#OCCUPY: Meet Melissa St. Laurent


MELISSA ST. LAURENT is a founding member of OCCUPY Providence. To date, she has taken over 4,000 photographs of participants, marches and rallies from the OCCUPY movements in Providence, Boston, Portland (Maine), New Hampshire and New York.


Inspired by the photography of Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lang, St. Laurent will present portraits of the many faces of the 99%. “Because the movement is about the people,” she says, “the images that matter the most are the portraits.”

> What is your involvement with the OCCUPY movement?

My involvement in the Occupy Movement began on September 24th. I believe that was day eight of Occupy Wall Street. I saw a video clip on Youtube of 2 or 3 women getting pepper sprayed and netted. Within 3 hours I was bound for New York City. We knew nothing of OWS. Since that first trip, I have been back to Occupy Wall Street, been a part of Occupy Boston, have spent time with Occupy Portland ME, Occupy New Hampshire and am a founding member of Occupy Providence. I have documented every occupation I have been to. I think I have taken upwards of 4000 images of the occupations, the participants and the marches and rallies. Because the movement is about the people, the images that matter the most are the portraits.

> Describe how the OCCUPY movement has influenced your creative process.

The Occupy Movement has brought out the journalist instinct that has always been there. I have thought many times of people like Margaret Bourke White and Dorthea Lang, two women who had worked on images of financial injustice and other Occupy related issues. The other influence was less conceptual and very technical. It is very important to me to have the ability to be reporting live or at least in a timely manor. I use my 8 megapixel cell phone camera to shoot photographs and video so they can go immediately onto Facebook and Google +. I also use my digital camera a lot more than film. I have not brought back my 35mm camera to NY. I feel that I have to operate fast. I need to be able to carry a couple of cameras as well as occupy. This means I have to sleep with them and have them on my body at all times. I have been sticking to my Canon G9 Compact fully manual digital camera and my cell phone mostly and both of these cameras have high quality but not that of a Hasselblad. There is one other thing worthy of mentioning and that would be that I am not doing much editing to the photographs or videos because I want them to be viewed as authentic news. I am also doing most of my showing online, well up until maybe now, therefore the quantity is something that I am really pushing because of the lack of Main Stream Media coverage. In the context of a show, I would show a cross section rather than thousands of images.

> What message do you hope to convey to the 99% with your artwork?

This is an interesting question that I will answer in many ways but nailing down one answer. See, since the beginning of the movement, everyone has been asking what we want. We have been telling people and publishing lists and then attaching disclaimers that the statements and lists were not “official” statements of the group. So, I am sure you can see where I am going with my answer. I don’t want to convey one thing, not at all. I want to share the hundreds of wishes the people I took portraits have asked for. Many pictures I have taken include people holding signs, it’s all there. Everything from fraudulent banking practices to unfair pay for teachers and nurses and the environment. My photography has the same aim as the Occupy movement in general, to have many aims, many purposes, many ideas. Making this photography also conveys that there will always be free speech and so are the words and the actions of the people within them. I want to convey TRUTH.

MELISSA ST. LAURENT is part of the #OCCUPY group exhibit at Yellow Peril Gallery, featuring artwork inspired by the OCCUPY movement. The exhibit will run from Thursday, 15 March to Sunday, 15 April 2012. Opening night reception will be on Thursday, 15 March, from 5PM – 9PM during Gallery Night in Providence, RI.

> RSVP to #OCCUPY on Facebook