These photos look past the chaos to see the people behind this impassioned fight for equality.
When Natalie Keyssar graduated from art school in 2009, she was convinced she wanted to be a photojournalist instead.
She didn’t want to spend her time by herself in a studio. She wanted to be out in the world, among the people exploring whatever was going on at the time.
She also found while studying painting that subjects that related to current events, activism, and protest movements inspired her. The young artist was using a lot of photojournalism as reference for her paintings in art school.
Keyssar already knew about color and composition from studying art. She just needed to hone her photography skills. She took on internships to get that coveted hands-on experience.
“I think in a lot of ways painting and photography are almost the same thing in certain ways — it’s just a different tool,” she muses.
Keyssar grew up in North Carolina. She says as a kid she was always very aware of, and outraged by, instances involving police brutality.
Then in the fall of 2014, a wave of societal unrest erupted, beginning with the shooting of an unarmed young black man.
On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, just outside St. Louis.
“I had a sense that it was gonna be a really important moment in America, historically,” Keyssar explains. She never gave it a second thought. She just had to go and cover the tragic shooting that would take her on a yearlong journey of documentation and discovery.
Here are 10 of the most powerful images by Keyssar from the #BlackLivesMatter movement:
1. Bishop Derrick Robinson is arrested on Nov. 30, 2014, in Ferguson.
This particular image stands out in Keyssar’s mind, she says, because it encompasses the unrest at the time. Robinson is a prominent leader of the Black Lives Matter movement. She remembers him peacefully protesting outside a Rams game in St. Louis at a public park.
“Riot police just went for him. I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a police officer, but as a journalist, I saw nobody break any kind of law,” Keyssar says. “I just saw five men in full tactical gear tackle a clergyman to the ground and arrest him for peacefully protesting in a public park. That was profoundly disturbing to me, and honestly I think it should be profoundly disturbing to everyone.”
2. Kids dance to music playing from a truck with the words “no shoot, no loot” on Aug. 19, 2014, in Ferguson.
3. Carrie Chambers poses for a photo on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson on Aug. 19, 2014.
4. A protester is bathed in police lights after the Millions March on Dec. 13, 2014, following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
5. Thousands of protesters take to the streets in Baltimore on April 29, 2015, following the death of Freddie Gray.
6. Police dressed in tactical gear enforce a curfew in Baltimore on April 28, 2015.
Keyssar says she was used to seeing other issues abroad. “Seeing this sort of really, really militarized police landscape in this American, sort of traditional stereotypical American landscape was sort of profound for me.”
7. “I love peace and harmony and joy,” said 87-year-old Clara Thornton, pictured below. “I’m praying for both sides … we’re all children of God.”
8. Artist Dimitri Reeves performs Michael Jackson covers in Baltimore on May 1, 2015, after it was announced charges would be filed in the Freddie Gray case.
9. A man in his car shows support to protesters with a gesture in Baltimore on April 28, 2015.
10. Marcus Mopkins wipes off the sweat from his brow before posing for a portrait in Ferguson on Aug. 19, 2014.
This last image is also profoundly special to Keyssar. Marcus was one of the first people she photographed when she got to Ferguson. It was brutally hot that day, but he was dedicated. She considers him her introduction to this powerful experience that began in Ferguson.
“My goal with my work is always to convey nuance and create a jumping off point for a complex and necessary conversation.”
What Keyssar doesn’t want is for her work to reinforce anyone’s biased narrative.
She wants her images from Ferguson, Baltimore, and New York to show the breadth of people, the humanity of those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I really want people to see other people. I think that’s the foundation.”