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Ferguson Photo Show Challenges Expectations For Protest Imagery

Chris Renteria's portrait of an Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper assigned to protest detail re: Ferguson
Courtesy of Chris Renteria

This Friday the Kranzberg Arts Center opens a photo show challenging popular media representations of events in Ferguson. The photographers focused the lives of Ferguson residents, details, portraiture, and children instead of just conflict. Participating photographer Chris Renteria, 40, saw unity where many see division.

“Whether I looked through my lens and saw a police officer in riot gear holding an assault rifle, or a 2-year-old in his mom’s arms as she’s fist-raised and chanting - in each person there’s humanity,” said Renteria.

Child displays Hands Up pose common during Ferguson-related protests
Credit Courtesy of Chris Renteria
Child displays Hands Up pose common during Ferguson-related protests

As a whole the Kranzberg’s exhibit Wade in the Water: A Photo Retrospective of the Ferguson Protests, addresses Ferguson experiences that might be overlooked amid images of chaos, police violence, and indignation. The show was organized by local artist Damon Davis, whose work recently appeared on CNN and The New York Observer. Renteria doesn’t relish being out during moments of conflict and feels a responsibility to portray Ferguson and the protests in their entirety. 

“There are people that are basically crying out for help saying ‘hey, listen to our story, you know this is happening and we want it to be told,’” he said.

Renteria said he feels an additional responsibility as the father of a 7 year old. He intends his work to address both how children deal with situations of civil disobedience and social conflict, and how parents communicate with their children about these “real world” events.

Twenty three year old Katherine Reynolds’ work is featured alongside Renteria and photographer Adrian O. Walker. Her work also documents children and the personal side of Ferguson related protests. Reynolds speaks with her subjects, discussing their experiences, before taking their photo.

“When I go down there and shoot it’s not necessarily to get what is happening but the feeling and the emotions of the people,” she said.

Reynolds tries to avoid sensationalist images, preferring to capture moments of solitude and the seemingly commonplace. Reynolds says she tries to avoid posting her images to Instagram or Facebook because that opportunistic urge to share strikes her as a dishonest representation of the experience. She said photographers must ask if they’re paying as much attention to the little things that happen daily as they do to the creation of “epic” or dramatic images.

“Are you documenting people giving each other water as opposed to a car on fire,” Reynolds said.

Woman listens to two men preach on W. Florissant in Ferguson
Credit Courtesy of Katherine Reynolds
Woman listens to two men preach on West Florissant

One of her favorite images shows a woman dressed in purple, pointing at the sky. Reynolds came across the woman while she listened to two men preach in the calm of mid-day on West Florissant. The woman told the young photographer, that the outcome of the protests was all up to God, and asked her to continue documenting area residents and protests. 

Reynolds says the show provides a unique chance to experience the three photographers' images outside of a screen. She compares the experience to viewing the Mona Lisa in person as opposed to seeing it in a magazine or on a postcard. To create images worth of display she keeps one thing in mind.

“It’s bigger than you, it’s bigger than your pictures, it’s bigger than your camera,” she says of anyone documenting the protests, herself included.