The power of photography to capture, document, record, and bear witness has perhaps never been more important than at this moment.
As our friends and customers have sent us their images from frontline protests and hospital battlefields across America, we here at Think Tank have been reflecting on our roots in photojournalism, and on the power a photograph can have to elicit emotion and change. In this newsletter we share some of the images and experiences from photographers we’ve been inspired by.
The words and images below are those of the photographers and do not necessarily represent the views of Think Tank Photo, its affiliates, or its employees. But the experience? The experience belongs to all of us.
Deanne Fitzmaurice, Pulitzer-prize winning photojournalist,
Think Tank Photo Co-founder, San Francisco
Social distancing during a pandemic goes against everything in a photojournalist’s DNA. You want to be out there covering the stories; to witness, understand, document and inform the public. I did my part and stayed home for two months.
Once I felt it was safe to go out while trying to social distance, it seemed tame enough to go photograph an artist painting a mural on boarded up storefronts in San Francisco. Driving there, over the Golden Gate Bridge, a huge protest broke out in front of me shutting down the bridge.
So what does a photojournalist do? I grabbed a mask, a camera and jumped out of my car to document it.
There were stand-offs between police and protesters. It was very tense. There was animosity towards the police officers who came onto the scene to try and restore order and let traffic pass while protesters chanted and held signs in support of Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd.
A couple hours later I was parking in San Francisco, getting out of my car to go photograph the muralist, and I see a female police officer helping a blind man cross a street.
As a photojournalist, I’m continually being challenged to be open-minded and to pay attention to the things showing up in my path.
Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times, South Los Angeles
These images are from an embed I did inside Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles, CA. I documented the staff during the coronavirus global pandemic. I worked in the emergency department, the ICU, inside the International Medical Corps isolation tent, in the COVID-19 unit and in COVID-19 positive patients’ rooms.
I was honored with the exclusive opportunity inside the hospital because of my past work from Rwanda, Lesotho, and South Africa focused on TB, drug resistant TB, and HIV/AIDS. Unbeknownst to me, a person working in the hospital had been following my work since 2007. She was instrumental in getting me access.
Over the years I’ve gained a keen interest in reporting on global and public health issues stemming from my work focused on extreme poverty across Africa, India, and also documenting poverty and homelessness in LA for the Los Angeles Times.
As a photojournalist it is my privilege and my obligation to document history during the coronavirus pandemic.
Malike Sidibe, Photographer, New York City
I was heartbroken after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I couldn’t just sit and watch. I wanted to be part of the change and to fight for all the black people who have lost their lives to police brutality.
That’s when I decided to join the protest and I brought along my camera. I joined the protests every day and night for over a week straight.
The first few nights were incredibly intense and I had no idea going into this that I would get pepper sprayed, hit with a baton and yelled at many, many times. There was a lot of violence, but I never felt afraid. I kept going and kept photographing.
It was inspiring for me to see people coming together and uniting for this cause and looking out for one another in the middle of it all. I know it won't happen overnight, but I am hopeful that the time has come for meaningful change, for equality for everyone, and for a change to the way policing happens in this country.
Kevin RC Wilson, Photographer, New York City
For many years most people have known me as a concert photographer, but I've also shot weddings, portraits, and street photography for quite some time as well. Once NYC became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself laid-off from my day job and all of my photography gigs instantly came to a halt. I knew that I needed to find a way to push forward so that I could get out of my own personal funk, and I decided to do something that I wanted to for many years: to become an active member in the New York Press.
Since the NYPD holds all the NYC Press badges, it normally takes awhile to get your accredited assignments in and application approved. Normally with a day job and my shooting schedule, it would have taken me months to do that. But with time on my hands to focus and shoot, and with help from the New York Press Photographers Association, I was able to pull it off in just two weeks!
From the Juneteenth march across the Brooklyn Bridge and throughout Manhattan, to the Upper Eastside for Black Lives Matter march in my own neighborhood in Harlem, to the Trans Lives Matter protest at the Stonewall Inn in the West Village, I have witnessed, photographed, and participated in moments in history that I will never forget.
It just goes to show that if you remain positive, know how to pivot when thrown a curve ball, anything is possible. If there's something you've been slacking on, and you have free time now, take advantage of the situation and make it work!
Al Diaz, Miami Herald and Think Tank Pro Team member, Miami
Miami police clashed with an angry mob soon after the surge of Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country in response to police brutality and the killing of George Floyd. Since that first week, Miami has been relatively peaceful with the occasional confrontations during counter-protests, police action, or skirmishes at mass gatherings.
As a photojournalist, I tell stories with my images and always try to capture the emotion of a moment in a single photograph, the decisive moment. I’m always watching for facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, converging lines, and composition while chasing the light as they all come together for a storytelling photograph.
History demonstrates that compelling images can produce unforeseen and often beneficial results. A still photograph can change the course of history, affect policy, raise awareness, inspire the many, and cause leaders to act.