I just popped by the Bannister Gallery at Rhode Island College, which I sort of assumed wouldn’t even be running a show during the summer, and was pleasantly surprised to come across Protest, a show featuring photographer LeRoy Henderson that will be up through early July.
Henderson shows the struggles of Americans as they take to the streets, in New York and Washington, to protest both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. The banners and slogans are worth documenting, but the most interesting part of the black-and-white photos are the people holding them. Who, for instance, are the two made-up women in 2005 holding the Billionaires For Bush signs? Or the woman from 1969 with the sign that says “Give me one good reason I should fight in Vietnam. Arm black men to fight for freedom in America.” The most striking images, though, are the ones that aren’t easy to place–a man kneeling in a field, or a shadowy figure with sunglasses.
The photographs question the protesting individual. A man lies face-down on the ground while a dopey-looking cop stands over him, but the demonstrators in the background look like confused tourists more than anything. And the Billionaires For Bush are interesting, but are they really as striking as the groups of Iraq protesters hidden behind giant masks?
As a whole, the photographs raise interesting questions about the nature of political demonstration: after the sixties, can Americans demonstrate without seeming unoriginal? After public protests about Vietnam didn’t work, does the public even listen to protesters anymore?