This essay reframes street photography in terms of the images and videos taken by bystanders who find themselves witness to egregious acts of state-sanctioned police violence against black and brown bodies in the United States. Along the way, it challenges the belief that bystanders are “innocent” observers and investigates the meaning of “evidence” and the role of representation in order to argue for a model of seeing that can simultaneously reveal moments of ongoing racial debilitation and work to create new political subjects capable of transformative collective action. The goal is twofold: (1) to disrupt a history of photography—and more specifically a history of street photography—that emphasizes innovation, biography, and universal experience; and (2) to reorient what it means to discuss the politics of the image (in particular, the digital “documentary” image) away from a discourse that either privileges “uncertainty” or understands images as empty simulations, and toward one that acknowledges representation’s complexity but also its ongoing power. In the United States, we may never be able to tell a story in and about public space without replaying scenes of violence and targeted assault, but this essay argues that finding ways to let voices and images from the past—both tragic and redemptive—resonate in the present and speak to us in the future, may provide some way forward.
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