Jesse Paul Warren
A Designer*
Jesse Paul Warren
a designer*
The Signs of a Time
Book of photographs from the 2017 Women’s March, woven together with a single poem.
Designer + Photographer + Author

On January 21st, 2017, I was supposed to meet up with my then-boss, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, and his family to take pictures at the Women's March on Washington. The March was so packed, however, that we could not get to each other.

Alone with my camera in the sea of people, I took as many pictures as I could. And in the year-and-a-half that followed, I worked to turn them into a photography book.

After many rounds of editing and re-arranging, a poem emerged. Each line, paired with a picture of a person holding a sign, was my attempt to distill that signs' message into a more fundamental truth that anyone, regardless of political affiliation, could understand.

Looking back, I think I largely achieved this, but there were some messages I would have worded differently. Even though I tried to get to a bedrock beneath any political ideology, and did fairly well in most cases, I can sense a few places that I didn't quite get there.

This taught me an important lesson: if you're not careful, it's possible to think your getting to something foundational, but really, you are being influenced by a prevailing ideology and don't even realize it. It's a lesson for every time and arena of life.

Nonetheless, this is a snapshot of where I was at the moment, when applying all the creative care I could muster.

You can download a PDF scan of the full book below.


Sorting through the 1000+ photos naturally led to a question: How should they be arranged in a book?

Getting to the answer was a long process — as it always is when striving to do something that goes beyond the perfunctory.

My first thought was to arrange the photos by the theme of the sign. But that revealed itself as too trite.

Then I tried to weave all the different signs together, page after page, making a poem out of them.

But I couldn't make that work without adding words of my own. And eventually, a separate poem began to emerge that would complement the pictures.

Finally, the theme became revealing the deeper truth underlying each sign. I wanted to find a way to communicate the ideas in the sign that transcended left or right political ideology.

For example, a woman holding an image of a feminized Mt. Rushmore led to “We become who we are when we’re shown who we can be.”

Or a woman holding a sign that read “Give me liberty or give me death 1776 2017”, led to “The founding of American has only just begun.”

This phrase in particular has stuck with me and I've continued to use it as a tagline for Democracy Creative.


I felt that removing the backgrounds would draw more attention to the emotion of people. The combination of the sign, and the emotion on the face of the person holding it, tells a story. I wanted to draw attention to that.


On that day, when I was running around frantically, taking as many pictures as I could, I found this perch on a pedestal at Freedom Plaza, looking down Pennsylvania avenue toward the Capitol. It's a point where Pennsylvania avenue takes a turn, so you get a direct shot of the road toward the Capitol. In this case, the street was filled with people. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the exact spot from which all the most iconic photographs from that day would be taken.

I later modified this image and turned into the book's cover.


The first edition of the book was was very long. It was really a prototype. After printing this small run, I realized I needed to cut it down significantly. The final version was half the number of pages, from 218 to 118. The dimensions of the book also got smaller.


After many iterations, this final hardcover version was the result. It included a cloth cover printed in Vermont on Japanese linen.

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