March 25th, 1911: 146 workers killed in the Triangle Shirt Factory fire in Manhattan, NY. The victims were mostly women and young immigrants whose marginalization forced them into exploitative jobs. Sweatshops like the Triangle Shirt Factory were notorious for underpaying and overworking its workers, and the buildings themselves were crumbling and dirty.
Unfortunately, the conditions and dangers of sweatshops have not changed much since the Triangle Shirt Factory tragedy. On April 24th, 2013, the Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh that contained 5 factories, collapsed, killing 1,135 people and injuring many more. Clean Clothes Campaign, and independent organization that seeks to improve working conditions in the global garment industry, called the Rana Plaza and other sweatshops "deathtrap workplaces." These buildings often contain many health hazards and their shanty building makes them susceptible to collapse. The Rana Plaza was reportedly build on swampy ground, which could have contributed to its instability.
Over a hundred years has passed between the Triangle Shirt Factory fire and the Rana Plaza collapse, and there is no telling how many other sweatshop catastrophes have cost workers their lives. Unfortunately, the conditions have not changed, if anything, with the population surge, they have gotten worse. While we tend to think that we have progressed in human rights since 1911, and while to an extent we have, the collapse of Rana Plaza is a stark reminder that the fashion industry continues to exploit and endanger its workers.
Documentation of protests can severely skew the sentiments of both sides. Media coverage often either downplays the severity of riot crew uses of crowd control tactics or highlights the violent reactions from the protesters. Exposing bias in favor of one side or another in covering a protest can often misinform the public about the reality of a protest.
In the case of Hong Kong's 2014 "Umbrella Protests," various types photographers took either own unique approaches on documenting the protests. A largely peaceful protest that used art as a driving source of propaganda, each of the three photographers featured in "Art and Creative of the Umbrella Movement" (Part 1, Part 2) took a different approach to portray their experiences at the protest.
First is Bobby Sham, a large format camera photographer. Sham does not identify as a photo-journalist, but instead, as a politically-neutral observer who captures the artistic side of the movement. His photos featured blurred faces that evoke the feeling of crowds of people in a single body. Sham believes his work is crucial in the historical documentation of the protests lest they ever be forgotten.
Secondly, there is Alex Ogle, a Hong-Kong based photo-journalist. He impresses himself in the front line of the protests to expose the moments of severity, often between the riot crew or polices and the peaceful protestors. Ogle comments on the disparity between a 20-second news clip of a moment during the protests and his photograph of a moment within that time period. He states that the photograph is a often more shocking when taken out of the context of the protest around it, yet, can easily be misinterpreted by the public.
Taking an entirely different approach is Raymond Kam, who rather than documenting reality, stages actors to create his photograph. In a way, Kam's work akin to a portrait of a battle commissioned by the winning side. An important difference, however, is that Kam is able to project which ever ideology he chooses, and so his work is inherently bias to one side of the protest.
Ultimately, considering the method and intent of the artist is important when documenting reality. Photography, unlike most other art, is able to straddle the line between reality and fiction. While some photography, like journal-photography, airs on the side of reality as it provides an unfiltered snapshot of an event, staged photography tends towards the side of fiction, masked by the specific ideology the photographer is intending to portray.
Liz is a senior English major with minors in Spanish and Computer Science. Her research interests, like her areas of academic speciality, lie in the intersections between humanities and science. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and playing with dogs.