Visualizing Change: Ted Zee on Photographing Protests and Marches

Image Copyright Ted Zee

While Vassar students have been participating in protests and marches across the East Coast from Boston to D.C. to Poughkeepsie photographer Ted Zee is capturing similar moments of solemnity and unity across the country. Based in Seattle, Washington, Zee has photographed moments from pride parades to protests, including the march against the immigrant ban on January 29, 2017. “The stay is temporary, the resistance is not. No Muslim Ban.” adorns a sign held by a protester in one of Zee’s photographs.

When asked what first led Zee to mass movements, he said, “I started taking photography seriously a little over a year ago…walking around downtown Seattle…the street photography led to capturing moments at local protests and other public events.” His portfolio includes the 2016 Seattle Pride weekend, the Black Lives Matter protest on July 7, 2016, the Anti-Trump protest on September 11, 2016, and the Women’s March Against Hate on December 3, 2016. His photos of protesters, crowds, and onlookers are uniquely human; they capture the unfeigned emotions of his subjects.

Public gatherings, sometimes with attendance in the hundreds of thousands, provide ample subjects for images, but balancing the power of the crowds with the emotions of individuals can be a challenge for accurate presentation.

The focus of Zee’s photos are the people around him, often positioned alone in the center of the image. His approach to photographing group gatherings is similar to how he captures everyday life. “In a march or rally situation I might take note of a unique message on a sign, but in general my focus is on how people show up in that particular moment,” said Zee.

Street photography, specifically in Zee’s case, requires a precise combination of timing and circumstance. Zee’s photographs are candid; the subject is neither posing nor reacting to the presence of a camera. “I will take the shot as quickly as possible, because I’m trying to capture whatever it was that drew me to that person or group,” Zee explained. While he usually uses candid photos in his photo series, the moment in which his subject first connects to the camera can provide a strong image. “Sometimes I’ll grab the split second in which the person first spots the camera and is looking straight into the lens, which may help in connecting the viewer with the moment,” said Zee.

Public gatherings, sometimes with attendance in the hundreds of thousands, provide ample subjects for images, but balancing the power of the crowds with the emotions of individuals can be a challenge for accurate presentation. By photographing up-close and personal, Zee believes that the subjects of his photos can make a statement for the event as a whole. “My hope,” he said, “is that by focusing on those individuals, and capturing the moments that ring true, the viewer will have enough information to draw their own conclusions.”

Scanning through Zee’s photographs reminds me of the inherently human aspect of protests how people can at once both unite together and represent themselves publicly.

This type of documentation is in direct contrast with the reports and visuals provided by major news stations. While individuals are sometimes interviewed, the media tends to focus on crowd size and action in situations that draw a lot of people and attention. According to Zee, Seattle news outlets portray differing perspectives, but for national television coverage “it seems they may be more likely to key in on dramatic elements that play better to a short news segment.”

Attending these events has also allowed Zee to relate with some of the individuals he has photographed. “What affected me the most on a personal level was what happened after I took [a shot of a mother and her two daughters] at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day March in 2016.” A mutual friend hooked Zee up with the individuals in the photograph, which led him to document the politically active family of Murphy Peetz. What began as a photo series documenting the family at the 2016 presidential election protests extended into the Peetz’s everyday lives. The photo series represents how faces in a crowd always carry with them their own stories and experiences.

Scanning through Zee’s photographs reminds me of the inherently human aspect of protests how people can at once both unite together and represent themselves publicly. His photographs, be it a man with a solemn expression down on his knees, a line of women marching and holding hands, or a father and son traveling with a crowd, not only encourage viewers to connect with the themes of the protests but also recognize the individuals who are struggling and fighting for themselves and their beliefs.

 

For Zee, the events in Seattle mirror what the Vassar community, both on campus and in throughout the East Coast, has experienced up to and after the election and in the first days of the new presidential administration. Zee said, “I do think that the Women’s March in Seattle, with estimates up to 200,000, reflects the movement on a national scale, where more and more people, of all backgrounds, are opting to get off the sidelines and show solidarity in a peaceful way.”

The images captured by Zee are stark visualizations of what is truly on the line in these situations. “47% voted for him: This is why Sexual Assault goes unreported,” reads one sign. “We all come from somewhere” another sign states. “Stop killing us,” demands the sign of a Black man. 

“The folks in Seattle behind the marches and rallies are very mobilized and have not let up leading up to and after the election, representing people of all identities,” Zee explained. Ted Zee’s photographs remind me that although the fight is far from over, people on the opposite coast are standing in unity beside people across the country, despite the distance.

To see more of Ted Zee’s work, visit www.tedzee.com.

Ted Zolyniak (known by most as Ted Zee) is a documentary photographer in Seattle, Washington. His first photo essay, The Murphy Peetz of Southern Street, was featured by Huffington Post and Slog in December of 2016.

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