The year is 2020, and the world is changing. As Black Lives Matter protests sweep the country, photographers have an opportunity — and responsibility — to encapsulate this pivotal moment and amplify the message being sent. However, exercising safety and discretion is more important than ever in today’s tumultuous environment. Here are a few tips, techniques and considerations to effectively capture the current social movement — and to protect yourself and others while doing so.
Don’t Be a Spectator
Photographers often find themselves on the sidelines, but today especially, many have instead found themselves front and center of the fight against racial injustice. Being part of a cause affords a level of empathy and camaraderie that will inevitably come through in your photography.
If your intention in attending a protest is not to participate but merely to snap a few pics for social media, you may want to reconsider. Not only are your photos likely to come off as inauthentic, but this is a time for people to voice their grief and frustration — not spectatorship. A recent Wired article on protest photography safety tips suggests first asking yourself, “Would you still want to go protest if you left your phone and camera at home?”
Women’s Rights © John Ripton
Take Adequate Safety Measures to Protect Yourself and Others
Today’s fight for social justice comes at a time when we are simultaneously fighting a highly infectious viral pandemic. Although evidence has shown that outdoor transmission of the coronavirus is less likely than in confined spaces, it is nonetheless essential to wear a mask or face covering and practice social distancing.
© Michael Navarro via unsplash
Besides protecting yourself and others against the pandemic, there are a number of other safety precautions to consider while in a protest, march or demonstration. These include:
- Know what to wear and what to bring, and try to keep camera gear to a minimum.
- Don’t act on impulse. If you’re in a march, or any large gathering for that matter, avoid stopping dead in your tracks to try to snap a photo. Instead, move out of the way and take a moment to properly set up the shot. This will likely yield a better photo while helping to keep things copacetic.
- Maintain acute awareness of your surroundings. While photographers are accustomed to this to some degree, protests can escalate quickly, and so it is imperative to remain alert and to know your rights should things take a turn and/or you find yourself confronted by police.
- Consider the safety of others. Be incredibly careful about photographing people’s faces and other distinguishing features. Additionally, think about what you’re going to with the photos you take — e.g., post to social media — and whether doing so could potentially cause someone harm.
Exercise Empathy & Discretion
In order to effectively capture the world in which we live, and in order to be part of the solution to the systemic injustices that so many face, we must be able to truly step outside of ourselves.
SOLITARY STRIKER, c. 1935 © Irving Kaufman
This is always an important element of photography — seeing the world through the eyes of others is key to creating powerful art that connects with people. But today more than ever, this is a consideration that must go beyond the camera lens. For instance, try to put yourself in the position of others before you approach them — asking yourself how, if you were that person, you would react to a request for a photo op.
Empathy can go a long way in breaking down barriers, and while we certainly have a long way to go, let’s make sure that as photographers, we’re helping to move things in the right direction.