This series titled #DONTSHOOT by my friend and emerging Nigerian-American photographer Hakeem Adewumi, gives us a collection of bold images of young black people with their hands up. This gesture has become the symbol of a movement sparked by the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The series #DONTSHOOT gives us an array of students, scholars, and other civilians taking a bold stand for the camera. The black negative space leaves us with no background noise and so we zero in on individuals’ faces and the palms of their hands. A surrendering pose normally given to police becomes a demanding bodily expression for the lens. The subtle expressions within the bold portraits of each portrait of faces and hands evoke an array of emotions speaking to the climate of the moment as people continue to organize, discuss and mourn over the tragedy in Ferguson and the countless other victims of injustice by police. The hardened and contrasting aesthetic moves the mind between the CCTV camera snapshot, the mugshot, and the street portrait. Hakeem goes so far as to add the sniper target upon his subjects.
In his photography portfolio, Hakeem references the quote by artist/rapper Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) “Good art provides people with a vocabulary about things they cannot articulate.” It is appropriate for the series within the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement and larger awakening of injustice towards blacks. This series allows for a visual conversation around the surveillance of blackness in a police state and the violence against the black body. Photography like #DONTSHOOT brings a third eye to what has been provided by commentators, photojournalists, to bring an artistic form that promotes emotion, imagination, and humanization.
For more on Hakeem Adewumi, see full Bad Girl Confidence interview with the photographer here.
I conclude with the prayer song Umi Says by Mos Def:
As a native to Los Angeles, I became accustomed to being immersed in catcalls, chifladas (in Spanish). Everyday while waiting for the bus, waiting at Ventura Blvd intersections before traffic lights granted my crossing, in my car driving on the 405 or 101 freeway, at the Vallarta’s produce section, looking for my car in a parking lot, bending over to tie my shoe at a park, getting on the red line train, getting off the train, looking up directions on my phone, fixing my hair or shirt in a storefront window reflection on Broadway, yelping a place to eat, picking gum in a North Hollywood liquor store, walking with my mother, my sister, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or picking up bathroom products at CVS, I have endured some type of harassment that made me feel irritated, fatigued, uncomfortable and sometimes very unsafe to the point of tears. This continued to be the case in my travels to Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
When I went away to live in Austin, Texas, the incidents with men on the street dwindled as the anonymous and aggressive culture of catcalling was less customary. This was also the case while living in Nicaragua where a violent patriarchal nature also seemed subdued. Since my return to the City of Angels, I have been more mindful of my experience with these interactions and unlike before, I don’t shrink in their occurrence. Sometimes I push back. Sometimes I respond. This goes against everything I was advised to do growing up. I was always told that responding would only aggravate the situation and enable further interaction. An emotional response would give men what they are looking for. I use to pent up my anger, I use to freeze and avoid eye contact.
In recent interactions, I have fought back with words. I have confronted the situation. Each time, these men have been thrown off unexpectedly. I have been mocked, threatened, and sometimes apologized to. In retrospect, when I push back, I feel better. I do it for myself and for the next women or young girl they target. I never regret the action I took but I do regret doing nothing. I try to photograph or record them when possible. The camera presence in my hand disrupts the exchange between anonymous strangers. I admire Hannah Price who literally turned the catcaller into a project called City of Brotherly Love. I know that her brave action risked her life. I believe women of color are also more directly pursued with these interactions because we are seen with less respectability, influence, and agency.
Hannah Price, who identifies as an African-Mexican-American woman, noticed while living in Philadelphia that she was constantly confronted with catcalls on the street by men. Price believes the aggressive catcalls come out of the urban environment but contrary to my opinion, are not particular to a certain class or race. It happens where there are many people sharing the same public space. Being a photographer, she took on the effort of capturing these men and freezing that quick moment that normally catches so many of us off guard. “I used my life to make an art project.” and we get a glimpse of her perspective in everyday invasive interactions with men.
There are layers to her project because she is photographing men that have a level of sexism and entitlement in their conscience. They are even acting on it through harassment. But we aren’t disconnected from their humanity despite their act. The photographs press us to ask “why?”. Why does this happen? We can see the subject placed in his environment that can result in this social norm. For more on her work, check out her website: hannahprice.com