The power of the camera in recording and shaping social movements


PBS NewsTime aired this 7-minute segment Race Matters about the role of the camera over the past decades not only in documenting social movements, but also in shaping and changing public perception. (Warning: This video contains violent and disturbing images.)

“I see the camera as a visual diary,” photography historian and NYU curator Deborah Willis told PBS reporter Jeffrey Brown. “It’s recording the voices and images of people who want to change things. How to make a change? We need to show proof of what is happening in the community.

“The evidence through different types of images, those of lynchings used by white people to further terrify the black community, and the brutally beaten body of a 14-year-old Issue up to in his coffin in 1955, photos his mother insisted the world see.

Till was brutally lynched after being accused of offending a white woman at his family’s grocery store, and photos of Till’s body sparked an intense public reaction. 65 years later, images of The Murder of George Floyd on the knee of a Minneapolis police officer (after allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill) sparked public outrage and worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism against black people.

Gordon Parks said he used the camera as a weapon to show the stories of injustice,” Willis says. “I see today’s photographers doing the same thing, using their lenses to capture moments, to say, we have to make a change, we have to make a difference, because we can no longer live like that.”

And with the ubiquity of smartphone cameras, the power of social movement cameras has democratized – the world-changing footage of George Floyd was shot on an iPhone.

Black photographers are on the front line to document and share the story as it is written. One of them is a 32-year-old photographer Mark Clennonon Instagram like @mark.c.

“I just want to make sure we have a first-person account,” Clennon said. NewsTime. “I want to make sure that the black voice is not excluded from this conversation, especially since we are at the center of this conversation. We black Americans take ownership of our stories, don’t we?

“We can now educate our peers and educate ourselves as a community. And it is unique. It’s the number one differentiator between now and the original civil rights movement, it’s our ability to tell our stories.


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