Six tips for aspiring protest photographers
After completing two tours of duty in Iraq in 2008, U.S. Army combat veteran Michael A. McCoy turned to turned to photography as a therapeutic tool to deal with the horrors of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. With a camera in his hands, McCoy could escape from the memories of being inside a war zone as photography enabled him to be full present in the moment, bare witness, and share his story with the world.
The 2014 death of Mike Brown at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson changed everything. The protests that raged across the city sparked a movement against police brutality and the killing of black men, women, and children at the hands of law enforcement officials. For McCoy, Ferguson was the moment of truth.
“I started photographing protests because I wanted to start documenting history,” he explains. “I realized that I could use my camera as a tool and amplify the issues affecting myself and my community that need to be heard. I could have been Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, or Eric Garner.”
His experiences in combat have prepared him for the battles on our streets, and he is invested in sharing this knowledge with the emerging generation of youth activists. Here, McCoy shares six tips for aspiring protest photographers.
Bring pens and paper, voice recorder, or use cell phone to take notes. Also pack water and snacks, a fully charged cell phone, camera batteries, and portable phone charger. Women should bring a pee cup. Take camera equipment appropriate to the situation but try to pack light. It’s better not to be carrying weight in case something pops off and you have to exit quickly.
BRING A PARTNER
Have a travel partner and set up rally points to create accountability. This helps you to avoid getting lost, losing power, or getting caught in some sort of emergency.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
Know the area. Have an exit point in case shit hits the fan. Come early and leave late so you can document people preparing before the protest and having conversations afterwards.
Photograph both sides of the story. Cover as much contextual ground as possible. Capture the emotion and significance of a scene to create an iconic photo. Good subject, composition, environment, and emotion will create a great photograph.
WATCH THE POLICE
Always stay alert to the police. Watch your surroundings. Stand close to police radios so you know what’s going on. Know your rights but obey the orders of the police even if it is disrespectful and inhumane. Make sure to get their badge number in case you need to file a report afterwards.
HARNESS THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
If possible use a Wifi camera and Wifi memory cards to get your photos onto social media as quickly as possible in order to tell the story and spread the news. You never know who is looking and you might have a Devin Allen Instagram moment.
See more of Michael McCoy’s work on his official website, or follow him on Instagram.
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