What does protest look like? This was the question posed to over a dozen artists featured in Capricious Magazine #12 — Protest. Swedish photographer Sophie Mörner started the Brooklyn-based Capricious in 2004 as a biannual publication featuring fine art photography. For each new issue Mörner works with a guest editor, who chooses the magazine’s theme. Past issues have included work by Ryan McGinley, Olaf Breuning and Hanna Liden, and featured themed titles such as “Tension,” “Acts of Secrecy,” “The Feminist Issue” and “Being Fashion.”
In her editorial statement, Mörner writes that her initial idea for the protest issue “was to see if one can photograph protest without taking photographs of a protest.” New York– and Stockholm-based artist and writer Emily Roysdon guest “curates” (in both her words and Mörner’s) the issue, soliciting contributions from over a dozen artists whose work spans decades and continents. Roysdon, an artist and co-founder of the self-styled “feminist genderqueer artist collective” LTTR, writes her curatorial statement “with one foot in Liberty Square and one foot in Zucotti Park.” Likewise, Mörner says that the protest issue was delayed by a year because of numerous complications in the Capricious schedule, but that the delay could not have been more opportune in placing the release (December 2011) “in the middle of a time when New Yorkers are really creating history.”
By bringing on a guest curator rather than a guest editor, Mörner invites the reader to engage with the magazine (96 pages) as an exhibition. The editorial statement, curatorial statement and masthead appear on newsprint inserts at the front, middle and back of the publication. Each set of photos is preceded by two full blank white pages with the artist’s or collective’s first and last name appearing divided and centered at the top of each blank page. The white pages can be read alternatively as the white walls of a gallery separating works or the brief credits between short films — they not only announce the author of the works but interrupt and break up the viewing experience.
Mörner writes that her initial idea was to make an issue about protest without any direct representations of such. While the final publication does, in fact, include many photographs of protests, the issue of direct versus indirect representation raises interesting questions. What is an image of protest? If it does not feature a person or group of people standing in public for a cause, how else is the concept embodied? In other words, how can an action, a way of posturing oneself or being in the world, exist as protest? And how does the medium of photography represent this? With all this in mind, it is also necessary to ask, rephrasing Mörner, what is not an image of protest?
Some of the most striking pictures in Capricious #12 are Angela S. Beallor‘s photos of the backs of political buttons. These close-ups show rusted circles ringed by the bright silver where the pin front meets its backing. After growing accustomed to crowds of protesters throughout the first half of the issue, the viewer is confronted with a contrast of sharp detail. There is a subtle eloquence to Beallor’s buttons, as well as to Alice O’Malley’s images of spray-painted buildings from the Seneca Women’s Peace Encampment of 1983. Many photos gathered in Capricious #12 represent and memorialize fleeting demonstrations, but it is often through the images the camera takes beyond a mass of individuals that the viewer is able to connect with the power behind the protest.
Capricious Magazine #12 – Protest is available online and in bookstores.