proof and resilient, so it can take it if the environment gets crazy. I also grabbed my trusty Fujifilm Xpro1 and slapped on the 18mm f2.0. I picked the Xpro1 because it can take a hit, and the look and size of the 18mm (1.5x APS-C size sensor brings it to 28mm effective) would both perform, and fit in my bag. Instead of a camera bag I choose a vintage ww2 ammo satchel, because I like the way it melts to my body and it’s discrete while having an edge. Note, the bag does have a Domke insert to further pad the gear. I also stuffed my gas mask and a fresh filter in the bottom of the satchel. In this game the best offense is a good defense.

Israeli issue M15 gas mask and cartridge. Sony RX10 digital camera. Fujifilm Xpro1 with 18mm f2 lens. US issue WW2 ammo pouch.

Israeli issue M15 gas mask and cartridge. Sony RX10 digital camera. Fujifilm Xpro1 with 18mm f2 lens. US issue WW2 ammo pouch.

2 pm I parked the Vespa on Bleecker and Sullivan. Twitter images showed the masses of protesters thronging beneath the Arch where 5th Avenue meets Washington Square Park. Enter from the rear, so you can get an idea of dispositions of the crowds.

As you neared Washington Square park there was a constant buzz of helicopters. The eye in the sky never looks the other way.

As you neared Washington Square park there was a constant buzz of helicopters. The eye in the sky never looks the other way.

I wanted to capture the faces and signs. I wanted to show the disparity of the protesters, and what they were saying. Simple task.

All Lives Matter.

All Lives Matter.

As I walked further into the epicenter around the fountain I found the wide settings on the camera were taking most of it in. Standing up on bench I was able to zoom into details. The Sony RX10 has swing a out LCD screen, I used my height and tilting out of the screen so I could turn myself into a 8 foot tripod in this fashion. That gave me a sweet perspective on the throngs.

Get that monument in so you can readily arm the viewer with an accurate location.

Get that monument in so you can readily arm the viewer with an accurate location.

There was not a police presence inside the protest throng, except Parks Dept (protecting the trees from being climbed) and this interesting Police Captain from Philadelphia. I do have a regret, I noticed one Parks Dept Officer with a tonfa strapped to his belt. Interesting, but I didn’t feel like getting my lens smashed by it so I didn’t shoot him. I regret that now.

A Police Captain from the City of Brotherly Love.

A Police Captain from the City of Brotherly Love.

The protesters, while mixed with all races, were predominantly white.

Pockets of protesters could broadcast stories.

Pockets of protesters could broadcast stories.

6 pm Time to edit and archive shot images. I shot as jpegs and imported into Nik Silver EFX through Photoshop. Since the subject matter was heavy, I felt that I would add drama and impact by choosing a heavy process. I went to the Film Noir Preset #1 and then decreased the size of the grain 40% while pushing up the structure. I also minimized the spread of the digi-faux rebate edge.

Brommer is now going to discuss his feeling on racism. It might be time to click here for lighter subject matter.

My personal take on the issue at hand is that it’s something that has been brewing in this country since the 1800’s. Racism. It’s not always fair and it’s not easy to understand. It may very well resound in all of us, deep down, hidden and can bubble up in certain circumstances. Others make decisions and judgments based on race with little provocation and thought. I see color and race, I am a photographer and my job is to see. However, I do not let race, nor social standing effect the way I interact with the population. So while acutely aware of racial details and stereotypes the factor is nullified until you give me a reason to respond from your deeds and words. After all, we are all human. And I’ll treat you like a lady or gentleman as long as you are one. That’s how I roll. I’m ashamed when a racist thought runs through my head. My first best friend was Lamont Swain, we played together on the streets and playgrounds. I was a skinny little white kid, and Lamont was a skinny little black kid. R.I.P. Mont Mont, your friendship showed me in the end, we were just skinny kids.

In a perfect world you don’t get taken down so hard you die for selling illegal cigarettes. In a perfect world when you steal and you get caught you don’t resist arrest. In a perfect world the cops don’t have the right to use violent force unless being met with violent force that is un-arguable. In a perfect world a segment of the society was not enslaved and then after generations set free. In a perfect world all the children are taught to respect one another and know right from wrong. In a perfect world no one would take advantage over another. In a perfect world… is just a dream. 

~David

Blood Bath in NYC courtesy of Bruce LaBruce

Just when I thought I was through photographing edges of the human race, Barbara suggested we head over the Hole NYC for a performance piece and book signing by an artist Bruce LaBruce who I wasn’t familiar with. A fast googling brought me to his wiki page and I was intrigued for sure. He’s a Canadian born multi disciplined gay pornographer, photographer, and writer. What caught my attention is he’s working in polaroid whilst shooting contentious set up scenes.

Before and after staging of performance.

Shock seems to come natural to Bruce, he softly directed the models and injected the signs and queued fonts of blood from his ultra fem-boy assistant. Wielding a Polaroid 600 camera, a base model with hardly any overrides, he strategically shot, signed the photo with a sharpie, and tossed his polaroids to the side for fem-boy to collect. The words on the signs seemed at first to be a standard progressive mantra but then as you start to really latch on to the slogan, its just “off” some how. It’s like laughing at a joke you don’t really get. Makes you think, and then just like that, another bucket of stage blood splatters on the victim-model, the crowd roars, and the antagonist-models contort in delight. Bruce, he’s just shooting, signing and loosely orchestrating the spectacle.

Paraded around The Hole NYC main gallery.

Victim is secured.

All the while a DJ pumped obscure dance music with a sometimes pop and often industrialized beat. Loud, expansive and contained in brilliant hi-key white, the Hole NY shook to audible and visual mock violence. It was perfect.

Bruce LaBruce Pieta 2012

Bruce in action with his Polaroid.

Fem-Nazi Madness

We hung out late afterwards, as people from the audience volunteered to be victimized the crowd slowly shuffled out. There was a small sign that promised signed polaroids for $5 each. I was incredulous to this as nothing in NY costs five bucks that’s worth a damn, aside from a bagel or a 4 block cab ride. Bruce’s work was taped to a brick wall, and in the end, with just a few gallerists  present, fem- boy let us pick out 4 polaroids. Barbara put them in her pocket book, I slipped fem-boy a Jackson. Our photography collection just took a turn for the better, I’m going to treasure those polaroids. They will remind me that the edge of the human race is alive and well.

Polaroid 600 Film recently shot.

a girl from the audience is targeted (and she loved it).

Later on, two blocks north on Bowery at Gemma I chimped my X Pro 1 to see what I got and the results gave me photo-butterfly wings feelings!  At the early point of the performance I set the camera exposure compensation to +1 stops which kept the walls white (until they became blood spattered of course). ISO setting was auto-1600 and I shot wide open at f 2.0 with the 18 mm which was perfect, allowing me to frame the whole stage from my vantage point. I shot fast and furious, to match Bruce’s orchestrations. Twice, I switched over to video and caught a movement of live action. The thrill of  photographs well caught was evident. I was excited by the shoot, but alas, it wasn’t mine. It was purely Bruce’s and myself and all the others who were shooting, video taping… they got something good, something exciting too. With all the smart phones of the 100 or so onlookers I imagine twitter, facebook and instagram must have been humming or as they say in the new digital vernacular, “trending” (I can only imagine the comments). I ordered the steak, rare. It seemed the only thing I had an appetite for after the performance.

After the buckets of blood were all done, Bruce slowed down and took more time directing.

Bruce had no signs saying no pictures. The spectacle was ours, shared by Bruce’s work and his decision to allow the imagery in an ultimate form of sharing, unrestricted access to his Bowery blood bath for all to see. Suspect Photography applauds Bruce LaBruce and his open-source performance art.

~David Brommer

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