History of a Photograph
The photograph is from December 1, 1999 during the raucous anti-globalization protests at the Seattle WTO meeting. They were protests in a traditional sense, but were also the most dramatic and violent series of events I'd witnessed as a 21-year-old. There was music and costumes and moments of levity, however, among many forms of creative free expression. I didn't see this frame for a couple weeks until I developed the film in my basement in the Green Lake neighborhood.
Westlake Park, Seattle, 1999.
The negative wasn't fully fixed originally, which means it had discoloration on the silver side of the emulsion (I put the film back in the fixer chemical later). I skipped over the image while editing initially because the subject was looking at me as I snapped the moment. I was also looking for more pictorial scenes while shooting. Thus, the image almost missed any chance of notoriety.
I made proof prints and enlargements in another shoddy darkroom. Other frames continued to resonate more and I eventually submitted a set to a national competition. I also went to Mexico that winter and wandered into the office of Proceso in Mexico City. I had a color xerox of the image with me and we decided to run this shot. I was enthusiastic about publishing the image in a country that stood to both suffer and benefit from free trade.
I was in Chiapas when I saw the Pictures of the Year contest webpage announcing a 3rd place win for the image in General News. Again, the image had narrowly avoided complete oblivion. The photo wasn't published in the annual catalog, to my dismay. The image was exhibited, however, on the wall of the Honors program at the University of Washington where I attended.
Like a burnt out drummer in Las Vegas, the image was relegated to the archive as the world's attention shifted. The image was distributed by photo agencies but never saw the ink of paper, to my knowledge. It must have been reproduced a multitude of times on hard drives and servers. I found another of my WTO images in a South Asian newspaper indicating the wrong year.
Why would I share these details 20 years later? It's an image of an important event and illustrates the fickle nature of photography. In particular, it's an example of a parallel narrative whose significance has been subsumed by more dramatic events. The details might matter. It's cathartic because I feel this image is an important reminder about the perils of globalization, which remains relevant to-this-day.