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How the Camera has Advanced the BLM Movement

"Image by Lawrence Lopez (@lwrnc.lpz) for The Lopez Lens"

They say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, right. Throughout our nation’s history, capturing events and telling a story via a lens has been critical. From the Civil Rights Movement to our current day Black Lives Matter Movement, photography has continued to spark a need for change and creates visibility nationwide. It’s impossible to ignore the reality of what is happening in America in 2020 when footage of police brutality and racist acts against the Black community are constantly being caught on camera. As Martin Luther King Jr. said during the Civil Rights Movement in regards to police brutality and the role of the camera, police brutality repression was “caught—as a fugitive from a penitentiary is often caught—in gigantic circling spotlights. It was imprisoned in a luminous glare revealing the naked truth to the whole world” (New York: Harper and Row, 1964).  Photography from the BLM Movement has and will continue to reveal a truth that although partial, is imperative. It’s a window into what it’s like living as a Black person in America today in which the nation cannot turn a blind eye and simply exclaim  that inequality doesn’t exist to this day.

With a camera or cell phone practically available in every space, public and private hate crimes committed against the Black community are so easily captured. Racists cannot hide in the shadows making the camera one of the greatest weapons to expose hate and demand change. Whether it’s a photo of a peaceful BLM protest, a video of police brutality, or someone being blatantly racist, visualizations provide a taste of the inequality the Black community has faced for over 400 years. The feelings captured through the camera provoke shock, rage, sympathy and empathy in ways words could never convey. Whichever feelings the photographer captures through the lens have the ability to travel across identities non-verbally which in a way, bridges a geographical gap and a gap of understanding.

“Image by Kyle Sykes (@kylesyke); kylejsykes.com”

While deeply traumatic we have seen the importance of the role of the camera in advancing the Civil Rights Movement through photos of the murder of Emmett Till and the advancement of the BLM Movement with the video of the murder of George Floyd. The racism captured through photographs motivate, persuade, and even have the power to help people choose the right side of history. The idea is that these images will hold the nation accountable for the ‘unadmitted’ dimensions of racial life in the nation.

“Image by Sam Mironko (@mironkoproducions); www.mironkoproductions.com”

It’s important that we take a moment to take a look at the route of the BLM Movement and some of the young creatives behind the scenes. Lawrence Lopez, Kyle Sykes, and Sam Mironko are all three young Black men that have a special talent with the camera.

Lawrence Lopez took up photography as a hobby three years ago. After spending time in China he began to experiment with the mechanics of the camera. Through traveling the East, his work with the camera evolved. Lopez experimented with portrait, landscape, shutter speed, juxtaposition, and the ins and outs of the device. With his return to the states, it was not intentional that Lawrence became passionate about activist photography but rather his intention to share his truth as a Black man in America today.

As the pandemic hit the U.S. and the Black Lives Matter Movement began to take off more than ever before, Lawrence used this opportunity to share his passion through his experiences and educate others. While what is happening right now in our country has been heavily politicized, Lawrence describes that it is something “bigger than politics”. Posting these images to social media platforms like Instagram and utilizing captions has allowed him to encourage others to have conversations with him or separately. This has been liberating in many ways. Some of Lawrence’s favorite moments of being a photographer during the BLM Movement has been seeing the passion and emotion of people at peaceful protests and trying to capture and convey that with a lens. Lawrence says, “as a photographer, the best way to support [young Black creatives] is to keep the movement going. It’s going to take time, effort, discomfort and support from others.” Generations before us have sacrificed for us, so it’s important that we hold ourselves accountable to keep the passion and movement going until we see the change.

Kyle Sykes is a young Photographer, Filmmaker, and Creative Director. His interest in working with the camera started by the influence of his grandfather who was a photographer and World History professor in Rhode Island. Sykes was lucky enough to experience his grandfather’s dark room at a young age. In his college years, his photography and film making interests took off. Sykes attended Stanford University where he majored in Film Studies and Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. He’s worked for numerous well known brands such as Pinterest, Airbnb, and SXSW.  The clients Sykes works with include Levis, Hypebeast, illycafe and several Black owned businesses and afro tech businesses in the Bay area.

During the BLM Movement, Sykes has had the opportunity to participate in peaceful protests in Oakland where he’s been able to convey Black pride and emotion through a series of photos. From shots of people holding up “Black Lives Matter” signs, to people chanting and celebrating Black pride, he has been fortunate to capture it all. Some of the favorite moments he’s captured have been a police standoff with peaceful protestors at a bridge in Oakland and a shot of a little boy wearing a Lillard jersey sitting on the roof of a car with his fist in the air. Coincidentally, that little boy is related to the Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard. Lillard loved the shot so much that he chose it as the cover of his most recent released single. As Damian Lillard has honored Sykes photography, it’s important that the Black community continue to support young creatives like Kyle. For Kyle, the best way to continue to support Black creatives is to keep sharing Black creatives work, continuing to hire them, and buying their work.

Sam Mironko is a young creative who was raised in South Africa and now lives in Boston, MA. His storytelling began with videos, Mironko has mastered photography during his years at Bates College where he became well known for his art around campus. Some of his favorite memories with the camera was during his study abroad in Ghana. Although cut short due to the pandemic, Mironko’s time abroad was a special experience. There he had the opportunity to curate, dictate, and tell stories through his own personal experiences as well as collaborate with other young artists and musicians such as Sarkodie and Kofi Mole in Ghana. Mironko has a large list of clients including the mentioned Ghanian artists, Eco Text, Harvard Africa Business Conference, Harvard Basketball and Empire Concrete. Most recently, Mironko had the chance to shoot for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Andre Drummond. His work is quite impressive.

Through the BLM Movement, Mironko has gotten as involved as possible by attending peaceful protests. On his part, he finds it’s important that he dictates the narrative through the experience as Black person in America and to amplify the racial problems in our nation, whether it’s blatant racism or microaggressions. With his work as a photographer during this time, he’s made connections with people at the peaceful protests and has realized the appreciation people have for him as an artist. Mironko is motivated to keep pushing for Black visibility and the legitimization of Black photographers work. Mironko believes that the best way to continue to support Black creatives is to get involved with them, to change their relationship with the industry, and allow their voices to be heard.

It’s time to continue to amplify Black voices. Lawrence Lopez, Kyle Sykes, and Sam Mironko are three young Black creatives that exemplify Black excellence in the arts. Their work as photographers, videographers, and filmmakers plays a huge role in how we and others look to change our society. There are a plethora of ways that we can continue to support their work. Whether it’s sharing the names, Lawrence Lopez, Kyle Sykes, and Sam Mironko, buying their prints, helping them out financially, or offering them more opportunities. With their work, they are letting our nation see deeper than our pain, pride, and outrage. They help the nation and oppressors know that we are here and there must be change. The role of photography and how the media chooses to dictate the narrative challenged White America in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

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