Art, Food and Protest: My Year in Photos

A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.
- John A. Shedd

2011 was the year I decided that a camera in a bag was a dead camera. Our photographic tools (DSLRs, point-and-shoots, iPhones) are designed to be used. That’s where they’re built for.

I’m also fortunate/cursed to live in interesting times, as protests descend upon Washington. I know the city well and can get just about anywhere quickly by walking or biking.

So, I decided that I would use my Canon T2i and iPhone 4 to document political protests, art events, food and just interesting things I saw in the city.

Protests

One of my favorite photos of the year was from an OccupyDC protest:

hippie star While I took a lot of other pictures of this Key Bridge march, the Amaro filter in Instagram gave this picture a very warm 1970s-style. Ironically, it was freezing that day and the sun had just emerged for a couple minutes late in the day.

This “hippie protester” was part of the OccupyDC movement. Most groups come to Washington, march around, and leave. These people stayed. They turned McPherson Square into a squalid encampment and have disrupted the lives of the 99% (the people they claim to represent) by continually blocking traffic during rush hour.

The turning point for me came a month later, during their barn raising in McPherson Square. It was a small, silly event:

OccupyDC barnIf you added up all the protesters, police, media and tourists, there couldn’t be more than a couple hundred people involved. But CNN covered it as if it was some sort of mass insurrection. A stand-off with police is always good TV.

Another way the media got things wrong was a laughable article on the McPherson Square camp as a model of new urbanism. The piece is filled with so many factual mistakes and academic-speak that I thought it was a parody. The thesis that the Occupy movement has “activated” the park can be demolished by actually visiting the camp, which is nothing but muddy tents and masked anarchists.

OccupyDC, can’t you come up with something more modern than marching in the streets like 1930s strikers? As an example of effective and innovative political action, check out DC Flag Day, where residents demonstrated their love of the city.

waving the DC flagThis woman is rocking the red heels as she advocates for DC statehood.

Art

Protesters could learn a lot from arts advocates in this city. I’m fortunate to be friends with the amazing Philippa Hughes, arts promoter extraordinaire. She’s reinvented the local arts scene with the Pink Line Project (who I write for occasionally). Philippa doesn’t do staid art gallery openings. She always has a different take on these events, designed to attract people who aren’t normally interested in the arts

She’s seen here at Audio Warhol, which is a perfect example of her work, making art fun and accessible to ordinary people. Watching strings perform an avant-garde piece in the National Gallery of Art was one of the most beautiful things I experienced all year.

Dancers and actors are an alien species to me, which is perhaps why I find them so fascinating. Getting up on stage and performing? That would be my nightmare.

But some can do it, even in the hundred-degree heat of Dance Day DC. In addition to capturing Redskins cheerleaders and the very loud Mary Murphy, I got this photo which I love:

dancers in black and white

Black and white works really well in dance. And how did the girl on the left get up so high?

Leo Bloom: Actors are not animals! They’re human beings!
Max Bialystock: They are? Have you ever eaten with one?

I love that quote from The Producers. My favorite part of the year is the DC Shorts Film Festival. And one of the coolest things about DC Shorts is the short screenplay competition, where the winner receives $2000 to turn their script into a short film.

Out of more than a hundred submissions, we chose five finalists who performed their scripts with actors in a a live screenplay reading. One of the writers couldn’t make it, so I filled in, casting and directing his script.

Here’s the annotated script of Desdemona, the script that we performed. I read the descriptions while actors played the different characters in the story.

annotated script

While I admire actors, dancers and other creative types, I draw the line at performance artists. I always thought that they were crazy and my suspicions were confirmed by my encounter with Agnes Bolt. You can read the story of an art experiment gone wrong. Or just look at her eyes in this picture:

Agnes Bolt

Weirdly, the bubble that Bolt lived in is now part of OccupyDC, which is appropriate because they’re both acts of meaningless theater.

Bikes

I must mention my obsession with bikes. One of the things that I love about DC is you don’t need a car. I bike everywhere so of course I took pictures of Bike to Work Day, as well as bikes in the snowpretty girls on bikes, electric bikes and even a bike trail video. But it was this picture that generated the most controversy:

Bill Line, park rangerI thought it was funny – a park ranger in a big hat riding a bike. Turns out it’s Bill Line, spokesperson for the National Park Service and opponent of bike sharing on the National Mall. A minor kerfuffle resulted, as local cycling advocates noted the irony as well as Line’s unsafe biking practices. Lesson learned – even your most trivial photos may turn out to be important.

Food

Why is taking pictures of food so much fun? It’s because you’re capturing the memory of a good experience, like the Pink Blast cocktail:

pink blast cocktailIt’s a custom drink for Philippa Hughes – how cool is that?

Peruvian chicken, an afternoon cupcake, a Shake Shack burger, amazing tacos and this delicious chicken curry all fell to my iPhone.

chicken curry at Teaism

My only regret is not taking pictures of everything I ate in 2011.

Coffee was a recurring theme, however, which why I was glad to go to a coffee tasting at Yola, featuring Jon from DistrictBean.

Jon from DistrictBeanHe can answer anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the black brew.

iPhoneography

My photographic year was also influenced tremendously by the iwishyouwerehere show by Keith Lane at the Hillyer Gallery. Seeing iPhone photos hanging on the wall of an art gallery got me thinking about the photographic possibilities of this ubiquitous electronic device. His show and the earlier InstantDC show demonstrated that you could be an artist with an iPhone – that’s a very liberating thought.

i wish you were here detail

This led to me taking a lot more photos with my iPhone and, just a few months later, winning first place in the Fotoweek Mobile Phone Image Contest.

little girl at fotoweek HQ

That’s what’s great about art – it expands your vision in new and creative directions.

Moving Forward

Finally, I present this picture:

Medics USAIt had been rainy, cold and dark for three straight days. It was the worst time of year, when the days are short and night arrives at 5 PM.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I went out for drinks and then wandered the streets. The rain became a light drizzle and I captured this scene.

This represents a lot of what I’m interested in photographically – black and white, an iPhone pic, a city scene, a little lonely and mysterious.

It also demonstrates what a comfort art can be. On a dark, miserable night I was able to create an image that I really enjoyed. I forgot all about the three days of rain as I got this picture. That’s why it means so much to me.

In 2012, where will my camera take me? More food shots, certainly. I’d also like to do some portraits, as well as continuing the document the arts scene that I find so fascinating. I’m also interested in biking culture in DC.

At the start of 2011, I didn’t know I’d be taking so many pictures of protests. It’s hard to predict what the new year will bring. But my camera will be out of the bag and ready to go.

About Joe

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. He is the author of the mystery novel Murder in Ocean Hall, as well as articles, short stories and screenplays. In his spare time, he likes wandering about the city with a camera.

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