Think Tank Gallery Presents YOU ARE HERE. II: Shoot a Cop – A Celebration of Our Boys in Blue (2013) remains to this day the most controversial show that we ever conceived. It was also the most complicated show on which to lead marketing of which I can imagine being a part, largely because halfway through the experiment, LAPD Officer Chris Dorner went on his cop-killing rampage.
Taking the excitement of our first YOU ARE HERE exhibit and flipping the concept on its head, Shoot a Cop took the "limited time and space" challenge of the breakout show and gave it a more interesting twist for the sequel.
Not satisfied with further limiting the time and space, our goal was to expand these constraints, while adding a third element to the recipe that would stir things up. Stepping up to the plate again was our owner John Kennamann, whose background in reality television leaves no shortage of exciting and challenging (if unique to the art world) ideas that can gain attention, and his double entendre of "shooting" cops was sure to do just that.
For weeks leading up to the announcement of the challenge, I spent every day at the library educating myself on the history of riots in Los Angeles. Inspired by my recent involvement in the Occupy movement, the definition of a riot and the related idea of "unnecessary force" was at the front of my mind. Images of police abusing citizens and students, shot by cellphones, were slipping through mainstream media's cracks and right into the Facebook feeds of young adults across the country, police were using tactics involving shutting down cell service, and LA was playing ball with protesters and their demands even in a new NSA-dictated political landscape. I compiled a map made up of every riot in the history of Los Angeles as the constraint within which our street photographers could walk, and put together a set of guidelines for participants.
Because we didn't have a list of "featured" photographers to spread the word this time, and because we didn't want to steal our own thunder, spreading the word for this show without letting the concept slip was a difficult but integral part of my job as director. Beginning a tradition that should continue through all future YOU ARE HERE exhibits, we called upon the winner of the previous challenge Jordan Dunn, and another photographer from the first show (his first ever) whose career had exploded since, Rinzi Ruiz. With these street photography-savvy and well-connected curators on board, the three of us got to work researching the laws that would certainly be brought up by upset citizens, the proposal we would make to sponsors on this polarizing idea, and the ways to get a nice roster of photographers involved without spilling the beans on the challenge but letting them know it would certainly be challenging – both ideologically and logistically.
I got to work on the press release and law research, Jordan and Rinzi (with Eric Kim's help) got the word out to the photographers, and we had a few dozen applications by the time the call came to a close. It was a smaller application list than the previous show, but with less star power pushing the show we were more than pleased with the talent pool. It wasn't until we announced the challenge itself that half of our photographers immediately dropped out and we had to scramble to pull together a decently-sized list. More on that below.
My job in branding direction for Shoot a Cop was much more about public relations than anything else. Our sponsor from the first streettog experiment we hosted, Leica was very excited at the idea but obviously so hesitant to associate their brand with a show of such polarizing content that they gave us free stuff on the terms that we didn't return the favor with any publicity. I'm unsure if they were happy or upset about this when, halfway through the project, our shooting subject of the Los Angeles Police Department became the biggest story in the country as former Navy Seal and LAPD Officer Chris Dorner went on a rampage, slaughtering his brothers in arms. In the midst of all this, I was tasked with landing a printing sponsor (since Leica could not justify marketing dollars on the show) and donut and coffee sponsor for the installation (below).
We had given thirty days from the announcement of the challenge to print and frame photos to be hung in the gallery, but immediately upon selecting our 32 participants and tasking them with shooting LAPD law enforcement, half of our participants dropped out. Quoting everything from fear of the retaliation of the officers to NSA-guided and FBI-enforced "no fly" lists, and outright hatred of police to the concern of affecting their public image, so many artists dropped out that the first week was a scramble to invite our backup photographers with enough time for them to shoot. The list ended up being cut down to 25 since we invited no one later than seven days in, and participants dropped out all the way up to the Dorner incident, which played into the show amazingly.
On day 14 of 30 days of shooting, Dorner began killing police. "Shoot a cop" became almost memetic in its Google searchability, as 99%ers the country over latched onto this murderer as a sort of double agent on the inside – someone to fight back against the cops with them as the government shut down Occupy gatherings. Our experiment and paid advertisements on Facebook were immediately discovered by thousands of concerned citizens on both sides of the discussion, some turning it into a celebratory exposé of police corruption, and others criticizing what they thought was a tasteless marketing stunt to capitalize on a dreadful situation. In truth, we had been working on this show for months, and it had already been announced for weeks. To subside some of the criticisms from those (like my CHP uncle) who were demanding we cancel the exhibit, we added the sub-title, "A Celebration of Our Boys and Girls in Blue."
One way or another, the show got people talking. It was a complicated idea; we live in a city that both glorifies police as superworldly heroes in movies and TV shows, while at the same time demonizing them in the media (Rodney King and the riots he inspired remain the most important pen vs. the sword experience in contemporary law enforcement history). In a showbiz city, the perception of our authority is dictated by editors and tv station execs just as much as by policy decisions. Our concept was simple: however you feel about LAPD, put your money where your mouth is.
And it worked. Dozens of photographers were forced to meditate on LAPD for a solid month, and the result of the experiment was education, changed perspectives, and newfound respect. With cameras aimed at police for thirty days straight, we dared photographers to catch officers abusing their power, and they found that more often than not, they were more scared of the denizens the police were handling than the way the police themselves were choosing to handle things. Bold artists that they were, some of the participants we selected did indeed find officers in intense situations, and the power of the lens created some questionable scenes.
But I personally gave walkthroughs to entire units of officers, fielded phone calls full of questions from LAPD PR reps, and even sold work to officers. The overall reception of the show was that it was both thoughtful and thought-provoking, and Lord knows it took some work to make it that way.
Leica gave away their new D-Lux 6 as a prize in a gracious gesture (to a camera-less Roger Clay who shot everything on his iPhone), and photographers got gigs shooting in the field with police officers on ridealongs.
This was all captured beautifully in our teaser and recap videos, above and below.
Check out an interview with "Best in Show" winner Roger Clay here.
The installation work for Shoot a Cop was the most diverse yet in any Think Tank shows. Not only did we call once more upon Monk to steal the show (video below) – for which he created a giant government-issued glock to scale and aimed at an iPhone with a mirror instead of a screen; infinitely Instagrammable and aptly titled "Pen vs. Sword 2014 – but we also had our newest resident Patrick Nissim create a sound piece (above) that took police- and riot-related sound and music and compiled it into a mix that would play on loop during open ours. In the middle of a conversation with one of the many police officers that came to the show, NWA's "Fuck the Police" would ring out loudly.
For my part, I collaborated with Faceoff-favorite and SyFy show-star Eric Fox to curate a performance and site-responsive installation piece involving models made up through special effects to look like sexy "pig cops." Converted by Foxy into oddly sexy piggy creatures in sexy police uniforms, I had my models spend a few hours handing out freshly baked Krispy Kreme donuts from silver platters to our guests. The decision not to serve alcohol at the opening meant that we gave out free coffee all night to match, and even the police were delighted at the extremely well-done makeup by the brilliant SFX artist.
They were instructed to hang out and have a good time, and dance with guests or take photos when asked, even creating an impromptu photoshoot with the curators and myself once the show was over (photos above). The decision to host the performance was certainly bold, but so was the show title. We fielded much criticism for our "monster hookers" as a mockery of law enforcement, but the police that came enjoyed it. It was meant to lighten a severly heavy topic a bit, while commenting on the exaggerated nature of the public image police have in this entertainment-based city in particular. In the end, while not representative of the experiment in the slightest, the piece may have gone down as the least inquisitive of any in the show, but it was definitely the most documented, for better or worse.