BTS: Time Magazine's Protesters

Seldom do we get such a long-form look at the production of what is quickly becoming an iconic group of photos. The BTS video below is of Peter Hapak's assignment to cover the world-wide protester phenomenon in 2011, for the Time cover story in which they were collectively named Person of the Year.

I have watched it several times now -- as a journalist, a photographer, a lighting guy and certainly as a human.

There's a lot to learn.

First off, this is a great example of how a photographer who can recreate light and environment on demand can bring continuity to a wide range of subject in many different places. He is visually aggregating the protestors in the same way Time did this conceptually to make them one honored person.

The video gives enough pullbacks to get a feel for his consistent-but-tweaked lighting setups. Shot mostly on white, he is backing his large source up and above the camera.

Why not travel with a smaller source and push it in closer? Because the throw allows him to push the illumination back to the white backdrop, which he also appeared to sometimes light with other sources.

Differences in ethical frameworks are always interesting to a journalist. As a former newspaper photographer, I was a little squishy with the idea of having a subject recreate the throwing of a Molotov cocktail on white for a portrait. I thought about that a lot, and decided it is probably a little more gray in this context and presentation than the absolute it would have been at The Sun. It is hard for me to expand beyond the rigid framework imposed by my former DOPs.

But oddly, I am somehow fine with a little Jimmy Dean checkbook journalism when it comes to dogs. I thought the sausage was a great idea, as was dropping the stretched black in behind him. Go figure.

Photographer Peter Hapak, BTW, has just been added to the inspiration folder in my browser. Also, the cover illustration was done by Shepherd Fairey, of Hope Poster and Exit Through the Gift Shop fame. If you haven't seen the latter, I highly recommend the quasi-doc as a visual and psychological playground. (Netflix streamers in the US can watch it for free, here.)

So, I'm curious. What did you learn from this BTS? And what kind of questions does it raise?

(But please, keep it civil if the 99% vs. 1% thing gets you hot under the collar…)


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Blogger Mark said...

Really excellent work by Hapak, and a solid reminder of what a solid lighting knowledge base can do when combined with captivating subject matter.

January 09, 2012 12:15 PM  
Blogger Bernhard A S said...

Great Work. The World is changing and as he said in the video these faces would not have been there in 2010 or 2009. We lived through one rapid change of the world starting in 1989 and when this financial crisis and all the social upheaval that comes with it will be finally finished the world will look a much different place again.

Taking good Pictures of that changes going on is a good thing to do right now.

January 09, 2012 1:10 PM  
Blogger sd_nyc said...

Amazing example of how a photo journalist could conduct a their version of interview with event participants before and after said event.

January 09, 2012 1:43 PM  
Blogger Brian Carey said...

Unfortunately the mask makes the protester look like an anarchist. But it's great to know people who are fighting for a just world are recognized!

January 09, 2012 1:55 PM  
Blogger Ken Gray Photo said...

Very powerful. Very challenging.
Thank you.

January 09, 2012 2:50 PM  
Blogger splashsixty said...

Can Anyone tell what lens he is using? Also what camera body, but I'm most curious about the lens. Thanks!

January 09, 2012 4:24 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

To date I have kept my shots and my opinions of the Occupy movement quiet as not to mix business with political views. All I will say on the political side is that I believe striving for a just, fair world is the greatest honor one can bestow upon yourself. Everyone in this series represents thousands or tens of thousands of others like them.

I have been shooting the Occupy Philadelphia movement since the last planning meeting prior to their occupation. I was in the middle of the arrests (in fact I was the only person on that side of the street to not actually be arrested) and I continue to document their meetings and marches.

The BTS video makes me ask but one question, How can I get people to see this work? I have over 7000 images and no outlets for them. I feel I need to show it to everyone but it is like a train wreck, everyone wants to look but no one wants to see.

January 09, 2012 5:06 PM  
Blogger Stan Olszewski said...

Nice series. I think the most interesting thing I saw was his use of a hanging [Home Depot] work lamp for use as a modeling/AF light.

January 09, 2012 6:31 PM  
Blogger Stan Olszewski said...

@splashsixty, That's a 5D Mark II and a 50 f/1.2L. Cheers mate!

January 09, 2012 6:35 PM  
Blogger John said...

Hmmm, I really like the portraits in this series, especially the dog and the lady in the Hijab flashing the peace sign.

However, it almost seems like a commercialization or maybe a documentary is a better word, than it is a journalistic endeavor.

I'm kinda mixed on this series and am not sure how I feel about it exactly, I like the portraits and I think its a great idea for a person of the year, just not sure about the approach.

January 09, 2012 6:46 PM  
Blogger hipster.brah said...

Great forms of art with political significance!

January 10, 2012 4:27 AM  
Blogger Sojourn Safaris said...

Honoring the Personality of the Year as the protester shows appreciation that the common man, the governed, peasant, voiceless are slowly taking over or atleast having a say in how they be governed.The camera just takes this piece on unfolding history and puts it in cast for posterity. Great photos.

January 10, 2012 5:14 AM  
Blogger Vincent de Vries said...

Excellent work. It reminds me a lot of Avondon's book 'The Sixties'. Similar style and m.o.o. but more adjusted technically to todays possibilities and international.

Very impressive and a solid way of uniting us all regardless of race and religion.

Dream commission.....

January 10, 2012 5:53 AM  
Blogger buzzjustice said...

I think the Idea that journalistic puritanism is being set aside by staging portraits of the protesters odd. Knowing that there will always be a debate in photography about the ethics of staging for dramatic reasons I fall into the camp that all photographs are staged because they always selectively contextualize a moment.
What I find important and interesting is the opportunity to look at these people, the lines of their faces, the color of their eyes, the wounds they received at the hands of police and others. They honestly expose themselves to the camera and that makes them undeniably, individually human. Not just one of a mass of figures in motion.

January 10, 2012 2:37 PM  
Blogger Maxi Pasin said...

It's a shame he did not photographed the "Madres de Plaza de Mayo" in Argentina. Those women are to me the quintessential example of a protester.
There are just a few left, that's why I think is even more important to do it now.

January 10, 2012 5:35 PM  
Blogger Mystery Jig said...

I'm a working PJ at a daily paper. There's nothing wrong, I think, with having folks pose pin any way whatsoever as long as they're on that white background and in that big grid. Those elements take the photos out of the real world. They tell the viewer it's a portrait. You tell a visual lie when you make a portrait that looks like a new photo.

January 10, 2012 10:45 PM  
Blogger Michael Warth said...

Amazing work from the folks at Time and in particular Peter Hapak and his crew, as always. Documenting the world and the things that happen will always be amazing to me. Too bad the money isn't always there in the world of editorial and journalism. I always love to see the BTS stuff and wonder about the logistics of getting the gear to the destination. Can you imagine toting around the 9 foot seamless through some of these areas?

Thanks for bringing this to your readers David!

- Mike

January 11, 2012 2:49 PM  
Blogger Bob Foscue said...

Awesome. Thank you for sharing this with us. Very inspiring and enlightening both from a photographic and personal perspective.
Thanks again - I really enjoy your more active posting on Strobist!

January 11, 2012 10:07 PM  
Blogger mtherrmann said...

Great post! Out of curiousity, does anyone think Hapak could have achieved these results using small strobes (580EX ii) combined with Pocketwizard Flex/Mini? It seems like the Hyper speed sync these devices offer allow even small flash units to act large as I think you can sync 1/8000 of a second if I'm not mistaken.

January 12, 2012 11:52 AM  
Blogger carlos benjamin - said...

If you think of the images as portraits, as they would be for Time's person of the year, they're no different than any other Time cover portrait. Think of the guy swinging the belt as a quasi-environmental portrait - a shot of him doing what he (as a protestor) does.

January 16, 2012 7:38 PM  
Blogger James said...

There is a lot to learn here as a photographer and reading the article before watching the video made some of it easy for me to pick up on. Thank you for the post.
As a human I think you can walk away with many differnt opinions. Your opinion is not truth, it is a reflection of yourself.

February 23, 2012 12:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home