Read the interview with the photographer following the photo spread!
Support Jessie Sandoval's work, donate at [gofundme.com/Slenderbutter]
(View photo on a new tab, or download for full resolution)
Interview of Ferguson Photographer Jessie Sandoval by Darin (originally considered for publication in the Slingshot newspaper of Berkeley):Darin: Can you describe the metaphysics or the instinctual feeling, the draw of Ferguson...?
Jessie: I felt this in my gut, on the spiritual level. I spoke to some of my brown comrades about how I felt Ferguson calling in my blood. The call of blood. Spilled blood. Thats what I felt.
Darin: In science fiction, the Klingons often speak of feeling the fire of their ancestry in their blood before going into battle. Also, our pal Running Wolf (back in the day) ran across the United States, networking through the color lines with various grassroots groups along his route, and he ran in support of Mumia Abu Jamal! For him, that was a metaphysical thing deeply related to his ancestry and his nationality (as an Indigenous warrior). Athletic people who have used controlled substances have often related that good exercise is better than drugs. It seems like your epiphanology in Ferguson is similar.
Jessie: Wow. Yes, I spoke with my two comrades (who went with me to Ferguson) and they also experienced this, so we really tripped out about it. It was really beautiful to share this with them. But I don't wish to involve them here, or put words in their mouths because they're very private and conscious about security culture. When I was out there taking photos, then and now, it almost feels like I'm in a little chamber of quiet meditation, or trance. I know it sounds crazy becuz, usually, I'm photographing very loud, very fast moving masses of people, and physically dynamic individuals, who are in the midst of very emotionally charged spectacles of resistance. Like photographing volcanos. But, for some reason, I feel like a small little moth, fluttering around them, snapping photos. It's almost like I'm invisible. The camera allows me a certain detachment. Except, for the march on Ferguson, the big Saturday march. That was the first time I cried during a march while photographing. I think it was the rain. It forced me to get back in my body.
Darin: Why did you get so emotional during the big Saturday march?
Jessie: There was a little boy, about 7 years old. I photographed him during the torrential rain. Our bones got soaked. He was marching with a walker. He had physical disabilities, but would not give up. He was the last person I photographed, before I had to put my camera away, and wait for the sun to come out. My camera was getting seriously soaked, and I was afraid it would get ruined. I've photographed emotionally charged events before; mothers recounting the death and violent attacks on their black sons, etc., but there was something about this little boy, and the rain, and the climate, so identical to Nicaragua's weather; oppressively hot and disgustingly humid. It was the perfect storm for me, emotionally. I think I identified with him, when I was five years old, living in. Nica, and having to flee under dangerous circumstances, right before the war broke out in the late 70's (another story for another time) Anyway, I really think the rain pouring down, the visceral tactile experience, it seemed to release a lot of pain in my body that I had been keeping inside, since I had started the trip to Ferguson, from CA. But I have so much pride. I tried very hard to hide the crying. I didn't want to distract from what was happening around me. I was so embarrassed. Trying to soldier up, but the tears just kept coming. A volcano.
Darin: You do a lot of photography, documenting activism in your community. You are one of several really hardcore photographers I know. How has your work changed your perception of image making, and also revolutionary behavior?
Jessie: For the block the boat action, I was mostly trying to make sure that the cops knew we were on them, that we were either streaming, or reporting everything directly to social media, as it was unfolding. (Unlike Ferguson, and other people of color actions, it was less about "humanizing" the "protestors" to the community at large) Toward the last few days of the boat block, there were only a few of us out there, literally, 20-30 bodies (the scraggly hard core varsity team, as I like to affectionately call them), so safety becomes more of an issue; safety from cop abuse, and arrests. We were more vulnerable. When I first started photographing protests, I felt like a civilian, coming into another world I was trying to explore (knew nothing about security culture) it's completely different now. My priority is to make sure the cops know we're watching. That the world is watching. I'm very protective of our people. I'm documenting our effort and our work, and trying to give victim families of police brutality visibility. It's difficult though, because I have to be very careful, not to impose myself too much, putting myself between the folks I'm photographing, and the public; whoever sees my photos. So far, so good though. I love it when folks use my pics as their profile pics on FB. It happens a lot. It's the best feedback.
Darin: Would you consider what you do cop watch?
Jessie: Yes. Cop watch, especially now more than ever. But I'm still learning. One of my comrades is teaching me more about this. Eventually, I would like to begin live streaming, like my comrade. Livestreaming; that's real hardcore cop watching. But I love the stills. Photography, for some reason seems timeless to me. In time, but also outside of time, over the years these photos evolve in a way that film does not.