What It’s Like Taking Pictures of Cops in Ferguson (Photos)

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Aug. 19 2014 6:45 PM
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Taking Photos in Ferguson

What it’s like to shoot the police when it seems like the police might shoot you.

swat team, fully assembled
Swat Team, Fully Assembled.

Jamelle Bouie

For the most part, I have one rule for photography: Get close.

Partly, this is a technical issue. I own a single telephoto zoom lens, and given its length—80 to 200mm—it’s not especially versatile. For most photos, I use a collection of prime lenses—15mm, 40mm, and 70mm—which covers most situations.

Jamelle Bouie Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie is a Slate staff writer covering politics, policy, and race.

What it means, however, is that if I want to get a portrait, or a scene, or a view of the landscape, I have to physically position myself—I can’t rely on the lens to close the distance.

This is fine when you’re photographing protests and demonstrations. In Ferguson, Missouri, where I took these photos on Aug. 13 and 14, most people wanted media coverage and didn’t complain when I was in their face, snapping away.

Photographing police, on the other hand, is a different story. As we’ve seen, police in Ferguson aren’t terribly interested in sharing their names or their faces, and get hostile—quickly—when they see cameras. Of the photos in my Ferguson collection, nine are of police. Four were taken with the zoom lens, three with the 70mm, one was with an iPhone, and one—a wide shot of police and armored vehicles—was with the 15mm.

To grab that shot, “SWAT Team, Fully Assembled,” I had to run onto the cleared street, get extremely close to the police, and position myself to get as much of the scene as possible. The police were steadily moving forward and threatening to arrest anyone who got in their way. If you look closely, you’ll see a man looking directly at me. A moment after I got close, his hand gripped his weapon. I took my photos, looked at him, and dashed off the street.

To say that this was unnerving would be an understatement.

"Sorry for My Bad Language."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"No Police Tanks on U.S. Streets."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Positioning.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

County Police.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"Love, Peace & Prayer."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Maria Chappelle-Nadal.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"Don't Shoot."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"Hands Up."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Casey and Nate.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Killer Cops.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

At the Police Station, a Demonstration.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Happy Warrior(?)

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Bored?

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"We Are Here to Stay ..."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Chief Ron Johnson.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Friendlier police.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

More Hands Up.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Aiming.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Marching.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Clean Up.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"Haaaaands Up! Dooooon't Shoot!"

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

SWAT Team, Fully Assembled.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"Mike Did Not Have to Die."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"No Solution but Peaceful Revolution."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

SWAT Team.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"End Police Brutality."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

"If You Want Peace, Work for Justice."

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Chief Jackson.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

At the Loudspeaker.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Religious Leaders.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Demonstrator.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

See more of Jamelle Bouie’s photos on his Flickr.

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