Margaret McCarthy was ready for this moment of American protest. She has been preparing for 40 years, covering protests from Three Mile Island, to gun violence, to LBGQT rights, to the protests roiling the streets of America today. She has created an encyclopedia of American protest, a visual testament to the passion of humans for not only their own rights, but the rights of the powerless and underserved. If we have callings in life, McCarthy is called to witness for the aggrieved.
The signs, multiplied over and over throughout history, of our passion for Justice share similarities while voicing passion for the particular. They are the yeast in the bread of democracy, hoping to help it rise.
I’ve photographed the marches and demonstrations of the peace and social justice movements from 1980 through our present day; I see these events as American history unfolding in front of me, ‘living theatre” with a message – protestas a creative act.
Shortly before the death of George Floyd, as the pandemic crested in NYC, I reviewed those pictures while staying at home. The earliest: at Reagan’s inauguration; the latest: February, 2020 – flash marches around impeachment. “It’s the end of an era”, I said to my husband. “ You won’t see marches this size again – not for a long time”.
I’m learning to be humble about what I say, especially predictions.
I look at these pictures again. Is it possible to imagine Federal troops firing on the people in these pictures? What if the troops go unidentified by badge or uniform? Who are they?
“Every picture tells a story”; and every photographer has a story behind the story.
The first day of Occupy Wall Street, as cops and Occupiers talked across the sidewalk about why police officers couldn’t afford to live in the neighborhoods they protected. ‘Middle Age Women Nostalgic For Choice” marching next to “Not In My Lifetime!” tee-shirted twenty year olds. High school kids marching against the gun violence afflicting their schools. Grade-school children marching for a planet quickly becoming uninhabitable for them. People of all ages staging a die-in for basic health care.
All advocates for a more just and equal America, claiming a part in our collective discussion, insisting they be seen. Really seen.
A little history for you:
The 1980’s and 1990’s are often portrayed as decades of greed and apathy when social activism vanished; in fact, they were times that spawned vigorous and committed activism – over a rapidly escalating nuclear arms race, Three Mile Island’s threat of ecological disaster, U.S. activities in Central America and frustration over the treatment of black people, women and same sex couples. A sea change occurred then: an awareness of how all these issues were connected. The cost of war could no longer be separated from issues of racism and poverty; the status of women reflected our relationship to the earth and its ecology. March Events then became multi-issued, cutting across lines of race, sex, gender preference, economic status and age.
The foundation was laid for Iraq War protests, Same Sex Marriage and the Occupy Movement.
Photography’s power reminds us: what a long and remarkable journey it is towards change – there we were; here we are now. What is our highest and best future?
The political is still personal.
Inspired and indebted to mythology, Margaret McCarthy brings the eye of a poet to her photography, exploring archetypes of myth and dream in her imagery.
Recent honors include Honorable Mention in 2020’s 14th JULIA MARGARET CAMERON AWARD for Women Photographers and a Merit Award in the ALL ABOUT PHOTO AWARDS 2020. She was named among the “Best of the Best Emerging Fine Art Photographers” by BW GALLERIST Magazine; ARTZEALOUS chose her as one of “Four Photographers to Keep Your Eye On in 2016”.
McCarthy’s extensive list of exhibitions include: the Fogg Art Museum, The Griffin Museum of Photography, the Overseas Press Club and The Hudson River Museum, as well as numerous galleries, universities and public exhibition spaces. Her “Divine Feminine” series is now part of the Kinsey Institute Art Collection.
She has also documented the peace and social justice movements with her camera since 1980; she continues this ongoing project as American history unfolds. The exhibition “UPSTANDERS!: Artists Awakening Our Shared Humanity” featured this work.
A few of the fine art publications where her work has appeared include: BW GALLERIST (Best of Best, 2016) ARTZEALOUS, (“Photographer to Watch in 2016”) LENSCRATCH, SHADOW AND LIGHT Magazine, MUSEÈ Magazine, aCURATOR, LE JOURNAL de la PHOTOGRAPHIE, Elizabeth Avedon’s Photography BlogSpot, U. of Georgia’s ARTS AND LETTERS JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY CULTURE, WRITING ON WATER (MIT Press), PARABOLA Magazine and SOUTH X SOUTHEAST photomagazine.
An accomplished poet, Margaret McCarthy’s poetry collection NOTEBOOKS FROM MYSTERY SCHOOL (Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY, 2015) was selected as a New Women’s Voices Award finalist. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary magazines, journals and anthologies including The Pagan Muse: Poems of Ritual and Inspiration (Kensington Publishing), Cyphers Literary Magazine (Ireland), Working Papers in Irish Studies (Nova SouthEastern U.), HIV HERE AND NOW ON-LINE POETRY PROJECT, Home Planet News, Gargoyle Magazine, Shaking Like A Mountain: On line Literature about Contemporary Music and Poetry New Zealand.
Her work has been featured and performed in programs at Poetic Theatre Productions (RESILIENCE 2019, BAILOUT 2016), LaMama Theatre, The Hudson Valley Writers Association, The English Speaking Union, and Irish American Writers and Artists (IAW&A) monthly salons at The Cell Theatre.
McCarthy publishes a broadside designed for the web, A VISION AND A VERSE, www.avisionandaverse.comcombining her imagery and poetry.