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Portraits of protesters aim for 'stillness' over chaos

Photographer Atillio D'Agnostino, artist and organizer De Andrea Nichols and activist Charles Wade are working to create an image of Ferguson protesters that contradicts the pictures of rage and violence often associated with the protests.

Nichols says a portrait’s focus provides an alternative perspective to common media representation of protesters amid chaos. “In media you see them in the rightful rage or anger and that’s all that the rest of the world gets,” she said, “This project allows that stillness of just looking at the beauty of the people in this movement.”

D'Agnostino, Nichols and Wade met through various protest connections. Both Wade and Nichols were integral in forming the project and soliciting participants. Nichols also documents some of the sessions and was featured as the 50th post. According to Nichols, selections from the project are being considered by Kevin Strait for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

D'Agnostino does the primary photographic work. He says the perspectives put forth by police and government official contrast remarkably with his experiences engaging with protesters.

“They are not interested nor capable in doing anything that would make them dangerous to our community or society yet they’re perpetually met with the reaction by our government leaders, authority, police, that insinuates in some way that they are violent or dangerous,” said the photographer.

D'Agnostino said he felt that his images would help viewers connect with protesters on an emotional level far from the stresses of late nights, tear gas and police lines.   

“Protest is about love and duty, not destruction,” he said.

Nichols sees the project as an act that honors connections that have developed among protesters on a personal level. Shoots range from one participant to sometimes seven or eight in a day. According to Nichols, people often trade stories about their experiences while waiting for their picture to be taken. She says the project gives a broader perspective than what can be seen by followers on twitter or watching talk shows. 

Charli Cookseysat for a portrait the day the project released its fiftieth image. Cooksey said she entered the protest after seeing an image of Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, holding a sign saying “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!” She said the project shows the variety of people engaged in the protests up to this point.   

“As a St. Louis native from North City I think that it’s important for us to realize that the face of this movement is very dynamic and it’s comprehensive,” Cooksey said.

Cooksey said she feels a responsibility to participate in the protests because they highlight a growing trend of deaths at the hands of police.

“If I chose not to take action, it would have haunted me in my dreams,” she said.    

She also said the Department of Justice report released last week further affirmed what she already believed. 

The project’s creators intend to continue through the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death next August.