Photos & Projects

Black Lives Matter (through a Petzval 55mm f1.7 MKII Lens) – By Maxime Evangelista

June 20, 2020

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.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm Black and White Setting

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.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting
Using the shallow depth of field at F2-F2.8 allowed me to single this protester out. Doing this did have its backlash as the sign is out of sharpness. However, I don’t think this is an issue as I wanted to capture her expression and the pacifism of the protest in Vienna. At the same time, the sign is still readable.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting
I’m usually not a fan of parents bringing their children to demonstrations but as it is through education that we can get rid of racism I thought it was important to capture this.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting
In one small corner, a group of young dancers were having a dance-off, showing off the importance of hip hop which is traditionally “black culture” and how it affected their lives. I found that using the art of dancing to make their point was very interesting and it allowed for a celebration of culture.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting
Using the shallow depth of field at F2-F2.8 allowed me to single this protester out. Doing this did have its backlash as the sign is out of sharpness. However, I don’t think this is an issue as I wanted to capture her expression and the pacifism of the protest in Vienna. At the same time, the sign is still readable.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting
Coronavirus… maybe not the only pandemic in the world.

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.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mmBlack and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

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.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting

Here are also 3 images I found important :

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting
“Legends Never Die” on the jacket, we can see basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who tragically passed away earlier this year, but when you look at some of the signs other legends never die, other fighters, other influential black politicians, artists, voices echo through history.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting
“Be the change you want to see in the world” Gandhi
Her look, a mix of sadness and hope says it all. She is here protesting peacefully. Resisting peacefully because she believes in a brighter future

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Black and White Setting
In a time of pandemic, I could not miss the “Black lives matter” mask that was made for the protest.

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.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm

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.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Sunset Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Sunset Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Sunset Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Sunset Setting

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.

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Sunset Setting

Sony a7 + Petzval 55mm
Sunset Setting

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.

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Matthias Steck
    June 20, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I like you images here a lot, though I’m not a fan of these “New Petzval”-Lenses (I prefer “normal” vintage lenses on my A7II)
    The color shot of the girl holding up the “No place for racism” sign for me is a really iconic image of the current time. I could look at it again and again. Street photography at it’s best !
    Regards Matthias

    • Reply
      Maxime Evangelista
      June 22, 2020 at 10:31 am

      To be honest I haven’t tried any other vintage lenses on my a7 but I will try more out!
      Thank you very much for the kind words!

  • Reply
    Karl Hamilton
    June 20, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    I don’t see a black liver matters protest all I see are your white people protesting. Some of the shots I do like. If you need to support your pictures with words. Then the picture are worthless. If a photograph provokes an emotion then his has worked. Ordinarily I’m not interested in the camera or lens in documentary photography. Yet your lens has got a unique character. Some nice total work.

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      June 22, 2020 at 10:26 am

      Some white people (and some black people, perhaps you didn’t look hard enough?) are protesting against institutional racism against black people. Not sure why you seem to think that’s a contradiction…

      This is literally a website for writing about photography, so it is only to be expected that photos will be accompanied by words 😉 Besides, the “rule” that a photo must stand on its own has been obsolete for decades, and post-modernism has buried the corpse. Much of the work of Jeff Wall, for instance, is virtually meaningless without context. To appreciate a work like The Storytellers, you need to know that it’s a staged tableau, that the people are descendants of the native peoples of Canada, and so forth. Of course you’re entitled to say that you don’t like the work. But to say that it is “worthless” is a bit of a stretch.

  • Reply
    Geoff
    June 20, 2020 at 4:53 pm

    Excellent post! Wow 50,000 in Vienna!

  • Reply
    Soloman khan
    June 20, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    These images capture the global heartfelt concern regarding man’s unjust treatment along with unspeakabke brutality from people who are supposed to serve care and protect us all. To see 50, 000 protester’s turn out for such a momentous cause is heart warming.it gives hope in times of uncertainty and danger, and rather disturbingly begs the question, that in an enlightened age 2020, should there be a need for a global gathering of protester’s to bring about change by raising awareness, to something that has been perpetuated since the dawn of civilisation, after all, just exactly WHAT kind of leaders do we have that ignore, dismiss, mock and belittle the basic human rights and dignity that we all take for granted. On a final note STUNNING IMAGES.well done 🙂

    • Reply
      Maxime Evangelista
      June 22, 2020 at 10:32 am

      Yes, I totally agree with you! I have other shots taken on Film that also turned out great and which also shows that there is hope for the future!
      Thanks very much for the compliment on the pictures as well!

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