If a picture is worth a thousand words, internationally renowned photojournalist Tish Lampert is publishing the Encyclopedia Britannica of activism. The former Malibuite has teamed up with the Creative Visions Foundation to launch her latest publishing project, “America Speaks.”
A child of the anti-authority ’60s, Lampert set out in 2000 in search of the modern face of American activism. Across 13 remarkable years and thousands of miles, her lens captured a new era of protest: Occupy, Tea Party and more.
“I started 13 years ago with the disputed election of 2000,” Lampert said. “I had never seen the country so divided, and I wondered where political activism was going. I had just turned 50 and was fascinated because I couldn’t see a U.S. voice, post-Clinton. There was no cultural touch stone. So I started photographing the stuff that wasn’t being covered by the mainstream press.”
On Saturday, Oct. 19, a gala launch event at the Dan Eldon Center in Malibu will celebrate the result. Included are prints from a 300-page book of photos, readings from actors; commentary from political leaders, activists and members of the United States Veterans’ Artists’ Alliance; and music provided by legendary guitarist Don Peake and blues songstress Diane Lotny.
Lampert traveled the country, shooting the “heartland of America,” from Pennsylvania to California. She covered political conventions, protest rallies and veterans’ gatherings. She was there for the birth of the Occupy movement in New York, she witnessed the rise of the Tea Party and stood witness for the 2011 protests in Wisconsin surrounding public sector employees and their battle over collective bargaining rights with Governor Scott Walker.
“I’d never seen anything like Wisconsin,” Lampert said. “I mean, Betty Crocker does not protest.”
The Occupy movement takes up 70 pages of her book, including the arrival of a contingent of Egyptians, fresh from Tahrir Square in Cairo. Lampert said the raucous experience reminded her of the social phenomena of post-Kent State, when youth of the day were galvanized to insert themselves into the national political dialogue. In that sense, “America Speaks” is almost a bookend to her career as a photojournalist.
Even coming from a back ground of staunch conservative wealth (she came out as a debutant with Tricia Nixon), Lampert was fascinated with the history of American civil rights. She has long pursued the shot that captures the heightened tensions of war and the voice of freedom.
She covered the genocide in Rwanda and the atrocities in Bosnia. She acted as media director for Voices of African Mothers, an accredited NGO at the United Nations, which took her to Ghana, Kenya, Burundi and the Congo, where she was almost detained indefinitely for not having a proper exit visa (“There’s no phone call to anyone to come help you there,” she said).
Her exhibitions of the Congolese Lowland Gorilla have raised awareness for this endangered species. The project of “America Speaks” itself is the out come of a 2013 Nathan Cummings Foundation Grant.
The Creative Visions Foundation, sponsoring the exhibit, focuses on providing the means and support for creative activism from inventive artists across the country. Founding director since 1998, Kathy Eldon was immediately captured by Lampert’s vision of the project.
“She blew me away,” Eldon said. “I thought this might really get a message across to young people, the images are so powerful. As an organization, we try and provide a safe haven for artists making important social statements, and we help them figure out how to find funding. This is more than an exhibition; it’s a movement. It’s bringing the this-is-your-voice message of the 1960s into the 21st century.”
Lampert has been working with editor Deirdre Lenihan to shape the final galley of the book, a copy of which will be presented to Michelle Obama next month. Lampert is dedicating “America Speaks” to Doris “Granny D” Haddock who, at the age of 88, walked literally across the country to advocate for campaign finance reform. It took her more than a year and represents the kind of personal activism that, to Lampert, has a “Tom Paine-type purist perspective.”
“Primarily, this book looks at how we used our voices over the last 13 years,” Lampert said. “Because either you use it or you lose it.”