Dissent, Discontent, and Action: Pictures of US by Accra Shepp
The Spencer Museum collaborates with contemporary photographer Accra Shepp to share two photographic projects, Occupying Wall Street and The Covid Journals. Through these portrait series, Shepp reveals a sense of community, hope, and resilience during an era of tremendous social, political, and environmental change.
Shepp began photographing the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York’s Zuccotti Park on October 1, 2011. He was drawn to the sea of individuals as a photographic subject, based in part on his observation of the crowd’s diversity: “The press said the movement was predominantly young and white. And I kept seeing Asians, Latinos, Blacks. This doesn't look so homogenous. There were people in their 60s and young children with their families. And I thought, this is what people need to see.” Working with a 4 × 5 view camera, Shepp made 20 to 30 exposures per week over an extended period, continuing to photograph demonstrators at the park and its vicinity through April 2012.
In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Shepp again captured portraits of the people in his city. He used a medium-format camera to address, in his words, “what this pandemic and its shape looks like here in New York. The work also speaks to the responsibility the arts and artists have to make visible, audible—make present important historical moments and conditions.” The series began at Elmhurst Hospital, a few blocks from Shepp’s home, during a moment when this hospital was filling with patients. At that time most Americans were living in isolation and views of labor and loss associated with the virus’s impact weren’t always visible. Later that year, Shepp’s attention shifted to demonstrations and the outcry for justice after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Shepp explains, “In spite of isolation and hunger and in spite of contagion, and the pandemic, people raised their voices to say, ‘No more.’”
In uniting these two bodies of work, produced almost a decade apart, we can consider how the same issues that drove protestors to the streets in 2011 grew in relevance to our daily lives during the crisis of a global pandemic, and continue to shape society today.
This exhibition is supported by the KU Student Senate and the Linda Inman Bailey Exhibitions Fund.