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The Faces of Those Marching for Racial Justice in New York

It can be both mesmerizing and inspiring to see the thousands of people that have filled the streets of cities and towns in the weeks since the police killing of George Floyd. They fan out from parks and squares, fill up side streets, move through thoroughfares, their message amplified by sheer numbers. But Al J. Thompson, a photographer who is originally from Jamaica, and who now lives in Rockland County, just outside of the Bronx, prefers to focus on the faces of the individuals within the surging masses. During recent protests, including those at New York’s City Hall and in the Bronx, Thompson has moved through the crowds looking for subjects, whom he photographs individually or in small groups. He has found that people lately are eager to be a part of the record. Usually, when taking pictures in the streets, just about half of the people he approaches agree to have their portraits taken; in the recent protests, everyone whom he has asked has said yes.

Nyack, New York. June 1, 2020.

When someone agrees to be photographed, he asks them to move to the periphery of the crowd, a half-block or so away from the center of the action. In a turbulent moment, Thompson’s portraits are notable for their quietude. “I almost feel like I’ve been in the minority here,” Thompson said. “Violent imagery has its day. But where I come in, what I like to see is not the chaos.” Thompson used to work in fashion, among other industries, and says that fashion photography gave him an education—even when shooting a portrait in the busy and crowded setting of a protest, he is attuned to the need to arrange the light, the sitters, their clothes, and their faces to the best effect.

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