A moment of stillness
By Adrees Latif
I was on holiday and far away from Ferguson, Missouri, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by a policeman in the town.
The killing of this unarmed black teenager on August 9 sparked huge protests, and by the time I arrived the demonstrations had been going for well over a week.
Before I got there, clashes between protesters and police had been intense, with tear gas being fired at demonstrators, some of whom let fly rocks, bottles and more. But when I got to Ferguson late evening on August 19, the unrest had started to calm down.
As the evening rolled past midnight, I saw one man among the crowd who looked particularly agitated. He seemed to be a local resident, very upset with the police, and people were holding him back as he yelled towards the officers. As he kept shouting, the police targeted him with some kind of eye irritant – it looked like pepper spray.
He wasn’t very close, but they got him right in the eye and his friends immediately pulled him to a parking lot nearby, where they poured milk on his face to flush away the effects of the spray.
As they started to pour the milk, I began photographing and noticed a bright spotlight in the background. I believe it was from the police. At that point the people taking care of the man started spraying mist or water to further clear his eyes and I positioned my camera and used the light source to create a rim light around his head and bring attention to the droplets.
The effect achieved in my picture would not have been created if I had not moved over and used the light source to back-light the image.
It was extremely dark and I wasn’t using a flash so it was really a struggle to photograph with a shutter speed of 1/250, but I needed it to freeze and define the droplets of water. Using this particular shutter speed in such low light would not have been possible without an ISO of 8000, available in newer digital cameras.
The whole incident lasted just a couple minutes. Afterwards, I saw medics trying to help this man and as the media gathered around those taking care of him asked for space and for the media to leave. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find out his name.
What I think makes this image stand out is the combination of back-lighting, the shutter speed to stop the action and the low depth-of-field which creates a studio-like effect for a candid moment captured in a fluid environment. It is not an image that I would normally be able to attain from the site of a demonstration.
Camera: Canon EOS-1 D X
Lens: Canon 35mm F2