When protests erupted around the world after the death of George Floyd, who died in the custody of Minneapolis police, it seemed like the world took to the streets.
While we all depend on the Internet for the distribution of news, for those who make a living by making images, this particular moment became a time to document the reality of the movement and to demonstrate what they see as their shared responsibility to protect the narratives and moral identities of Black protesters in an era of misinformation.
World re-known street style photographer, Mangue Bazima's photographic signature has always been about celebrating people. Shadowing the famed fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham, his work derived from shooting humans most authentically. Typically tucked behind a camera, Banzima photographs Anna Wintour, Eva Chen, and Dapper Dan- and posts them to his @quistyle Instagram account.
However, At the end of May, when anti-racism protests began in New York, he picked up his camera for a more significant cause. The New Yorker has been capturing images of the Black Lives Matter protests, to tell the stories of pain and triumph at through his lens.
BET spoke with Banzima about pivoting and how each of his subjects is uniquely composed to help translate the story he is trying to portray.
As a Black man, as a father, and as a creative in America, Banzima knew he had to take to the streets to document the events that are taking place around the world whether his following agreed with him or not.
"We all love the beautiful things are photographed during Fashion Week. And I've got an eye for great things and a beautiful design. But at the same time, I'm a human that lives in this world. I'm a Black man. And I will not ignore the societal crisis that we are in right now. So, I don't want to focus on the aesthetic aspects of fashion. These protests are a part of history, if I lose followers, ok, that's fine."
Back in April, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Banzima turned his camera to photograph healthcare workers to shed light on their crucial work. He explains that the only difference between shooting an influencer during fashion week and an essential worker is the clothes they wear.
"Yes, you can have fancy clothes on or a uniform. I want to use my eye to find the beauty in whoever that person is. So, what are you carrying the Chanel bag or surgical equipment, to me, it's not about those products, it's about the human being behind those products."
We've been seeing an influx of brands and leaders of fashion publications participating in protesting, after they were known in the past for microaggressions or even acts of racism. Banzima believes they will continue to be exposed for who they are. We need to focus on the brands that have been supporting Black lives.
"They're jumping on the wagon, it's trending, they want to be perceived some way. However, there's some real emerging brands, and there are some iconic and established brands out there that have been speaking about these topics for a while, so we know who those guys are. We will continue to support them."
Staying creative during a pandemic and protests may be challenging for some, but for Banzima, he thrives in these environments. Spending time with his wife and daughter, Farrah, and tuning into the virtual club mixes have been food for his soul.
"We are positively using this moment to help our beautiful daughter adapt to different facets and challenges of life. We want her to be kind and respectful, and to show compassion and love to others. These are all great value-added lessons for this moment in time. I refuse to succumb to panic, anxiety, and fear. I've decided to turn this into an opportunity for growth."
The famed photographer explains that it's been rough for BIPOC since 2016, but he truly has hope, and through his art, people will have the courage to continue to fight and stand up for what they believe.
"I am in disbelief that the overall mood surrounding my work in these six months has done a 180. In April, I was fixated on celebrating our healthcare workers for their hard work during this pandemic. In June, I am getting pushed around by cops while trying to document what is the apparent result of more aggressive and even murderous behavior that comes from the police force, which are the protests happening in the streets of New York City."
However, Banzima has always put humanity first.
"When humanity kicks in, it's important always to save it. So, when Eric Gardner happened, I was out on the street with those protesters on the Westside highway leading the way up into Harlem. We walked from lower Manhattan to 125th Street, midnight until 3 am, I've always used by voice the best way I know how."
During the protests the past few weeks, he's seen an enormous number of Black and White people come together but also witnessed racial-injustices to young Black men and women.
"People were being arrested for no reason. Bottles of waters were flying over the cops' heads and sometimes landing right in their faces. My fatherly instinct kicked in when things heated up, and I considered removing myself from the scene to protect myself, but the photojournalist in me refuse," Banzima explains. "I felt just as necessary in the fight against systemic racism and know that I am responsible for ensuring that my daughter doesn't have to share in the fears and injustice that I had."
Banzima recalls a time where he has experienced racial injustice but refuses to allow it to slow him down. "Like people of my race in any other profession, I am not judged by my skills and accomplishments, but I am judged by the color of my skin. I have dealt with racial injustice many times, but I refuse to let any racist slow me down or tell me I can't do it, or I don't fit in."
Like many professional artists, Banzima will continue to use his voice through art to evoke change. He understands that not all cops are bad guys, but there has to be accountability for their actions.
"George Floyd didn't deserve to die the way he died. And we need to have a voice. Most cops are good cops; it's that small majority abusing their power with excessive force. I have friends that are police officers, and they disagree with what is happening to our people. But, us, the people, we got power. So, I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. And I'm gonna keep putting those visuals out there because I stand behind my visual, and they read the truth."
For other creatives looking for inspiration, Banzima advises following social media accounts and platforms that support change.
"When we say, "Black Lives Matter," all we are saying and demanding is equality, and there are many organizations, platforms, and individuals out there doing great things. To name a few: @Heforshe, @unwomen, Reform Alliance, and you must follow @RobertFrederickSmith. I am also helping and supporting @adembunkeddeko to get elected into the United States Congress. We need new faces and smart, young, Black people in Washington.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.
(Photo courtesy of Mangue Banzima)
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