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On Photographing Racists as a Photographer of Color

On Photographing Racists as a Photographer of Color

One of the unique aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement in the last year has been how it has spread to even the smallest of communities. It’s made covering the protests as a minority photographer a wholly different and vastly more frightening experience.

I’ve covered quite a few protests in the New York City area, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter in 2014. The tone of a protest in a large city is different; there is inherently a plurality of people and large enough numbers of those people to (generally) dissuade racists from coming out. That’s not always the case, clearly, as many of the protests against George Floyd’s death have shown, but in many of those cases, the threats against photographers come from law enforcement.

In Long Island, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken to the streets of the quiet, mostly white residential neighborhoods that have never seen such forms of protest. It’s not been uncommon to see many residents come out of their houses just to hurl insults at Black Lives Matter protesters in these small towns.

In some cases, I’ve seen groups of “counter-protestors” that have heckled and shouted down the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter groups at these rallies. Their behavior worried me enough that I started to wear a body camera to these events just to capture the way these counter-protestors — actually, white supremacists — treated me, a photographer of color.

This past weekend was the “Long Island Unite Against White Supremacy” march in Wantagh, New York. It was a response to the Capitol riots from days before and specifically targeted towards the disparity in policing on display in that insurrection versus Black Lives Matter protestors. That disparity was on display from the start of the protest, where a large group of police officers, all white, stood around the Trump supporters and chatted with them in a friendly manner, while one of the only interactions the police had with the people rallying against white supremacy was to read them a warning off a printed sheet saying that if they blocked pedestrian or vehicular traffic, they would be arrested. It should also be noted that the group organizing the rally, Long Island Peaceful Protest, had been barred from using a megaphone in the past, but that was no problem for the counter-protestors.

Logically, if the march is against white supremacy, if you’re showing up to protest the march, you’re tacitly indicating you support white supremacy. And that’s what these people who were across the street were doing. I approached them to take some photos, and the response showed a gross demonstration of racism and misunderstanding of photographer’s rights to photograph in public spaces.

You can see that their political affiliations are on full display. They were carrying Trump flags throughout the march, and the person in the video who claimed his father owned the private bank property they were on was wearing Donald Trump socks.

Counter protesters at the "LI Unite Against White Supremacy" rally in Wantagh, New York on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021.

Right after I kneeled to get this photo, you can see the same organizer about to blast my ears out with a megaphone, only stopping short at the last minute after I put my hand up to block him:

A few minutes after this moment, I tripped over a rock in front of him and his only response was to shout to an officer “I didn’t push him, he tripped” instead of trying to offer a helping hand or ask if I was OK.

It’s this lack of empathy that’s most striking in this crowd. If I was a white photographer, would this group have treated me differently? Would they have immediately told me to go back to the side of the street as the Black Lives Matter folks (in this case, the protest group, Long Island Peaceful Protest)? Would they have threatened me?

It’s an uneasy feeling. I wasn’t wearing any clothing or any markings to show that I was affiliated with either side, though I was still treated like an enemy combatant by one side and embraced with open arms by the other.

It’s telling that the group of Trump supporters wanted to hide their faces from a camera. They didn’t just avoid me, they didn’t talk to TV media that was there as well, unlike the organizers of Long Island Peaceful Protest. They wouldn't share their names for a caption. If your cause is just, you likely won’t be the one hiding from the light of journalists.

Today, I wasn’t physically harmed, but plenty of photographers are harmed on the job. If you’re a photographer of color, those two intersections carry an even greater risk at these kinds of protests.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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✊ one people

Massive respect for your courage and composure throughout. Thanks for sharing your experience and insight.

With all due respect, Wasim, let's keep politics out of this site.

Don't like articles about photojournalism? Don't read them.

Problem solved.

But that is the essence of photojournalism. Like El Dooderino - nice nickname btw - says: you don't have to read it and you don't have to comment on it.

Personally I found his perspective very interesting.

Well Eugene there‘s no politics in this article just the experience of a photographer covering a protest. But now that you bring up politics I don’t think I need to take a guess about your political opinion.

This is a totally legitimate topic for a photo site

"You're assuming your subjects political stances"


Did you even read the article?

It was hardly taken out of context.

"Tell me how many people were at those protests and then group all of them into one for me."

#1: I wasn't there

#2: Why "group them all into one"? It's obvious they were all protesting together, so no doubt shared the same ideology.

"Summarise all of their lives into one political agenda for me."

This is a ridiculous request. Their "political agenda" seems pretty obvious. And again, they are all protesting together under the same banners. The pictures make that quite obvious.

I would say that the point is your entire post is ridiculous.

The author was hardly "polarizing the debate", nor was he "shooting a political event with a heavy bias".

"Repeated use of the term 'white supremacist' with no context."

Um..."white supremacist" was actually only used once. The term "white supremacy" was used seven times to identify what the protestors were marching against. I thought you said you read the article.

"This past weekend was the “Long Island Unite Against White Supremacy” march in Wantagh, New York. **It was a response to the Capitol riots from days before and specifically targeted towards the disparity in policing on display in that insurrection versus Black Lives Matter protestors**"

It was not just a "BLM" protest. Reading comprehension is fun!

Your trying to say white people who oppose BLM are not racist? lol! Okay! If you say so, I guess.

"Logically, if the march is against white supremacy, if you’re showing up to protest the march, you’re tacitly indicating you support white supremacy." Kinda hard to argue against that. But, go for it!

"I approached them to take some photos, and the response showed a gross demonstration of racism and misunderstanding of photographer’s rights to photograph in public spaces."

The author didn't have to "imply" anything. The subjects proved their true colors on their own. Nor did he ever deny that there might be other reasons why "people might align themselves with a cause", so you can't really say that he doesn't see "the humanity" of his subjects. He was telling us about his experience as a photojournalist, who is a person of color, trying to document an event, and how he is treated because of his skin color.

And, not that it's any of your business, photography is simply a hobby for me, so I come here to learn new things from the articles and sometimes from the comments. I'm not concerned with having a "portfolio". Don't be a creepy stalker.

You seem defensive. I won't assume anything. I don't think I need to.

Besides, it's not my problem if you can't comprehend what the article is *actually* about, instead, trying to make it about your own "ideals" when it comes to photojournalism and how the author, in your opinion, has failed to follow them. (Here's a hint: it's about his *personal* experiences as a photojournalist who happens to be a person of color. "If you’re a photographer of color, those two intersections carry an even greater risk at these kinds of protests.").

BTW, nice ad hominem. lol!

"You're assuming what the authors intent was."

No I'm not. You're ignoring it. Or trying to deflect from it.

"I think the biggest difference between you and me is that I don't need to nut-swing off the nearest POC to prove I'm not racist." Wow! You *are* defensive! Where did that come from?

"This article has some serious and inherent flaws that could put the author in danger." By writing about his experiences? Do tell!

"You trying to prove his nobility by clambering over trending issues is laughable." I'm not even sure where you're trying to go with this.

"The fact that you're "here to learn" while ignoring those with relevant experience even more so." I'm here to learn about techniques and equipment and such. As a former combat medic, after what I've seen and experienced, I hardly need a "former combat photographer" to lecture me on danger.

Again, the article is about his *personal* experiences. "I’ve covered quite a few protests". It doesn't sound like it's his first rodeo. It sounds like he knows what he's doing, just that it's more dangerous now because of the negative reactions from *some* people because of his skin color. I see nothing to indicate he play loose with his personal safety, nor is he trying to only portray one side of a protest.


That's the sound of the point of my comment going right over your head!


It’s not my first rodeo, Graham. And it’s certainly a more dangerous climate than four years ago. Not just for journalists, who have been called “enemy of the people” but also minorities, who have been treated as such by the president and his supporters. That’s not an opinion. It’s observable fact. And I fall into both the “minority” and “journalist” camps.

"intent on villifying"

Facts not in evidence.

I absolutely love that this dude was like "WHY ARE YOU HERE?? 176 COMMENTS BUT NO PICTURES!!" when a majority of people on here don't upload many or any photos. I do occasionally for fun, but it's not like this is my online portfolio or something.

What a strange thing to come at a person with.

Graham here has shown multiple times that he will try to come at people with anything he can, even if it is totally irrelevant. Thats what you do when you‘re wrong but do not want to admit it.

That's a type of gaslighting that his group commonly employs. Because their soon to be in prison and possibly executed for high crimes lord did for five years.

The one guy said "you don't know who our families is". I think Tony Soprano lived out on Long Island. Hmmm.

"As a 'journalist' you have a moral obligation to remain neutral"

This is often said (usually by conservatives) and it's frankly an utterly stupid notion and has never been the case. A person cannot remain "neutral" on issues like "do black people's lives matter? Is white supremacy okay?"

A journalist has an obligation to not distort the truth or ignore context in support of their own beliefs, but they have no obligation to not take a stance on issues.

I suppose if you believe that, though, the entirety of Fox News is not actually news, right?

I agree that there is an obligation to report events as they really happened - again, like I said, you can't ignore context in favor of your own bias.

But that doesn't mean you have to "remain neutral." You can be a supporter of the BLM movement and still fairly document events at a BLM protest or counter-protest.

This entire of idea of "we have to be fair to both sides" has been one of the biggest problems across all media (except Fox News) for the past five years. When one side is a bunch of seditionist, white supremacist terrorists storming the home of our Congress.... there's no being fair about that.

Some things are simply wrong. Dancing around it is a huge problem.

Where did I say you were a conservative or that you love Fox News? Ironic thing to say when claiming it is I who skimmed a comment.

I said "USUALLY by conservatives" and I asked if, given your argument, whether you would agree that Fox News is not actually news or journalism.

But, the fact that you assumed I was talking about you pretty much answers that question, which was never actually asked.

You also previously downvoted Max's comment - now I see you have changed it after I pointed out how insane it is that anyone would dislike such a comment. That's actually extremely funny.

Above you also said "Yet anyone opposing BLM is branded racist? Repeated references to support of Trump with implied racist undertones."

So I think it's pretty clear where you stand on this. People who oppose BLM are, indeed, racists, and people who support Trump are also, indeed, racists. I'm sorry, I know it makes you uncomfortable to think about how you're racist, but you could always stop being that.

White people care more about being called racist than they do about actual racism. So you're not alone.

"You're so intent on proving yourself right that you're not actually listening to anything that is said."


Pot, meet kettle!

When one remains "neutral" in the name of "objective journalism," the question becomes - Whose objectivity are we holding above others?

But isn't that the essence of photojournalism? To put yourself in harm's way in order to document an event. Regardless of your political opinion - which you can still have and I guess it is probably impossible to not have an opinion on something.

By your logic Wasim should not have been there and do his job because of the color of his skin which makes him more vulnerable to violence from the people he is reporting on.

If that is what you imply - which I don't know - then it would be very problematic and the essence of the problem he is reporting about.

First of all I said: "if that is what you imply - which I don't know..." in order to get to know your reasoning behind your statements. I did not say that you implied this. I just stated IF you imply this.

Secondly you uttered those statements above:

"Yet you're placing yourself deliberately in harms way in situations that seem to be so easily avoidable. If you really, genuinely, honestly think that you are such a high value target to these people, then why are you placing your body between this aggressive group of incredible racists/journalist killers and the place they clearly need to be?"

"I think you need to be taking your personal safety more seriously if you really do think you're in as much danger as you are telling people you are."

"Afterall, the closest you have to come to legitimate danger is by putting yourself in the line of an aggressive crowd and almost had them use a loud speaker on you. An easily avoidable situation, regardless of politics."

So I am asking you - as an ex former combat camera photographer yourself and in order to have an honest discussion - what Wasim should have done differently as a POC when photographing those guys. Not be there? Trying to take photographs from a mile away with a 600mm lens? Have a security team around him at all times? I honestly don't know.

And as he stated in his article:
"I wasn’t wearing any clothing or any markings to show that I was affiliated with either side..."

From the information he gave us I drew the conclusion that the color of his skin had an impact on the ways he was able to take his photographs.
A white photographer maybe could have put on some "Maga-gear" and dissolve into the crowd in order to stay invisible. But he cannot do it because of the color of his skin.

So does that mean he should not be able to report about it? What is your proposal? I honestly want to know...

You yourself said:
"If I'm being brutally honest, as a former combat camera photographer who is used to shooting overseas where I am the minority in terms of my ethnicity, you are playing a very dangerous game and ought to exercise more caution."

So I draw from your experience that the color of your skin ar at least the appearance being from another ethnicity must have played a great deal as how you were able to perform your duty.

And let's be honest about the people that wear "Fuck Antifa" shirts and hoodies. I live in Germany and we have our history with facism which killed millions of people and we still have to deal with right wing extremism up to this very day.
Anyone who wears a "Fuck Antifa" T-Shirt - which is his right to do in the US - is in my opinion racist. Because all that "Antifa" means is to be anti-facist. If you wear such a shirt you make a statement that you don't like or even hate people that are against facism. I myself am against facism. So probably I might be Antifa too in their world view. Although I don't go to rallies or demonstrations. I just don't like fascism.

And BTW. I really like your images and saw them many times discussed by the Fstoppers guys.
We might have totally different point of views on political issues I still like them. ;)
Even though you downvoted me a couple of times.

So what you are saying is that a public street in what is essentially my hometown is a "hostile environment" because I'm a person of color. That my standing in a public street antagonizes people. I didn't get the chance to greet them. Before opening my mouth, they told me to go across the street.

I have every right to get as close as I want to photograph on a public street, just as they have every right to not be there if they don't want to get photographed. You're looking at this from a position of privilege, Graham.

Hi Graham. First of all thank you for liking my work.

And I also hope we can have a level-headed discussion. I am all for it. I find it generally hard to do that because emotions get really high at a very fast pace in social media these days.

I read your tips for acting in a hostile environment carefully and in general I find them pretty reasonable. Regardless of skin color considerations. More to that below.

Although I am not doing this kind of work at all I guess I would have approached this kind of coverage similarly as you described it. Even though I am white (red in summer) I generally always try to be aware of my surroundings, so I don't know if I would have embedded myself as deep as Wasim did. But then again I am not a photo journalist.

Still I have to disagree on certain points you made:
When you talk of a "hostile environment" - which it clearly was according to Wasim's account and the videos and images he took and also by your description of the situation - the hostility towards him was in my opinion rooted in racism which in fact is mostly about skin color, ethnicity and/or religious beliefs.

The white "counter-protesters" seemed to have been there because of Black Lives Matter protesters which were there because of the Capitol riots which were mostly wearing Mega-gear and confederation flags. The latter is widely acknowledged as a symbol of oppression against black people in US history. Even though supporters of this symbol continue to argue otherwise.

But anyone who condemns equality for all POC or "fights" against racism has at least the burden of proof to show that he is NOT a racist. I am being very sensitive in my wording here and I specifically don't mean you but the guys Wasim had to deal with.

So in my opinion the color of Wasim's skin seemed to HAVE an importance and an impact on those people he was dealing with and how they interacted with him.

Now you could make the argument - and you actually did - that he could try not to antagonize them and "greet" them. And that probably would have been my approach too.

BUT I would bet on it that this kind of conversation might have a different outcome when you are a WHITE person trying to do that rather than a POC.

I don't know if you agree with me on this but this my actual belief. We will never know regarding THIS situation but I am sure Wasim has more experience concerning these kind of situations.

I have a white privilege and I know that because I lived a few years with a black flat mate and he really stood out in the crowd here where I live because of his dark skin color. And he regularly told me about his experiences with racism. If he wanted to hail a cab here in Berlin no car would stop for him at 3am in the morning (and he worked in clubs so that was a regular occurence). If I want to hail a cab at this time - no problem. But I digress.

So of course Wasim could have been standing at the side of the street. He could have used longer lenses. But I doubt that these precautions would have been necessary for a white guy. At least the greeting part and the attempt to talk to "fighting age males" might have a different outcome.

But if the very fact that you have another skin color can be the reason for unnecessary aggression against you I would argue that the color of his skin plays a major role in how you conduct yourself in the midst of a hostile group. Again hostile because they probably don't like the color of your skin.

If those guys were protesting against nuclear weapons or against a war in a foreign country his skin color might not have any relevance. Might have. But in THIS case where skin color is part of what they protesting against (?) I think it is reasonable to assume that he has a different experience than I guess you might have.

What I find distressing as well is that he is NOT in a foreign country in a war zone. He is in HIS homeland. And he is essentially in HIS hometown. On public grounds. Doing what is HIS right to do.

Let me be clear:
I think of you personally by no means of being racist. I just want to have a discussion. But I just think that YOU would have a different experience than Wasim had in dealing with those guys - only based on the color of your skin. Probably also because you would approach them differently - but this is not my point.

So even if you are trying NOT to bring up the color of his skin - it is a major part in this story. If we want it to be or not.

And I assume that those guys he talked with were not in on a civilized discussion like we have. ;)
And if you disagree with me on those points above. I can live with that.

Wasim, thank you for this article and sharing your experiences of documenting protests. I despair of humanity when I see how some people treat their fellow humans and countrymen.

So far two people have downvoted this - the most balanced and least political comment you could imagine. All you said was "wow it sucks when people are hateful" and two people so far thought "nope, I dislike that statement."

Kinda proves the point, doesn't it.

Indeed your country is full of racists, don't you see it? About half of the voters are not. The other half is. Anyone supporting a person like Trump is either a racist or at least dump. And if I take a look at the congress, I see a lot if people there who still support a racist, soon to be former, president.

"There are about enough white supremacists in America to fill a couple of Joe Biden rallies, no more"


They were all at the Trump rallies! "Jews will not replace us! " "Blood and soil!!"

C'mon! You can do it Billy! Say it out proud and loud! You know you want to!

"I wasn’t wearing any clothing or any markings to show that I was affiliated with either side, though I was still treated like an enemy combatant by one side and embraced with open arms by the other."

You didn't need any identifying clothing. Obviously, your skin color was enough of a trigger for hate for one side, as opposed to the other.

Photojournalism is important work. Be safe!

What is a "race grifter"?

In this site we should be talking about the color of the photo not the color of the photographer.

So lets see - "as a minority photographer" "threats against photographers come from law enforcement", I don't know of any data to support this claim. How about just be a photographer. If black live do matter, then words and the use of words matter even more. From my perspective this article is weighted with sharp curve. While I think the post is a new low point for Fstoppers, I defend their right to publish. Why? They own it, and the bill of rights grant them this right. Not with standing the freedom of the press. I also defend the writer the right to express his views here, though I think it is poorly written and edited. I am not attacking the writer or Fstoppers, but simply expressing my view. If anyone has a camera (and millions have been sold) citizen journalist are springing up like popcorn. When I view all the protests for the last year, I am amazed how many "camera rigs" video, iphone's, etc etc are in the streets capturing. Like any good video editor, one can cut and paste an event to make it say what the editor wants it to say. I have watched with my eyes BLM folk knock camera and video gear off others. It was disgusting. Do the "white guy: or "right wing" folk do the same as BLM folk? Yes. This is a wonderful time to capture street events of protest of any kind. If I want to make BLM folk look bad, give me a camera and I will show you how, though I would be dishonest in being objective, and the same is true if I go after "white folk" . At my age of 74 I know I carry a certain perspective about life than those in their 30's. I look for honor, authenticity and truth tellers in the visual media. When I see hundreds of Camera phone, amateur video rigs on the streets, discernment is most difficult.

You say "race grifter" as if my race has provided me with some advantage in my life. It has not. With the discrimination and harassment I faced growing up, the government-induced harassment and discrimination after 9/11, and now this, believe me, that's very far from the truth. I wish I didn't have to write articles drawing attention to this problem.

But you did. And at least I am grateful that you did. This is not about politics, this is about human rights. This is about us. You have the undeniable right to talk about it, especially since this is not your first article here and it is also about photography. Please report back in some time when things might have improved after the change of presidency - and if not.

Mr. Ahmad needn't accuse you at all.

You've proven yourself to be a racist white-supremacist with your posts.

Lol @ Candice Owens!

You never had an argument to start with. lol!

I'm commenting from here in the UK, and it's so sad to read these accounts. Where does all this venim come from? But hats off to you for being brave enough to record these events. We have a similar, but not nearly on the same scale, right-wing extreemists here. I just hope sense and fairness will prevail in the coming years. . .

Prove there "aren't any white supremacists".

Either racist or just stupid or both at the same time. What disgusting losers!

When I was hired in my current role, I taught multimedia/photojournalism at the college level for 10 years and worked in journalism for another 6 before that and hold a couple of degrees. So for what it's worth, I am deeply, deeply offended about your diversity hire comment, Billy. Check your privilege.

I've decided I've wasted enough time on that willfully ignorant, low-intellect, racist troll. He's obviously desperate for attention, probably because he has spent his entire life making nothing but poor life choices, and is now such a loser he has to troll websites for attention. Best to starve him of the attention he is so obviously desperate for. (This will probably make him hilariously more deranged in a desperate attempt to get replies!)

I posted plenty of other links as well. Candice Owens is hardly an expert on the extent of white supremacy and, most certainly doesn't speak for all black Americans, which certainly highlights the weakness of your "argument". Our own government has said right-wing extremism (which includes white supremacists) is a greater threat to our country than foreign terrorists.


"That's the trouble with conservatives they believe any old crap people tell them" (like "stolen elections" and pedophile rings in pizza parlor basements, "jade helm" etc)


You should take your racist BS to Redstate where you belong.

Still waiting on you to prove your statement "there aren't any white supremacists". Try to remember, I never made any claims about "Santa Claus", so maybe you can try to stay on topic and post some actual evidence. BTW, Candice Owens never said there were no white supremacists, she claimed it wasn't a concern. How did her "Blexit" work out? lol!

Since you continually refuse to prove your claim, I guess the only (racist) loser here seems to be you.



He certainly seems to lead a sad, lonely existence!

The reasons for that are quite obvious!

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