This article was motivated by the fact that I believe that, as street photographers, it is our duty to document what is currently happening in the world. When I heard about a BLM march in Vienna I decided this is the kind of event I want to document, to capture, and to share.
I am usually more of an analog shooter than a digital shooter however during confinement I got the urge to purchase a new digital camera because the use of film was limited in my apartment. This urge kept growing until I found a second-hand Sony A7. It was a good deal so I bought it.
I tried shooting it but something was off. Everything was too automatic for an analog guy like me. That’s when I thought of getting a fully mechanical lens to get more control of what I was doing. I sought out a Petzval 55mm lens from Lomography and tested it for a weekend. I was immediately hooked and bought it after a successful testing period.
Lomography’s Petzval 55mm f1.7 mk.II
For those who do not know this lens, it is a fully mechanical 55mm f1.7 lens created by Lomography in 2019 inspired by Joseph Maximilian Petzval, that you can mount on mirrorless cameras. In addition to being fully mechanical, it has a unique Bokeh control ring which affects the swirl of the bokeh. This ring goes from a 1 to a 7 rating, 1 being a creamy bokeh and 7 being a crazy drunk swirly one (which is great for portraits after a few beers but I digress).
The fully mechanical aspect of it brought me back to my love for analog, I had a more hands-on experience of what I was doing and this appealed to me. Even though the lens is notorious for portraits I had tested a bit of street photography with it and I found it to be a great ally on the streets. The quick and clickless aperture ring makes it easy to correct exposition rapidly and the focus ring is nice and soft.
Long story short, I love using this lens and I wanted to continue using it for street photography. When I heard about the Black Lives Matter protest in Vienna I thought I would document the event and take advantage of the characteristics of this lens in doing so. So I loaded my bag with my Sony a7 and Leica M3, ready to capture the protest both on film and with the Petzval lens. I ended up using the Petzval lens much more than the Leica.
Black Lives Matter
So off I went getting ready for the protest. Having had the luxury of traveling and living abroad several times and amongst which 4 years in the USA the anti-racism movement spoke to me which added motivation to documenting this protest.
At first, I set my camera to black and white, some will say it’s better to change this in post but I hate post so I try to do the most in-camera. Shooting in black and white seemed like an obvious thing to do. One of my favorite quotes of photography being: “Black and white are the colors of photography. To me, they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.” by Robert Franck.
Hope and Despair… I guess that what 2020 has been so far. Lots of hope for a new year, a better year, lots of despair with all the catastrophes going on in the world. The latest horrors which brought the Black Lives matter to light once again are also a mix of hope and despair. I guess we all felt despair went that horrible video was shared online. How it is possible that in 2020 this can happen? but then again when you see the reactions, the pacific protests in the world, the union, how can we not have any hope for the future? How can we not hope that in the nearest future possible people will not be judged by things they have not chosen in their lives, whether it be their sexuality, the place they were born in, the color of their skin?
I arrived on the scene of the protest and was immediately surprised by the number of young people at the protest. More hope of the future. Vienna might not be the most culturally diverse city in Europe so a big majority of the protesters were white. More hope. Finally, Vienna isn’t famous for its huge protests, it is usually a quiet city with citizens who are more obedient than rebellious but later that evening I learned that there were around 50 000 people who gathered to fight racism. Even more hope.
From the despair, hope appears.
My shooting method was rather simple. Being used to street photography I kept moving around the protest trying to find interesting people, interesting messages. I tried to stay very mobile but was limited by my recent knee surgery. Depending on the shots you will notice the unique Bokeh from the Petzval lens as I tried to single out some protestors with a very narrow depth of field.
At the beginning of the protest the procession was still, many people were gathering and arriving on at the meeting area. I made a point of always staying on the move to try and see as much as possible.
Most of these images are self-explanatory really. It’s sad to think people need to write and protest to get this message out. However, there are certain Images to which I will add a bit more information.
After one hour and about 10-15 minutes of rain, blue skies came out, the procession departed and the peaceful march started. During the walk I continued to roam around, making my way through the crowd and capturing in black and white some of the protestors. I believe black and white made the images more meaningful, more powerful.
The following three pictures are tryptic because I did not know which one to choose and I found all three great, their combination also shows the movement of the protest. I also find the lady’s gaze in the second image very powerful and determined.
Here are also 3 images I found important :
After shooting in black and white and seeing all the devotion to the cause I decided to switch to color, showing the dawn of new hope, of a new light towards the end of the protest.
The first color image I took is probably my favorite of the protest because of the power, the anger, and the determination that comes out of it. I had spotted a guy with a sign “Am I next” and wanted to get a shot of him. When he noticed me he gave me exactly what I wanted. His eyes say it all.
Before arriving at the endpoint the crowd dispersed a little and I had a bit more space to capture some scenes.
Before closing up here are 2 last images. The first of the 50 000 people protesting in Vienna and the second of a young but determined black panther hoping to defend his rights and his place in the world, looking up to his favorite superhero.
I will end this article with a thought that came to my mind when documenting this event :
Everyone has his origin story that makes him unique, some things are determined by our choices, and some by things we do not control. It’s infuriating, unjust, inhumane, to see that the later can still be an issue today.
However, when I see the people of Vienna get together and protest united, I have hope for a better future, a tolerant one, where you can embrace your uniqueness instead of living afraid.