Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A New Era

Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States last Tuesday, and has been received as a champion by people throughout the country and all over the world. No change of leadership in modern history has engendered so much hope and enthusiasm with so many people. He is  truly representative of change, of a new paradigm as the world moves forward in the 21st century. His presidency comes at a time when the world is in crisis, at a critical point, and despite our uncertainties about our own futures, we are all fortunate to bear witness to this hour in history.

Iris PhotoCollective photographers were there throughout the Inaugural weekend. Pablo Martínez Monsívais covered it for the Associated Press, Carl Juste was assigned by McClatchy
 News Service, and André Chung and Clarence Williams photographed for the Inaugural Committee's Official Inaugural Book. You can learn more about the book project at www.obamaphotobook.com. Following are some of their thoughts and photos and a larger gallery of work can be viewed in the gallery named 44 at the Iris PhotoCollective website. Go to www.irisphotocollective.com to see more images.

Pablo Martínez Monsívaís: In our lives there aren't many 'firsts' that you can say you were witness to, days you will look back on and tell your grandchildren about...

'I was there when...'

Last Tuesday was one of those day that, probably, later when I recount the story, I'm going to forget how cold, windy and long my day turned out to be. Instead I'm going to remember how wonderful I felt to watch the events unfold, amazed at the spirit and drive our country is capable of achieving. With 2 million people attending, (the population of D.C., is 500,000), our whole country and the rest of the world had their collective eyes focused on the Capital. In other cities and countries, crowds this size are reserved for sporting or religious events. But not this day and not here. We as a country came out in a record numbers to take part in the peaceful transition of democracy. A democracy copied by some, and envied by many because of our capacity to continue to grow and adapt, to change our leaders peacefully without having a coup. In the end this was just AMAZING, plain and simple.

'I remember when I saw the President.'

This was the third inauguration I've covered - each one a bit different, and my assignments for those days as various as the circumstances surrounding the elections. On January 20, 2001, I covered protesters on foot in downtown D.C. who attempted to disrupt the inauguration festivities along the parade route. Back then, we had not yet experienced the attacks of 9/11, and in retrospect those opposing the outcome of the election were fairly calm. 

In 2005, I followed President Bush as a member of the travel pool, on a flatbed truck in his motorcade. While waiting to snap a picture of him walking down Pennsylvania Ave., there were raw eggs being thrown at his vehicle. The crowd looked much more hostile, causing members of the Secret Service to surround the limo and speed up their pace. People came out that day to show their displeasure for Bush's handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

'Tell us again what happened on that election night in Chicago? '

I was in Chicago on November 4th to witness the election of Obama, and the city's celebration of a South Side Senator's elevation into the most powerful office in the world. I smiled when I snapped photos, perched from a riser with the longest piece of Canon glass I have ever used, because I am from the South Side and like Barack, I am also a White Sox fan. That's corny I know, but I can't make this up. I looked around at the people in Grant Park, the different faces, ages and genders, and America was looking back at me celebrating. People hugging, smiling and a whole bunch of them crying.

Welcome to a brand new day.

'I woke up 5 minutes before my alarm clock to a house full of friends.'

I'm always going to remember where I was on Tuesday, January 20th, 2008, or Inauguration Day. I keep reminding myself that I had witnessed 43 greeting 44 at 1600 Penn. -translation from DC-Speak -outgoing President George W. Bush shaking hands with incoming President Barack Obama at the White House. It was something I'd never seen before in my 15-plus years as a photojournalist - and mind you, I've seen a lot in my career. Here I was watching the transition of the Presidency of the US. I remember reading about this in countless history classes in school, but reading it is one thing, watching it happen ten feet away is completely different. Seeing Obama and Bush pose with the First Ladies at the North Portico of the White House I was reminded how normal both couples looked. What I mean is, our country has no kings - we elect regular people to be our leaders, and on January 20, 2009 the country watched as a man by the name of Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

André Chung: I can't be happier about the way the country has turned around. Even though the economy continues to churn down the drain and we have a laundry list of problems we have to overcome, we've collectively managed to point ourselves in the right direction. 

I'm most choked up about what this means for the younger generation in this country. 
I have a daughter in high school and a son in middle school, and I find it breathtaking that to them, a black
president has just become normal. My children, our children, have really stepped into a new age. Although I've heard some cynical jokes about this, I think it's truly remarkable that at a time when things are so bleak and dismal, the American
 people would choose a black man to lead them home. 

My mother always told me and my siblings that we had to be twice as good as white folks to get the same distance. I know many of you reading this have been told the same by your parents. If my mother was right, then Obama would be twice as good as any president we've had. 

Carl Juste:  In my 20-plus years of photojournalism, I have never requested, demanded, or displayed ownership to any assignment.  I generally took a relaxed attitude
and a leap of faith that my work ethic, talent, and reputation would be suffice securing prized assignments.  Then came the Inauguration.  For the first time I felt I needed to
be there.  It did not matter in what capacity my talents would be used.  I just wanted to see and experience the inauguration for my father, my family, my friends, and mostly for myself.  I wanted to see, hear, and feel the moment with my own senses , no filters.

Clarence Williams: I wish our new President filled me with warm feelings and hope for a bright future. Unfortunately for me he doesn’t. I was excited on election night and the morning of the 5th. When I opened my local paper the next morning and realized that one of my collective mate’s images expressed our country’s joy, I was overwhelmed. I called him and left a tearful message thanking him. 

Soon after, reality crept back into my little world.

I’m proud of our President and happy for him. I have yet to rush out and buy a flag. I do not see that happening. All my let downs, pains and regrets are still the same.

I do not see any fewer Rebel flags where I travel on a regular basis. If I’m shot, chances are it will be by some equally angry Negro teenager.

I remain on edge. I’m still reading my Baldwin and Wright on a regular basis. I’m still angry.

In one way our new President has changed my life around. I use to be depressed and miserable. Now, I’m miserable and depressed.

In the meantime, as I breathlessly wait for my stimulus package I remain legally strapped and spend what little free time I have at the range or in the gym tossing iron plates around.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know about you, but I haven't come to fully appreciate what's happening right now. I dare say that none of us have. Maybe we're too focused on the business at hand to take a step back and really appreciate this time. Yes, we recognize and celebrate what's happening, but I don't think we're as awe struck as the time deserves. The U.S. has a Black president! WOW!

    I think the real social value of these images will really begin to peak 30-40 years from now. When we have had the time and endured the current struggles, to be in a position to see this time from a historical perspective. When we will be able to gauge this moment along the historical time line of the previous struggles that were witnessed by our ancestors. I think we will then be fully taken by what's happening right now. These images will then be studied and appreciated much more closely. The most studied of these images, in my mind, may not be of Obama, but of the country's reaction and celebration of this time and what it means. You brothers did an excellent job of providing that documentary evidence that will serve generations to come. I believe that we as Black photographers should make it a priority to continue that documentation at its highest level because we are in the best position to show the perspective as African Americans.

    KUDOS!!! to my brothers at Iris Photo Collective.