Popular street photography account, Life Is Street, came under fire on the day of Black Out Tuesday. The owner of the account uses white squares as part of the aesthetic on the feed. It so happened that on Black Out Tuesday, he posted a white square, causing an angry response from many of his followers. But as people were quick to point the finger, labeling him “insensitive” and accusing him of having “no solidarity,” they overlooked one key point: the man is black.
BLM in the Photography Community
Over a week has passed since the owner of Life is Street, Fabrice Cilpa, published his white square. I knew about it shortly after it happened, but I’ve taken the time to digest it, while also trying to understand all that’s going on in the world in 2020. I wanted to report on it as soon as I was made aware. But I felt my emotions about the topic were so deep that I couldn’t do so with a mind willing to see both sides.
Photographers posting a black square had my full support, but as I wrote on my feed, doing so isn’t enough. I understand the importance of solidarity, especially during a time when society is being torn apart by those at the top. People of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds have to unite and tell those that bring a stain on humanity that enough is enough. The sad reality is, however, that many of the photographers who posted black squares or directed their outrage towards Clipa will have felt like they’ve done their bit. They haven’t. We haven’t. Fighting racism can’t just come in waves; it’s a constant.
People Are Angry
In response to many of the comments, Clipa said:
“My solidarity with the movement is expressed by the subjects of the photos posted today and by my skin color because I am a black man … every day!”— Fabrice Cilpa
Over 100 people expressed how they felt. Many of the photographers rejecting the white square were white. That’s white privilege. Because while a section of white people argue about who’s fighting racism better, black people are fighting in every way, every day.
As a white man, I’m in no position to tell the black community how to fight against the injustice they’ve received for centuries. As much as I dislike any form of segregation, I can speak to “my people,” white people.
In all walks of life, including the community that means the most to me (the photography community), we are quick to jump on movements we believe are a necessary cause. And we do so with so much outrage that we often fail to see where we should and shouldn’t direct it. Don’t be angry at a black man that chose not to post a black square on his photography feed. Please, don’t be so quick to judge and point the finger when you’ve not even taken a moment to stop and consider who that person is.
Instead, be angry at the police who kill people of color with zero justification. Be angry at the government who doesn’t do enough or show enough leadership to make the changes needed for society to move forward. Be angry at the client that gave you a gig because you’re white, and not the other applicant because they’re black. Be angry at the publication that included your name in a roundup because you’re white, and not other photographers because they’re black. Be angry at the camera manufacturers that only make a stance against racism when it’s the topic of the moment (or don’t even manage to do that), yet fail to drive that change every day.
I’m not tired of fighting racism. I’d prefer we didn’t have to, but as long as the fight continues, I’ve got all the energy needed to do so. But I am tired of the “I’m fighting racism better than you” mentality that’s sweeping society, including the photo industry. As humans, we can only give so much, and our minds can only handle so much pressure. But we waste our energy fighting about things that are ultimately not as not important – like posting a black square or not – instead of using all that energy to drive towards the root cause of the problem.
I get that people are angry right now. We’re coming off the back of an epidemic, with no certainty that it is over. We’re seeing police brutality at a time when we are at our most vulnerable. But we have to come together in the right way.
I can’t speak for all communities and subcultures, but I do have a voice in the photography community. And if we can manage to deal with the current situation in a healthy and productive way, then we can do our small bit to drive change.