Free Press photographers reframe 2020 protests around overlooked stories

When protests erupted in the streets of Richmond after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Regina Boone and Sandra Sellars were there to capture the unrest.

Boone and Sellars are both photojournalists for the Richmond Free Press, and photos they took during the protests are now on display at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design.”Protest against re(framing)” exposure.

Boone said the pair used to cover protests, but “this summer of 2020 was definitely unlike anything we’ve ever put together. It was overwhelming… as black people. It was refreshing in some ways to see. And then it was scary in some ways.

Sellars attributed the different feeling of the protests that summer to their length and the “many shades of people from all walks of life” that came out of them. This, combined with the unprecedented scale of the protests in Richmond, showed Boone and Sellars the magnitude of the moment.

Sellars recounted how, after arriving at the scene on the first night, cars were unable to drive down Broad Street because protesters were filling all four lanes.

“No traffic at all. It was all people,” Sellars said.

As Boone recounts, that’s when they realized they “were in it for the long, very long haul.”

The two journalists spent 65 consecutive days covering the protests, taking hundreds of thousands of photos.

Although both photographers said they found it thrilling, they both said they were still processing the trauma caused by the experience.

“We also feel everything we see. So some days I just had to put my camera down and sit on the sidewalk, and sometimes just breathe,” Boone said. “Because I feel like when we push the shutter, it actually imprints itself on our souls. And I think people don’t really understand that sometimes everything we see stays with us.

Boone said they advanced, “We just had to do it for our readers, for our history books, and for ourselves.”

As protests continued through the summer, Boone and Sellars said they felt the media was too focused on a few instances of looting and vandalism, although the protests were, overall, peaceful.

A banner advertising the “(Re)Framing Protest” exhibit hangs outside the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design.

Sellars said in response to this that they put more effort into neglected narratives. So when the Branch proposed to create the “Re(Framing) Protest” exhibit, the two already had ideas about how to broaden the focus to include positive narratives.

To do this, they decided to limit the exhibit to 89 photos that they believe capture the community built by the protesters that summer. As Boone said, the heart of this community was around the graffiti-covered Robert E. Lee Monument, an area that protesters renamed Marcus-David Peters Circle in honor of a man killed by police in Richmond in 2018.

Beginning at the height of the protests in the summer of 2020 and until a fence was put in place in January 2021, the circle was often filled with community members and activists coming together to remember those killed in the aftermath of police brutality and other racial injustices in America. past. These spontaneous gatherings took place against the backdrop of community kitchens, political graffiti and flower-filled memorials.

Boone recalled a few specific incidents, “like when all the cellists got together and then different people came and knew the area where people were planting gardens.”

However, protesters have still called for the removal of Confederate monuments, while taking steps to remove statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Williams Carter Wickham. In response, the city began dismantling the remaining statues along Monument Avenue that summer, although the Lee Monument was not removed until September 2021, following a lengthy legal battle.

It’s something the two have said they feel conflicted about.

“As we were going there every day and you see the art that was on the monument, the base and even around the fence that is there it started to feel good maybe they should just keep going . Because it was really in the context. But I understand why people wanted it to go down,” Sellars said.

Boone shared that sentiment and said that “after all these days, then just to see it go, even if this evil had to go. There is always a loss of love there.

On the other hand, Boone said his father, Raymond Boone, founder of the Free Press, would probably have celebrated the removal of Lee’s statue.

“He always preached to the Free Press that this was a loser’s avenue and he always called for these statues to be taken down. And just because the statues fall doesn’t mean the work stops,” Boone said.

Boone and Sellars continue to have their cameras ready to capture news from the field for the Richmond Free Press. And their photos will continue to inform visitors to the Branch Museum until 9/11.