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DVP Interview: Tom Olin and Marilyn Golden

Marilyn Golden interviewed Tom Olin for the Disability Visibility Project™ at StoryCorps San Francisco on November 19th, 2014. In this clip, Tom talks about his work as a photographer at disability rights protests and actions. He also talks about the power of representation, and the kind of impact he hopes to have with his photography. 

Text Transcript:

Marilyn Golden: So, let’s talk about your history in the disability rights movement.

[Music starts]

Marilyn Golden: You have been considered a – if not the – key photographer and photo journalist of our movement. When did you first connect with taking photos of disability rights related situations?

Tom Olin: If I can get a photo into the weekly reader that tells a kid that you know, these people are strong. You know?  These are not people that should be pitied. If I can do that, I feel like I’m successful.

[Protest Ambient Sound: ADAPT: We want a statement that they support nurse delegation -or assign an exemption, so that we can have control over our bodies, our lives, and live in the community.]

[Protest: Chant: People are dying shame on you!]

Tom Olin: And the thing I want to take away with is not the action itself that I photograph, but the people that are in the action.What I enjoy about an action is the empowerment of the person. If I can get the empowerment of the person with that, with what they’re trying to say, then whatever that picture is used for will say it.

[Protest Ambient Sound]

[Music fades out]

Marilyn Golden: So, If I ask you how you compose a photo you would say it composes itself?

Tom Olin: Yes. Yes. Yeah, I would really be hard to say how I compose it.

Marilyn Golden: So my question is, in the moment of snapping a photo, what is going through your mind?

Tom Olin: If I’m altogether, it’s all automatic. I actually don’t know what’s going through my mind. Sometimes it’s a chess board and I have to be at the right place at the right time. And I try to do that without people really noticing me. Not only because I don’t want people to be looking at the camera but it’s also, their event, and I want to be more of a fly on the wall than someone popping up in the middle. So, [laughter] The secret service didn’t like it, but I would crawl underneath the tables of events and stuff like that just to get a good shot and things.

[Music fades out]

[Protest Ambient Sound]

Tom Olin: We were as strong and as mighty if sometimes not even more. I mean, you know, it was improtant to capture in our movement, to capture people in a way that was important for us.

I mean, how many times have you been padded on your head, you know, and still being trying to be saved so you can walk? It just is way, way beyond. And you have to break that down. And I enjoy doing that.

[Protest: Everyone deserves a roof over their head, and live independently. As they see independence. They have the right…]


Music Credit:

Lobo Loco: Cultural Exchanges (Cultural Exchanges (ID 484) by Lobo Loco is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License)

Lobo Loco: Swining Sofas (Swining Sofas by Lobo Loco is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License)


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Suggested Reference

Disability Visibility Project™. (2014, November 19). DVP Interview: Tom Olin and Marilyn Golden. Retrieved from:

Image Description

A photo featuring Tom Olin and Marilyn Golden taken on November 19th, 2014. They are both looking at the camera and smiling. The person on the left is Tom Olin. He appears to be white, and is wearing a black jacket and a black t-shirt. He has dark hair combed to the side and is wearing glasses. The person on the right is Marilyn Golden. She appears to be white, and is wearing a light green shirt. She has long brown hair and glasses.


Produced for the Disability Visibility Project™ by Geraldine Ah-Sue and Alice Wong with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: and

For any questions, please refer to the Terms of Use.

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