The Protester: A Portfolio by Peter Hapak

3 minute read

Ahmed Harara is a dentist. While protesting during the Egyptian revolution in January, he was struck in the eye by a rubber bullet. Blinded in that eye, he continued to protest. Then, during the November protests in Tahrir Square, Ahmed was shot in his other eye by a rubber bullet. Now he is completely blind.

But he kept protesting.

Harara is one of more than a hundred protesters around the world photographed by TIME contract photographer Peter Hapak. From Oakland, Calif., to New York City, across Europe and through the Middle East, Hapak and I traveled nearly 25,000 miles photographing protesters and activists from eight countries.

We photographed protesters representing Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, Occupy the Hood, Los Indignados of Spain, protesters in Greece, revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt, activists from Syria fleeing persecution, a crusader fighting corruption in India, Tea Party activists from New York, a renowned poet turned protester from Mexico and a protester from Wisconsin who carries a shovel, topped by a flag.

We set up makeshift studios in hotel rooms, apartments and people’s homes, inside a temple in rural India and an anarchist headquarters in Athens — even in the courtyard of the home of Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi. Tear gas wafted into our studio in a hotel room overlooking Tahrir Square — the same room where Yuri Kozyrev made a now iconic photograph of the crowd.

Each time, we asked subjects to bring with them mementos of protest. Rami Jarrah, a Syrian activist who fled to Cairo, brought his battered iPhone. He showed me some of the most intense protest footage I’ve ever seen. A Spanish protester named Stephane Grueso brought his iPhone too, referring to it as a “weapon.” Young Egyptian protesters brought rubber pellets that had been fired at them by security forces. Another brought a spent tear-gas canister. Subjects carried signs, flags and gas masks (some industrial ones, some homemade, like the one belonging to Egyptian graffiti artist El Teneen — his was made from a Pepsi can). A trio of Greek protesters brought Maalox. (Mixed with water, it was sprayed on their eyes to counter the harsh effects of tear gas.) Molly Katchpole, the young woman from Washington, D.C., who took on Bank of America — and won — brought her chopped-up debit card. Sayda al-Manahe brought a framed photograph of her son Hilme, a young Tunisian killed by police during the revolution. El Général, the Tunisian revolutionary rapper, brought nothing but his voice — he rapped a cappella for us (we have video). Lina Ben Mhenni, a blogger from Tunisia and a Nobel Peace Prize contender, brought her laptop. She spoke Arabic, yet we understood the words Facebook and Twitter.

Each subject was photographed in front of a white or black background — eliminating their environments but elevating their commonality to that of “Protester,” a fitting setup for a group of people united by a common desire for change.

“They were all unhappy. They wanted change, and they wanted a better life,” Hapak said. “Everybody is out there to unite their power for one common cause, one common expression: to get a better life.”

Witty is the international picture editor at TIME.

Hapak is a contract photographer for TIME, who most recently photographed Tilda Swinton for the Dec. 19, 2011, issue.

MORE: See the entire 2011 Person of the Year package here

Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, says, "Mohamed suffered a lot. He worked hard. But when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity."Peter Hapak for TIME
Greek protester George Anastasopoulos, left, and Occupy Oakland protester Melanisia Carmilia Jacobs. "I got involved in the protests here after watching the Indignados movement in Spain," Anastasopoulos says. "All these movements for democracy and justice and respect — these moved me so much."Peter Hapak for TIME
Lina Ben Mhenni, a.k.a. A Tunisian Girl, a prominent blogger during the Jasmine Revolution, says, "Dictatorship can't last."Peter Hapak for TIME
Mahmoud Salem, a.k.a. Sandmonkey, Egyptian revolutionary blogger, activist and protester.Peter Hapak for TIME
Egyptian protester Emil Samir, left, holds a sign that reads, "The People Want the Fall of the Field Marshall." Occupy Wall Street protester Chelsea Elliott says, "I’m happy to get maced if it helps the movement. I’d do it again." Peter Hapak for TIME
Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt. During the years of his activism, prior to the Egyptian revolution, Maher was arrested five times. He says he has spent a total of four months in jail. “It’s an old proverb. In protests there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests."Peter Hapak for TIME
Hamada Ben Amar, a.k.a. El Général, Tunisian rapper whose song "Rais Lebled" became the anthem of the Jasmine Revolution. "We must not surrender our rights, these rights that we achieved through revolution and by eliminating this state called dictatorship in the Arab world," he says.Peter Hapak for TIME
An Egyptian protester, left, holds a spent shell casing found after clashes in Tahrir Square. Right, protester Ahmed Aggour, a.k.a. Psypherize, an Egyptian activist, artist and blogger. Peter Hapak for TIME
"We just needed someone to make our arguments clearly and demonstrate the prejudices of others, and I knew I could do that," says Jon Aguirre Such, spokesman for Democracia Real YA in Spain.Peter Hapak for TIME
Anna Hazare, anti-corruption crusader in India, says, "When God wants to bring in change, he needs a vehicle of change, and I became that vehicle."Peter Hapak for TIME
Captain Ray Lewis, a retired Philadelphia police officer, was arrested at Occupy Wall Street in November. "Walking across that intersection handcuffed was the proudest moment of my life," he says. Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist who was arrested and assaulted by police in Cairo, tweeted, "The past 12 hrs were painful and surreal, but I know I got off much much easier than so many other Egyptians." Peter Hapak for TIME
El Teneen, a prominent Egyptian graffiti artist, wears a homemade gas mask. Peter Hapak for TIME
"Jack," a 24-year-old Occupy Oakland protester, was wounded by a projectile fired by police. Peter Hapak for TIME
Syrian activists Abdul Hamid Sulaiman, Rami Jarrah and Mohamed Abazid all fled the country. "I was tortured for three days, and that’s when I became more active and started using a pseudonym," Jarrah says. Right, his damaged iPhone. Peter Hapak for TIME
Yahi Abdel Shafy, left, is a Salafi and a doctor who works in the field hospital in Tahrir Square. Egyptian protester Saleh Mohamed, right, uses a Maalox mixture on his eyes to counter the effects of tear gas.Peter Hapak for TIME
Molly Katchpole led a petition in October to persuade Bank of America to cancel its plans for a debit-card fee. "I think that business can be operated in a way that takes people into account," she says.Peter Hapak for TIME
Egyptian protester Nada Fadl, left, and Tea Party 365 co-founder David Webb. "There is a difference between what I call leaders and leadership. The principles that come and that grow from this movement are bigger than any one individual," Webb says.Peter Hapak for TIME
Esraa Abdel Fatah, a.k.a. "Facebook Girl," is a prominent Egyptian Internet activist and co-founder of the April 6 movement. “They were my greatest days. I could see the utopia of Egyptian society in Tahrir Square. I think those days will be rooted in Egyptian history," she says.Peter Hapak for TIME
Occupy Oakland protester Crystallee Crain, left, is a teacher. Olmo Gálvez is a Democracia Real YA protester. “It was marvelous to see people become the actors in their own lives. You could watch them breaking out of their passivity. They turned off the TV, left their homes, went to the plaza and entered into community with each other," Gálvez says.Peter Hapak for TIME
Sayda al-Manahe's son Hilme was shot by a sniper during a protest in Tunis on Jan. 13. He was buried the day Ben Ali fled the country. "My son is now a symbol, a symbol of Tunis. He gave his life so we can have freedom."Peter Hapak for TIME
The clenched fist of an Egyptian protester. Peter Hapak for TIME
Spanish protester Carmen Rodríguez, left, says, “I loved going home each day, completely exhausted, but unable to stop talking about all the new ideas. And then each day, as I walked back, I would get to the top of Carretas Street and see all those people in Sol and just cry, it was so moving.” Right, Molehe Kalaote, an Occupy Oakland protester. Peter Hapak for TIME
Shadi Taha, a liberal Egyptian party official, says, “Now we are breathing a better air. We can practice politics openly."Peter Hapak for TIME
Occupy Oakland protester Andre Little, left. Greek protester Katerina Patrikarakou covers her face in a Maalox mixture to counter the effects of tear gas. Peter Hapak for TIME
Egyptian protester Nehal Marei. Right, a tear-gas canister in Egypt.Peter Hapak for TIME
Loukanikos, the Greek protest dog, is photographed in Syntagma Square in Athens. Peter Hapak for TIME
Professor Dalenda Largueche, left, is a leading Tunisian feminist and protester. Right, Greek protester Marianna Roumelioti. "They say you can have freedom of speech and expression on the condition that it doesn't insult or deal with religion. Who determines that? Freedom doesn't mean these limits. It either is or it isn't," says Largueche.Peter Hapak for TIME
Wisconsin protester Joanne Staudacher wears her "manifesto." She says, "I’m trying to take what I consider the 4H approach to government these days. The 4H pledge — I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my community, my country, my world. The idea that you have to think things through, you have to figure out what’s important, you gotta go with that, and then you gotta get your hands in there and you’ve got to do something."Peter Hapak for TIME
Egyptian protester Omar Mohamed, right. Greek protester Pavlos Papanotis attends demonstrations with his daughter Agathi.Peter Hapak for TIME
New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was arrested during a police raid at Zuccotti Park. "I believe that occupying public areas has been a centerpiece of the democratic process of this country. It is our right to be protected by the First Amendment and freedom of speech. It is our responsibility, too, to work together with the law enforcement. So wherever we are, we have to balance the quality of life issues and the rights of the protesters to exercise the First Amendment," he says. Spanish protester Ricardo Gómez says, "After seing what happened in the Arab countries, you ask yourself, Why not here?" Peter Hapak for TIME
Ife Johari Uhuru and Malik Rhasaan, coordinator and founder of Occupy the Hood, whose mission is to bring people of color to protests. "It’s getting people involved, but also getting America involved — back involved — in our struggle, in our neighborhoods," Rhasaan says. "This movement chose me. I didn’t choose it."Peter Hapak for TIME
Stephane Grueso is a Spanish documentary filmmaker and Twitter chronicler of the 15-M movement. "So I started tweeting, and it just kept growing. My goal is to always be there and describe what I see," he says.Peter Hapak for TIME
Occupy Oakland protester Dax Perrault. Peter Hapak for TIME
Left, Tea Party 365 founder Thomas Basile. Right, Egyptian protester Um Treka. "The movement remains a largely grassroots movement. This is in thousands of communities across America, but our organization is really not about making the organization larger. It’s about spreading an awareness of the dangers of oppressive debt and taxation and how that burdens the American dream," Basile says.Peter Hapak for TIME
Javier Sicilia is a Mexican poet, essayist and novelist turned protester. His son was killed by drug traffickers. "I did only what my heart was telling me to do," he says. "It was a great surprise to me to see the national response." Peter Hapak for TIME
Ahmed Harara is a Cairo dentist who was blinded in one eye by a rubber bullet during clashes in January. In November, he was shot in his other eye. Now he is completely blind. "As they say in America, power of the people will change everything," Harara says.Peter Hapak for TIME

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