I Can’t Breath- But I Can Photograph
I want to establish right off the bat that this post is about photography, not the politics. My choosing to take my camera and record the protest does not indicate my personal feelings nor alignment. What I do feel is that as photographers we have a duty to record the world around us. We don’t have to make a living at it, but we are the observers whose observations can outlive us. Future generations will be able to look at your images and share an experience based on what you photographed. That is a scary thought in of itself, and photojournalism is extremely subjective and barely objective. I certainly seek objectivity in the matter, and feel I pretty much got it. I barely spoke to anyone; actually the only person I had a full conversation with was a NYC Parks Dept officer. Our conversation consisted of the fact that it was peaceful.
However this is the internet and people throw opinions around like police hand out tickets so at the end of this post, I’m going to speak my mind about the recent issues surrounding this protest. It’s my soap box, you can choose to not read or make your comments. Now, back to the photographic portion of this post…
As I stated earlier, I believe it is both your civic and artistic duty to participate as a viewer/observer/recorder of the important social issues that occur in your lifetime. I’m not saying you should go well out of your way, but if these occur locally, be there and f8. They are societal milestones, events, and gain the interest of the masses. They can often define the ascendant generation. Going to and placing oneself in the epicenter is a solemn privilege that you as a creative should encourage.
“The world is going to pieces, and people like Biderman and Hill are photographing stars.”
– David George Brommer, December 2014.
I have shot a few demonstrations in my day. The first was a NORML rally at William Patterson College in NJ in the latish 80’s. The next would have been great anti-Iraq war protest that took place in 2003 in NYC. I rolled through the Occupy movement when it was in full force. I heard about the #MillionsMarchNYC from local channels, and put aside the time to go shoot it. Having watched the other protests, mainly the Ferguson and the SF/Oakland ones, I was a bit wary of getting caught up in a mele. I would be simply a citizen armed with a camera, and my opposing force would have truncheons, shields and tear gas. In the back of my mind a spot fear appeared. We all know what fear is right? It’s the mind killer! Mostly I feared getting gassed. I had seen the nasty canisters bouncing up to a CNN crew and the journalists all getting a good hit of it in Ferguson. I dug out my Israeli issue adult gas mask size three and stuffed it into a WW2 vintage ammo sling bag. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and if worse happened, I could keep my vision intact and the cameras clicking.
Noon: Inspect the camera arsenal for today’s shoot. I go for the Sony RX10 because I want a telephoto lens to pick out faces and signs a distance away (24 to 200mm f2.8). It’s also weather proof and resilient, so it can take it if the environment gets crazy. I also grabbed my trusty Fujifilm Xpro1 and slapped on the 18mm f2.0. I picked the Xpro1 because it can take a hit, and the look and size of the 18mm (1.5x APS-C size sensor brings it to 28mm effective) would both perform, and fit in my bag. Instead of a camera bag I choose a vintage ww2 ammo satchel, because I like the way it melts to my body and it’s discrete while having an edge. Note, the bag does have a Domke insert to further pad the gear. I also stuffed my gas mask and a fresh filter in the bottom of the satchel. In this game the best offense is a good defense.
2 pm I parked the Vespa on Bleecker and Sullivan. Twitter images showed the masses of protesters thronging beneath the Arch where 5th Avenue meets Washington Square Park. Enter from the rear, so you can get an idea of dispositions of the crowds.
I wanted to capture the faces and signs. I wanted to show the disparity of the protesters, and what they were saying. Simple task.
As I walked further into the epicenter around the fountain I found the wide settings on the camera were taking most of it in. Standing up on bench I was able to zoom into details. The Sony RX10 has swing a out LCD screen, I used my height and tilting out of the screen so I could turn myself into a 8 foot tripod in this fashion. That gave me a sweet perspective on the throngs.
There was not a police presence inside the protest throng, except Parks Dept (protecting the trees from being climbed) and this interesting Police Captain from Philadelphia. I do have a regret, I noticed one Parks Dept Officer with a tonfa strapped to his belt. Interesting, but I didn’t feel like getting my lens smashed by it so I didn’t shoot him. I regret that now.
The protesters, while mixed with all races, were predominantly white.
6 pm Time to edit and archive shot images. I shot as jpegs and imported into Nik Silver EFX through Photoshop. Since the subject matter was heavy, I felt that I would add drama and impact by choosing a heavy process. I went to the Film Noir Preset #1 and then decreased the size of the grain 40% while pushing up the structure. I also minimized the spread of the digi-faux rebate edge.
Brommer is now going to discuss his feeling on racism. It might be time to click here for lighter subject matter.
My personal take on the issue at hand is that it’s something that has been brewing in this country since the 1800’s. Racism. It’s not always fair and it’s not easy to understand. It may very well resound in all of us, deep down, hidden and can bubble up in certain circumstances. Others make decisions and judgments based on race with little provocation and thought. I see color and race, I am a photographer and my job is to see. However, I do not let race, nor social standing effect the way I interact with the population. So while acutely aware of racial details and stereotypes the factor is nullified until you give me a reason to respond from your deeds and words. After all, we are all human. And I’ll treat you like a lady or gentleman as long as you are one. That’s how I roll. I’m ashamed when a racist thought runs through my head. My first best friend was Lamont Swain, we played together on the streets and playgrounds. I was a skinny little white kid, and Lamont was a skinny little black kid. R.I.P. Mont Mont, your friendship showed me in the end, we were just skinny kids.
In a perfect world you don’t get taken down so hard you die for selling illegal cigarettes. In a perfect world when you steal and you get caught you don’t resist arrest. In a perfect world the cops don’t have the right to use violent force unless being met with violent force that is un-arguable. In a perfect world a segment of the society was not enslaved and then after generations set free. In a perfect world all the children are taught to respect one another and know right from wrong. In a perfect world no one would take advantage over another. In a perfect world… is just a dream.