Bajan-American Fine Art Photographer, Chrystofer Davis shares how one community, united on a single front, displays human moments of compassion, solidarity and empathy during a time of civil unrest. Images shot on a Leica M6 and TL.
What motivates you to attend a demonstration, camera in hand?
My mission statement is to tell my truths and to tell others’ truths. Being from Newark, New Jersey, I have happily met people from all walks of life, some who have great stories to tell but often go unheard. I go into a demonstration to find those individuals who need their voices heard in desperate and intense times. The singing of demonstrators and the reason they are marching needs to be amplified.
What moments do you seek to capture?
I look for all of the positive moments in the demonstrations: signs of unity, strength, pride and solidarity among all groups of people that support the ongoing issue. However, due to the very deep and intense emotions around the subject, not everything I am seeking will be present at all times. The truth is that there are people who are tired, frustrated and outright furious — that too must be documented.
How does your personal opinion of the demonstration impact how you tell your visual stories?
Being that I am Bajan-American, I can relate to many of the feelings that are present during these demonstrations. I understand what it means to feel misunderstood, unheard, and unseen. I do not look at demonstrators as subjects, but human beings with emotions and feelings. I create small relationships with them. Through this connection, while photographing, I am effectively making them understood, vocal and visible. It is important as a photographer to connect with others, especially for the right reasons.
While out photographing, what moments have left an indelible impression?
While out with my colleagues, Randez West II and Derek Fahsbender, in Brooklyn, New York, we experienced some of the negative sides that could potentially happen at a demonstration. The pain and sadness on people’s faces, demonstrators being arrested, and even getting hit by fireworks and trash while documenting. However, I have experienced joy and pride photographing demonstrations in Newark. Seeing the citizens of Newark walking side by side, singing in harmony and working together brought me tears of joy. These are moments that will forever be a part of me. In a sense, I feel that I am documenting the new Civil Rights movement.
What precautions are you taking as you’re out documenting protests?
Wearing a mask and gloves is the first precaution, in addition to carrying sanitizer, water and light snacks. Documenting a demonstration can last for many hours, staying hydrated and full is essential to prevent exhaustion. Being on the frontlines I have to consider the emotions of everyone involved during the demonstration: getting close but not too close, showing empathy, and being friendly. Although my M6 and TL are small and less intimidating, I often approach others with a smile in my eyes asking politely to capture them and thank them for having the opportunity to document them.
Which of your images motivates you to make the next?
Documenting important moments in others lives with their loved ones motivates me to capture the next. A personal favourite of mine is of a father holding his newborn son at a demonstration in North Bergen, NJ. Pride, strength and leadership are what I had seen in this moment. This was considered a historical event that he wanted to experience with his son, being given the opportunity to capture that moment was an honour. Documenting important moments in others’ lives with their loved ones motivates me to capture the next.
In editing your images, what emotions are evoked as you relive the moments?
While analysing negatives and editing digital images, I experience joy and sorrow. Joy that I’m continuing my purpose, to capture and archive stories, faces, places and tell truths of this time period. Sorrow for the injustices that continue to happen to the black people in society, that we continue to demonstrate and demand basic human rights. My only hope is that my images will evoke emotions in others to make them realise and understand the reality we live in.
How are you using your images to amplify a message?
Social media is the best tool to help amplify the voices of the demonstrators. Not only does this help them be seen and heard, it helps others to share images they relate to when not attending the demonstrations. The advantage of owning a TL is that I can provide images to people on the spot. With the images I give them and in their own words, they can tell their own story on their platforms. Photography is about sharing.
What message(s) do you hope your photos will tell for years to come?
These images will speak to an audience that there was consistency and a passion for change in our society. Fighting against injustice and for equality, raising your voice and speaking up for others will be shown. The importance of documentation and that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, that people have done the work, are still doing it, and we are just carrying the baton.
What advice do you have for photographers that are currently out photographing demonstrations?
Connect with those who are participating in the demonstrations, show empathy and tell the real stories. Be in the moment with them, in order to capture the spirit of these events you must join and understand. Show gratitude towards those you are capturing, let them know that it is an honour for you to document them during an important time in history. Be on the frontlines and move into the crowd, analyse postures and movements, find eye-catching and unique posters and gravitate towards the loudest voice in the demonstration.