It’s likely that when George P. Hickey purchased his first camera — a Pentax that required film as opposed to today’s digital cameras — in 1997 at the age of 49, he didn’t realize the camera would have gotten him a face full of military grade pepper spray. For that matter, he probably didn’t think it would lead to a photography exhibit at the Washington State History Museum either.
Loyal Opposition: The Protest Photos of George P. Hickey runs now through Dec. 3, showcasing more than 80 of Hickey’s photos depicting Seattleites protesting issues like the inauguration of George W. Bush, the LGBTQ community, war, animal cruelty, and the World Trade Organization.
“I attended and photographed well over 100 street protests, documenting the efforts of protesters to communicate their demands,” Hickey said of the years following the purchase of his first camera. During that time, Hickey freelanced for publications like Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, Real Change, The Seattle Times, and others.
Hickey tried to tackle a wide assortment of subject matter with his camera, but he said he kept coming back to protest photography.
“Citizens often feel unheard by those elected to represent their interests, so they take to the streets in an effort to gain attention,” Hickey said. “They organize; they march; they chant; they wave signs; all in the hope of attracting attention to an issue they care about. I felt their commitment and efforts to improve the lives of those in their community should not go unnoticed and unrecorded.”
Hickey attended classes at Photographic Center Northwest where he learned how to turn the bathroom of his small apartment into a makeshift dark room in order to develop film and print his own photographs. Those negatives and prints now reside at the museum where Hickey is positive they will be well cared for.
“The archive resulting from (my) work was sitting in my closet, stored in boxes, with no guarantee of preservation after my death,” Hickey said. “Donating my photography archive to the Washington State Historical Society is a way to make my work useful by being readily available to the public and researchers, and also ensures that it will be cared for by museum professionals. The archive will be useful for many years into the future.”
Hickey will present a free gallery talk at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 16, during which museum guests can listen to him recount his experience as a freelance photographer and ask questions about photography, journalism, and protest.
Admittance into the exhibit is included in the museum entrance fee, which is free for museum members, $14 for adults, and $11 for seniors, students, and military members with identification. Children 5 and under are admitted free.
For more information about Hickey’s exhibit or the Washington State History Museum, visit the museum online.