According to artist Lucy Raven, the roots of Occupy Oakland run deep.
"Oakland has a progressive radical history," Raven told me as she
and her partner, journalist Alex Abramovich, made their way back to the
Bay Area after interviewing retired Oakland Police Chief Anthony
Batts about recent Occupy actions. "The seeds sown in 1968 are flowering
now," Raven said.
The pair should know. They spent several months capturing the
stories of people, including Batts, whose lives have been directly
touched by Occupy Oakland, which is arguably the most well-known branch
of an international protest movement sparked by recent revolutions and
demonstrations in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and other countries.
couple's resulting project, "Portraits from the Occupation," is a
showcase of 16 filmed vignettes ranging from three to twelve minutes in
length that explores the movement unfolding in a historically
progressive city. The project, which was commissioned by OMCA's Oakland Standard is online on the Standard's website at http://museumca.org/theoaklandstandard/portraits-occupation.
The East Coast transplants said the idea for their work arose from The 1968 Exhibit, which neither had seen before they started filming.
The project got its start when Abramovich and Raven began wondering what
it might have been like to be around in 1968.
"We knew there was a lot of footage that had been shot of Black
Panthers," the journalist said, musing on the Oakland-based group. But
everything the pair came across covering events of that year "had zoomed
in on one side."
"We didn't see anything that was a totally objective 360 degree
view of everything that happened," Abramovich remembered, and drew a
parallel to what he described as partisan approaches
to documenting Occupy.
So he and Raven decided to create a series that
focused as neutrally as possible on people involved with or impacted by
They began with a handful of videotaped interviews that quickly
swelled to a dozen and culminated in the 16 that debuted at the Oakland
Museum of California on May Day.
Raven handled the camera and sound while Abramovich asked subjects four basic questions about Occupy Oakland.
Filmed in locations such as homes, offices and the street, the
videos paint unbiased portraits of distinct, yet intertwined lives.
The couple drew inspiration from Andy Warhol's mid-Sixties screen
tests, a series of brief, silent films in which the famed artist
observed friends and acquaintances in front of stark, empty backgrounds.
Like those screen test, "Portraits" is not one cohesive film. "It's
a time capsule," Abramovich explained. "They're not made to be seen all
together. People can make the connections themselves."
Ultimately, the pair's greatest achievement may be the creation of a
visual record where viewers can get an honest look at one of the 21st
century's most dynamic social movements, as well as some of its players. YouTube footage and other sources give no real sense of participants and bystanders, Abramovich added.
"We wanted to be able to attach names to faces," he said, "and humanize them."