In the age of Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and an incumbent Donald Trump presidency, one could conclude from the media that the United States is at the height of its protest action. However, photographers have been documenting these expressions of citizen dissatisfaction for decades and now, a new exhibition aims to visually and historically demonstrate how this struggle for justice is nothing new.
With a long history of vocally protesting injustices, New York’s Bronx Documentary Centre plays host to the aptly titled photographic exhibition Whose Streets? Our Streets! Featuring the work of 37 different photojournalists, the exhibition will include a range of striking images of protest action taken between the years 1980 and 2000, none of which have ever been displayed together.
Featuring the work of photographers like Ricky Flores, Clayton Patterson, and Lisa Kahane, the exhibition covers protests that targeted everything from racism, police brutality, war and queer activism, to abortion rights, housing issues, education and labour.
“The issues today are very similar; almost a repetition,” Flores said in an interview with The Fader. “We’re still dealing with police brutality, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. The only difference is that now more people are documenting themselves. The common person walking down the street will see something and actually document what’s going down. As much as we’d like to believe that we’ve progressed, we’ve gone backwards in some ways. It’s clear that the same issues are still prevalent today.”
With the goal of preserving this fundamental feature of American government for future generations, the exhibition also serves to aid in bridging the gaps in understanding that can often develop between generations of activists and protesters.
“Looking at the past offers hindsight on what was done best or could've been done differently,” Kahane explained. “Young people always tell me they wish they lived through the '60s. But now everyone's getting a taste of what it was like. It wasn’t a lot of fun.”
The exhibition, which was co-curated by former photo editor of The Village Voice, Meg Handler, historian Tamar Carrol, and Michael Kamber, founder of the Bronx Documentary Center, concludes on 5 May 2017.