“Life’s like a box of chocolates . . . “
Magnum photographer Martin Parr once said, “All photography is propaganda.” While that much is true to some respect, I wish to make an exception here. Before I go further, I want to make clear now I make NO POLITICAL STATEMENTS OR ASSERTIONS with the images on this post. I detest politics, and my own ideological and political beliefs are of my own concern. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EXTRAPOLATE MY POLITICAL LEANINGS WITH THE FOLLOWING IMAGES; YOU WILL PROBABLY BE SURPRISINGLY WRONG. These photos here serve no other purpose but objective photojournalism and reportage.
Anyone familiar with the great film “Forrest Gump” will recognize the wisdom of how confectionary uncertainty parallels human existence. That film, however, also notes how being in the a certain place at a certain time with certain people leads to unexpected occurrences—otherwise known as the phenomena of life. I woke up this morning expecting my day off to be a quiet one mostly with the exception of plans to join some of my single mates for drinks in the evening. It seemed quite appropriate for us to band together on Valentine’s Day to recognize and commemorate the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre today in 1929. This is, after all, Chicago. Drowning ourselves in booze is just incidental. I will concede, however, the fact that this is my first V-Day as a single man since 2010 may have had some influence over a desire for scotch and/or bourbon.
Before any of that would occur, however, I had the mundane task of running an errand at a bank downtown. I had figure then to grab my street shooter and some lenses with me, just in case. If I’m honest, all I had anticipated where two or three frames of people jaywalking and perhaps couriers delivering rose bouquets and red heart-shaped mylar balloons. After completing my fiscal tasks, I wandered about Dearborn for a bit, heading north away from Monroe. A block up, I noticed the signs outside of Sears indicating that they were closing down. I had known this for some time, but it seemed that today with a lens in hand, it may be interesting to document the sad demise of a once reputable and proud business.
After leaving Sears and wondering why the business had not gone under long ago already, I proceeded north another block to the corner of Daley Plaza where I saw a few women passing out fliers on red paper. Never assume nor take anything for face value. Occam’s Razor, which dictates that all things being equal the simplest answer is the correct one, sometimes does not apply. A reasonable person would think that red fliers on V-Day would suggest something related to such Day. My curiously brought me to a crowd gathering in front of the Daley Center building itself, which disproved such simple answer here.
It was not long after observing that a demonstration or protest of some sort was immanent. Individuals carrying around signs and distributing leaflets. People with DSLRs and non-kit lenses floating around photographing. And then in the corner of my eye, I spotted an older gentleman with a Leica M rangefinder around his neck. There was something about his appearance asides from the Leica that made me formulate a perception that this man could be a fellow street photographer. Photojournalists and at least one possible street photographer hanging around and not moving onto the next block—one needs not to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that something was about to occur.
I moved around a bit more to wait and see what was going to happen. Would this form into a rally? A peaceful demonstration? A protest? A march? About what subject matter? Reading the signs, it spoke for itself. Meanwhile, somehow the man with the Leica and I started to notice each other more, distantly engaging in some unintentional cat-and-mouse game as we circled around the growing crowd of mostly women. Around then, it began.
The event that I unknowingly wandered upon turned out to be a demonstration by the Rape Victim Advocates to speak up against sexual violence. I will admit that initially, I stayed to photograph for reportage purposes. However, as the demonstration progressed, after an opening dance that appeared to be a celebration of women’s strength and perseverance against adversity, I found myself drawn into it. A photojournalist’s duty is to document and remain objective and neutral, emotionally removed from the event he or she is recording. That was rather hard to do here as women one by one walked up onto the stage and over a microphone recalled their harrowing experience with rape. It brought be back to a time several years ago of training for a discipline that required the utmost of emotional strength, and it reminded me of why I left to pursue a different career path. There are some things from which I cannot detach myself emotionally. Empathy is a quality, but it may also serve as a weakness.
After an hour of trying to photograph within and around the crowd and listening to horrifying accounts of rape—from both women and men—it occurred to me that an important message to take out of this demonstration was the resolve and tenancy of the individuals standing on that stage and in the crowd. Despite having endured unfathomable trauma and hell, they survived and persevered. Their strength and courage reflected what is good of humanity, proudly standing against the evils of humanity that brought them here. We should all be so courageous and resolute.
As the demonstration disbursed for a reception elsewhere indoors away from the bitterly cold air, I attempted to frame a shot with some of the sign holders next to where they had left their belongings. As I struggled to compose the shot, the man with the Leica approached me. Spy versus spy, photographer versus photographer, now face to face. In the most friendly voice imaginable, he asked me where I got my canvas camera bag. He introduced himself as Frank, and he noted how he observed me roaming around shooting and changing my lenses back and forth, remarking how difficult that had to be given how the cold air hinders the dexterity to juggle two lenses and a camera body. Our dialogue quickly turned into an exchange of respect; and from me admiration of his Leica M and 21mm piece of glass, and his ability to get right into the action. He decided to follow the crowd to the reception as I myself decided I had enough action for one day and left for home. I cannot to see how spectacular his images from the day were.
On one last note of irony, taking a more extended and scenic path to catch the CTA back to Hyde Park, I walked passed Camera Central around Wabash and Jackson and saw that the camera gods were taunting me.
Now if you excuse me, I have friends and bottles of whiskey to meet at a bar somewhere up north.
All images © K. Dao Photography 2014, all rights reserved.