The emotion, the passion, the energy of Michael William Paul’s photography challenges the human race, jolts our mind, daring us to expand our consciousness beyond the passivity of routine thought. By Jillian Pacheco
But do protests equivalent to the caliber of those that fueled the revolutionary movements of decades past really happen anymore? How many of us really consider taking to the streets to protest when we’re dissatisfied with something going on in America? It has become popular in our modern culture to indirectly vent our grievances, taking to outlets such as social media without much intent of actually contributing to a possible solution. Not to say that social media isn’t a sound platform (since it was played a very influential role in the early Arab uprising and many political movements that followed), but I believe it is equally important, especially amongst the younger generation, to able to take our concerns to the heart of the issue, beyond the computer screen and outwardly display our passion. We are the future of this country, and by standing for something we have the potential to greatly impact its evolution.
I came across The Protest, a powerful editorial by director and photographer Michael William Paul that coincides with this idea of modern revolution. The images that comprise The Protest depict strong, beautiful, young women involved in a striking protest. Michael William-Paul fuses the world of fashion and politics encompassing the pure essence of a twenty-first century protest and conveying a much deeper message.
I caught up with Michael in New York City at his west side studio, MWP Studios, to pick his brain and find out what went into The Protest.
Where did the idea for the protest shoot come from? What was your inspiration?
Well ironically enough this production was done before the world broke out into protests and I had the idea well before that. I had wanted to do some kind of fashion editorial protest shoot for many years…something that incorporated the drama and action of some of these clashes we have seen in history, at the same time not focusing on the revolutionary element as the center focus. So I was more interested in something current, like the contradiction of the peace and love image as they have just had enough a system breakdown. This evolved when I started to look back at the WTO, IMF, G8, G20 and other types of civil/corporate clashes from the late 90’s and into the 2000’s. The economic crises in 2008-‘09 really gave way to a new rise in these demonstrations at a global level. For many years I had been inside those meetings covering Heads of State and World Leaders so I wanted to tell the story about what was going on outside in the streets.
How did you decide upon the location?
It just so happened that the G20 was going to be in Toronto, a short hop from NYC, so this is where I decided to finally bring the concept to life. Toronto is a city I know, with locations, crews, people, and a media that would surely get the town on their feet (and it did). Weeks before the production started the energy of anticipation had been so pre-meditated from the security chain fence wall that locked downtown, to the graffiti signs and early twitter posts foreshadowing the events to follow.
How did the energy at the actual protest affect you, your crew and the models?
Well despite being well prepared, weeks of per-production, prep meetings, even security (I used male models as Secret Service Agents)–he chuckles–you really don’t know what to expect. Once you hit the streets and you have some 20 thousand people out there, police everywhere in full riot gear it’s hard not to feel the endorphin’s kick in. It was exciting to say the least and important for me to stay focused.
Did the environment lend way to new ideas that hadn’t been planned or premeditated? Meaning, did the shoot shift or change your vision once apart of the actual protest?
Good question, and actually not at all. In fact the vision just became real. This image had been in my head for years and now, finally, it was happening. David Anthony* once told me–and if you don’t know who he is look him up because his work is brilliant– “80% has to be been seen before, 20% is left for randomness”, Film maker Michael Mann says and I paraphrase, “being completely prepared allows us to make our own accidents.” When the tools of preparation are applied it really is a great thing to watch unfold.
I heard you received backlash from people in the crowd about fashion and politics having nothing to do with one another, how do you counter that argument?
Yes, this is indeed true, some of the more radical participants of the demonstration, who held an opposition to the police line we stood up against, also held opposition to our little cultural message. They shouted “Fashion has nothing to do with Politics” I thought this absurd and that any intelligent person would know the opposite and I need not reference the history of fashions influence precisely on the political. But it didn’t stop us from doing our job.
Why do you believe people want to see something like this?
Well different people want to see different things, but I would want to see this, and I love art that is of this variety, real, confrontational, passionate. I hope to create more of it; hopefully people will want to see that stuff also.
Why only Girls?
Actually my boys were dressed as secret service agents. They are in a few scenes which never got published, but are available online.
Did you or anyone who was a part of the shoot experience any feelings of danger at any point?
I think the girls were probably the least scared, since it was a stage for them in a way, but I was more concerned for crew safety, I kept us back most of the time like a parent, the last thing I wanted was someone getting hurt by some crazy person or getting caught up in a stampede of tear gas and trampled. We had many prep talks and security zones planned out, it was really the models that kept pushing forward, they were the brave ones.
What do you hope to inspire with this shoot, what do you want people to think about?
With all the media and world news since this, from the Occupy movements, Egypt and the Arab spring etc. Our story was so well timed. I sat on it for a half a year or more at my agent’s dismay, which is not like a fashion story that has to be out now because it becomes last weeks story fast. I even held off through the Arab uprising, just releasing teasers and promos, then when occupy hit NYC streets, we were right on time. The shoot has already been imitated many times by the very magazine that published it originally. In fact the editor made an entire edition based on this political genre, but in my opinion the momentum had passed. Looking back now, it sure was a great project to be part of.
Check out some images from Michael William-Paul’s Protest below.