Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Americans have always exercised their right to demonstrate and protest, and the peaceful public expression of a multitude of opinions has always been the basis of a healthy democracy. After all, governments always implement a series of compromises, and the majority will usually stand behind major decisions, but it is never possible to satisfy everyone’s expectations. Some government decisions can also be immensely unpopular; hence, protests of varying distributions and sizes take place. The year after the publication of this book, however, intolerance and violence have further challenged our democratic traditions, as shown by the unprecedented assault on the Capitol, a subject for future projects and future photobooks.
In this book we are fortunate to witness an artful and balanced documentation of the public expression of a variety of viewpoints during the years 2001 to 2011, the first decade of the new millennium. Kevin Bubriski is an astute and talented observer of the scenes around political events. Ten years of observations of American individuals voicing their opinions in public, on their streets – that’s a substantial segment of time, taking us from the inauguration of one administration (Bush/Cheney) and the start of Middle Eastern strife, all the way into another administration led by Obama/Biden. The events covered also include marches and parades: a celebration of making opinions known on a variety of occasions.
This photobook is of a generous size, printed well, and the images present the whole gamut of pictorial tones and nuances, matching the balanced presentation of views expressed. The book begins by showing protests against the Iraq war, which then was supported by most, as a reaction to 9/11 if not on its own merits, and gradually came to be openly opposed by most later on. Thus, some of the later protests include some veterans of that war, since in their minds, based on their experience, that war was either impossible, ill-conceived, or unnecessary. There is no more powerful statement in support of negotiations and pacifism than photographs of troops returning from the ‘theater’ of war in coffins.
Other important causes for demonstrations are also well known: the sometimes overwhelming power of capitalism and commerce, the amplified use of force against citizens, especially where it is clearly not necessary, and more. The essays by Lucy McKeon and Howard Zinn provide further valuable background information, including points about the nature of criticism: it is patriotic to question decisions, not the opposite, as some politicians might want you to believe. Bubriski’s notes that explain the particulars for each event he photographed are also very helpful.
This photobook is an excellent compendium for studying the range and nature of citizens making peaceful use of their First Amendment rights to voice their opinions publicly, on our streets. Feelings such as anger about deprivation, discrimination, and other setbacks become visible, the opinions are heard, and persuasion can take place. This book is also a primer that stands in stellar contrast to those who would use violence to try to force their opinions upon the rest of the population.
“… true patritotism, true love of country, means being true to the ideals of peace and justice, and not to the policies of the government.” – Howard Zinn
Kevin Bubriski – Our Voices, Our Streets: American Protests 2001 – 2011
Photographer: Kevin Bubriski (born in North Adams, Massachusetts; lives in Shaftsbury, Vermont, USA)
Publisher: powerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY, USA; © 2020
Essays: Lucy McKeon (foreword), Howard Zinn (afterword)
Hardback with illustrated dust cover, fabric-covered, sewn; 180 pages, paginated; 11.25 x 12.25 inches (28.5 x 31.3cm); printed by Editoriale Bortolazzi Stei srl, Verona, Italy; ISBN: 978-1-57687-947-4
Photobook Designer: David Skolkin
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).