High Point photo exhibit documents Occupy Wall Street protest
High Point native Sheena Dawkins started taking photographs in high school, excited about the opportunity to work in a darkroom. But she was almost immediately discouraged because the school photography program switched to digital and her new camera instantly became obsolete.
Two years ago, her mother bought a camera and she began anew. “I love photography of people,” Dawkins said. “I am all about capturing beauty in things that people don’t normally see beauty in. I love capturing emotions. I like photos that tell a story, like when you look at this woman’s face you can see that she went through this or felt that.”
She was doing a lot of portrait photography, particularly of women and children. Last year, she took a step in a direction towards a more documentary style of photography, boarding a Chinatown bus with a friend in Raleigh and arriving in lower Manhattan on Sept. 17 for what would turn out to be the first day of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park.
Images captured by Dawkins during the first two days of the protests comprise the Screaming Generation exhibit, which opens Saturday at Yalik’s Modern Art on historic Washington Street in High Point.
It was an adventure. Dawkins and her friend didn’t have much money. They didn’t have a place to sleep although they ended up finding someone with a spare couch for the night. Her friend later returned and joined the encampment. But Dawkins considers herself a documentarian rather than a participant.
“I thought this was the first time possibly that this could be something that was this major for my generation,” said the 28-year-old Dawkins. “I enjoyed looking at photographs from the civil rights movement.”
She learned about Troy Davis, a young man in Georgia who was executed after some witnesses in his murder trial recanted. Some people carried signs promoting libertarian Congressman Ron Paul. Others denounced capitalism. While some people appeared not to know what they were protesting, Dawkins was struck by the energy, cohesion and mutual respect of the gathering.
She took about 400 shots and edited perhaps 90. A couple of them hold particular significance to the photographer.
“People were on the bullhorn talking to the crowd,” Dawkins said.
“There were flowers being passed around. I happened to capture this guy holding up this flower. To me, it symbolizes peace. All of us just want to be able to coexist.”
Another image was taken near the Staten Island Ferry terminal. “There was a homeless person sitting on a bench,” the photographer recounted. “He had his face in his hands and he was sleeping. I’ve personally witnessed so many people whose homes have been foreclosed, people not being able to find jobs after graduating from college and people getting laid off. I watch a lot of documentaries and I’ve heard about people falling out of the middle class and becoming homeless. It’s not as far as you might think. It’s not as impossible as you might think. That’s what I thought about when I took the picture.”
At this stage of her life Dawkins is looking outwards and seeking to broaden her horizons. With the exception of two years at NC State University, she has spent most of her life in High Point and Greensboro. So a couple weeks ago she moved to Raleigh. While acknowledging that the resplendent fall weather might have something to do with it, she said she has found more of a spirit of creativity and possibility in the state capital than in the Triad.
The Occupy Wall Street photos have established the direction she wants to take with her photography, Dawkins said, and she is confident the inspiration for the next project will come along soon enough.
“I want to tell the stories of people you don’t hear too much about,” she said. “Good fathers. Women that are struggling to make ends meet. Grandmothers who have so much wisdom.”
WANNA GO? Screaming Generation, an exhibit of photos by Sheena Dawkins documenting the first days of the Occupy Wall Street protests, opens Saturday at Yalik’s Modern Art, located at 710 E. Washington St. in High Point. Call 336.989.0047 or visit yaliksmodernart.com for more information.