The local outpost of the Occupy movement, the wide-ranging, peaceful uprising turned tent city, has made fine use of the social web for connecting groups around the world. Most viscerally though, the weeks-long demonstration is captured by a sea of people and their signs — messages inscribed for a soundless moment.
Michael Bixler is seeking to bring those local moments back to the web, by way of his straight forward Tumblr 99 Faces, 99 Signs.
The Point Breeze freelance writer, photographer and videographer was motivated to capture Occupy Philly after he and his girlfriend visited the Wall Street demonstrations on their seventh day.
Now it’s gone much further than he had planned.
“On the first day of Occupy Philly I decided I really should find an angle that furthered the story on a more individual, human level. Something niche, that stands on it’s own and a bit more personal than a slew of action photos or videos of divergent political rants,” said Bixler, originally from South Carolina. “Something clicked and I ended up spending seven hours at City Hall taking 250 photos, 99 street portraits of which became the basis for 99 Faces, 99 Signs.”
He first posted just 99 pictures but decided that, as the demonstrations moved on, so should he. Now, the tent count is pushing 300 and he’s had more than 150 people and their signs, he said.
“I’m very sympathetic to the movement, despite my, albeit loose, adherence to the non-partial, non-political ‘journalism code’ I’m theoretically bound to, even if this is just a hobby. I feel like my personal politics don’t interfere very much with simply taking a picture of someone and their protest sign,” he said. “Yet, I maintain that Occupy is, at it’s core, a very nonpartisan movement and therefore I am relinquished from any judgement or journalistic guilt for participating.
Bixler came to Philadelphia from Asheville, N.C. almost a decade ago, “for more opportunity,” having grown tired of the politics and economy there. He had been visiting Philadelphia since being in middle school.
The photos come from Bixler’s visits to the Occupy Philly tent city, two or three times a week for a few hours. He follows their marches and finds himself talking to participants and, of course, scanning the crowd for clever or poignant signs.
“I don’t really have a stopping point now that I decided to keep it going,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to see the vast diversity of ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds populating the movement up close.”
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