Rian Dundon’s “Protest City”

Rian Dundon has just released the book “Protest City – Portland’s Summer of Rage” which documents his experience of photographing the violence that broke out in 2020. Sparked by the nationwide George Floyd demonstrations, the Portland protests soon became a catch-all of anti-authority sentiment which pitted activists against local, state and federal police and brought out demonstrators from across the political spectrum.

The book is available from the publisher Oregon State University Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Below, Rian talks about this picture and how it fits into the body of work.

Of all the pictures I made during the summer of 2020, this one has probably been seen the most. It’s been published in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and elsewhere, and I think I understand why. It’s an action shot. Smoke and camouflage and several guns are visible, and the moment is awkward enough to warrant a closer look. The photo is also emblematic of the main story in Portland that summer—unarmed protesters being attacked by federal agents—and the closeness that documentary photographs can convey. The way a picture can emotionally transport viewers into a scene is of course subjective, but it’s worth revisiting at a time when less importance is being placed on proximity and more on data and description. Soon AI could negate the need for a photographer to be there at all

Protest photography is a well trodden subgenre of the medium. Highly gestural, its actors usually self assured in front of the camera, protests are photogenic and photographic (i.e. made for the camera) at the same time. This dynamic forces photojournalists into a position somewhere between reportage and PR, and the resulting images can be accurate but not entirely truthful. Think flowers in the barrel of a gun or the silhouette of a rock-throwing youth—nostalgic scenes that correlate to how a protest ​should​ look, but not necessarily a critical analysis of events as they occur on the ground. 

My intent was to redirect the gaze away from 1960s-derived sentimentality into a more contemporary reckoning with the formal elements at play. The pictures in Protest City​ are direct documents, but in considering a politically diverse range of subjects, and centering culture and identity in context, I’m attempting to locate spectacle as the performative core of protest itself.

– Rian Dundon

Photographs from Portland, Oregon 2020 ©RianDundon

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