Behind the Camera in Ferguson
On Aug. 14, I was in St. Louis with reporter Emily Cahn waiting to fly back to D.C. the next day. I knew about the protests in Ferguson and thought about going, but I had to file pictures from the Illinois State Fair and had little storage space on my computer after nine days in the Midwest for our Roll Call on the Road project.
I had also heard reports of street blockades and journalist arrests. I wasn’t familiar with the area from a logistical standpoint, I didn’t feel like dealing with the hassle of getting there.
Around the time I was thinking about it, Photo Editor Bill Clark sent me an email floating the idea of checking it out and that was all I needed to get going.
I did some searches and found what I thought was the QuikTrip that had been looted on West Florissant Avenue and made my way there. It was the wrong one, but a woman pointed me down the street to where the protests were happening.
When I started seeing people walking around and hanging out in the small strip malls, I parked the car. I grabbed my two Nikon D4s attached with a 35 mm 1.4 and 50 mm 1.4 lens and started walking. I approached three men to ask if I was close, and to gauge the mood of the crowd. One pointed me down the street and said not to take pictures because the crowd didn’t like it. His buddy said it was fine to take pictures and then wanted me to take a picture of his shirt. On it were pictures of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till, a teenager who was killed 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman. As I was walking away the group was still arguing about the picture situation.
I passed another group and talked to them with the same intention. As we were talking, the group heard reports of gunshots and whisked the children into a house. I took a few pictures and continued south on West Florissant.
I was still a little nervous about what I would find, but as I approached the main area, a man thanked me for being there as a member of the media. When I got to the area around the QuikTrip it was a party-like atmosphere. People were on top of cars, honking horns, blasting music, chanting and singing.
People wanted to pose for pictures.
A lot of people knew not to pose and kept on with what they were doing. If they did stop when I approached, I would say, “Just do your thing like I’m not here.” That usually worked.
People were very friendly. I was offered water and weed (I declined). I was told I was doing a good job. The mood was in stark contrast to the reports I had seen of tear gas and journalist harassment. I didn’t see any police in the area. Citizens were directing traffic. I talked to some people about the atmosphere and they said it was peaceful because police were not there to escalate tensions.
The moon was almost full, which added a nice element to the pictures.