Police force protesters away from the street during a Midtown Manhattan protest against the Eric Garner jury decision in 2014. Jessica Lehrman

Jessica Lehrman’s photographs capture the strength of protests, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter.

A year after she moved to New York City in 2010, the photographer Jessica Lehrman got a call from her parents. Occupy Wall Street had just set up its first tents; they told her to get down to Zucotti Park. When Lehrman arrived, “it was pouring rain, and there were maybe ten people under a tent,” she says. “And I thought: This is the revolution.”

The crowd at a free Prophets of Rage show for the End Poverty Now: March for Economic Justice Rally near the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Jessica Lehrman)

The scene was one of many sites of conflict Lehrman has documented in her work, collected under the title Revolution. A full-time photographer based in New York, Lehrman shoots a range of subjects. She spent some time photographing a nightclub on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and can often be found pointing her lens through the crowds at the city’s music venues.

Even before she started photographing as a teenager, Lehrman was always drawn to “people that are really doing something in the world.” She grew up hopping from place to place throughout the United States. At one point, she and her family lived out of an RV. “My parents are hippies; I’ve gone to protests my whole life,” Lehrman says. She was homeschooled, and taught to be curious.

At the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, a member of the progressive activist group Democracy Spring is arrested during a planned sit-in at the entrance to the Wells Fargo Center. (Jessica Lehrman)

At Zucotti Park, Lehrman watched the staff of The New York Times and The Washington Post look out on the same scenes and capture something completely different than the images she collected on her camera. It was eye-opening for Lehrman to see such varied perspectives on an movement she says “felt like family.” When the protests turned more violent, Lehrman kept looking for the optimistic moments that had drawn her there initially. “It was like this bubble had burst and everyone wanted to come together and celebrate newness,” she says. “It was a bunch of people trying to talk about change.”

Protesters block Delancey Street in Manhattan during the 2014 Millions March NYC demanding police accountability in the death of Eric Garner. (Jessica Lehrman)

A few years later, Lehrman began to document the Black Lives Matter protests. Those gatherings, she says, “were angrier for a reason.” The two movements are radically different, Lehrman says, but there’s a forward momentum to both that radiates through her work.

“I have only one camera, one lens, and one flash,” Lehrman says. She knows what fits into her viewfinder, and she flings her camera around, shooting from her hip or above her head, looking for the people speaking out and leading the marches, even in the face of a police line.

Two women step out of their car on the West Side Highway in New York City to show solidarity during a 2014 march against the Eric Garner jury decision. (Jessica Lehrman)

“I want to capture people rising up and being able to be heard,” Lehrman says. “People being able to express what they feel is so important in America, and it’s starting to die.”  

​Lehrman was one of many photographers who traveled to Cleveland to cover the Republican National Convention. She expected protests; what she found instead were thousands of cops who moved through the crowds, dispelling potential confrontations before they ignited. The relative quiet in Cleveland may have been a relief to RNC organizers; to Lehrman, it was almost eerie. “I’m watching my generation not really participate,” she says. Her images show the reverse: people who refuse to be complacent. That kind of outspoken energy, Lehrman says, is what will keep these movements alive. “If no one says anything, how will anything change?” she adds. “How else will people be aware that other people believe the same things they do?”

A protester is carried away by police during a peaceful flash mob sit-in in during rush hour in Grand Central Station as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2012. (Jessica Lehrman)
A woman lies down on Delancey Street while other protesters trace her body with chalk during the 2014 Millions March NYC. (Jessica Lehrman)
A look inside the crowd at the 2014 Millions March NYC. (Jessica Lehrman)

H/t: It’s Nice That

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