After the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd this year, protests spread rapidly across the United States. And with the spread of the protests, there has been discussion about how news outlets should handle representing the protesters in an age when law enforcement and others can use photos to track people down, putting them in precarious situations.
Suggestions have ranged from blurring people’s faces to photographing protesters in a way that does not identify them. As one might expect, not everyone has been in agreement as to how to go about this. There are strong opinions on both sides. And the discussion hasn’t always been civil. But I think that one thing a lot of people agree on is that whatever approach is used should be one that always seeks to minimize harm.
Any discussion that seeks to increase equity and inclusion in the world of photography (or anywhere else) is a good one. And when discussions like these take place, there will inevitably be people who bristle on both sides, either arguing for keeping the status quo or challenging it. That’s how change either does or does not come about.
New York-based photographer Yuvraj Khanna’s project “Obscured” takes these concerns head on. Keeping in mind government monitoring of protesters through social media and facial recognition technology, Khanna sought out voices from the Black Lives Matter movement who were concerned with obscuring their identities even while being active in protests.
Khanna gave In Sight more background on the impetus for the project, saying:
“History tells us there’s nothing new about thousands of Black people on the street demanding justice. Facial recognition technology and social media monitoring show us how far the repercussions of organizing and protesting against governments can go in the 21st century.
"Unchecked in absence of any national law or policy and now being used on civilians to quell protests, these tools undermine privacy, entrench bias against non-White communities, and create a surveillance apparatus ripe for abuse already targeting Black people, especially those organizing protests.
"Having faced both unprecedented police violence and intense surveillance, here are a few voices from the protesters of the BLM movement and how concealing their identity has been a big concern for them.”
The following are some of the people Khanna met, recording their images and voices.
With old cases being revived to specifically target protesters, he had the tough decision to stay home and be quiet or march outside for his voice to be heard. For these reasons, he doesn’t want his face and identity out on social media.
Always in the buffer zone between the marchers and the police, Josh deals with protecting protesters and de-escalating potentially dangerous situations with the police or even other civilians. He stays in front to protect those behind him. Because of his active taking on the police force, he’s at a high risk to be targeted and arrested, and hence remains careful to not show his identity any more than he has to.
Emmanuel is a member of the KidsPeace movement. The recent protests have seen a sizable number of preteen children being a vocal part of the protest. While parents are encouraging their children’s voice, Emmanuel’s parents, who’ve also seen the civil rights movement of the ’60s, are protective of keeping their children’s identities off social media.
An organizer of an ongoing daily vigil. Vigils have become crucial for more vulnerable members of the society — i.e., children, elders and immunocomprised people — to be a part of the movement in a peaceful manner that easily allows social distancing and minimal police contact. Organizers more than protesters are at risk of facing retaliation tactics by the police that aim to intimidate people to stop even peaceful protests.
David is a member of a cycling group working in tandem with protest organizers. From blocking roads to leading marches and keeping marchers safe from traffic, cycling groups have become an integral part of the protest movements. They have also formed buffer zones, keeping distance between marchers and the police, for which many cyclists have been targeted and arrested.
Genesis (Emmanuel’s mother) is among the parents supporting the KidsPeace movement, which was created to acknowledge children as an active part of the Black Lives Matter movement and address their needs to be heard, understood and recognized.
Janette, who makes it her mission to inform protesters on ballot suppression and their voting rights, has publicly declared the police to be responsible when she disappears or faces harm for her political views. She always carries voter registration forms with her to give away and hopes to change the system from the inside.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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