The Daily Photoist: B.Y.T.A.
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The Daily Photoist: B.Y.T.A.

Every weekday, we pick an image from the Torontoist Flickr Pool and feature it here on the site. It’s our way to give the many excellent photographers in our pool the attention they deserve!
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James Helmer has absolutely nailed the passion, anger, and drive in this protest photo, taken last Tuesday at Queen’s Park at a rally organized by “Black Youth Taking Action” (that we mentioned in our news roundup). While an entirely respectable goal was at the heart of the protest—as the Star put it, “encourag[ing] political involvement in the city’s black community”—the day’s events were controversial, with Malik Zuliu Shabazz, the leader of the New Black Panther Party, being barred from entering the country on the day of the protest. (Travelers take note: blaming the Jews for being stopped at the border is not a good way to prove that you’re not an anti-semite.)
More than anything else, Helmer’s shot—a black and white photo of strong and fearless black women and men demanding change from a government that they think has ignored them—evokes, intentionally or not, photos of civil rights protests of decades ago. In this shot, the content and the context are both equally important: its power is gleamed in part from the protest shot iconography contained within it (raised hands and fists, raw emotion, and a unobtrusive camera that supposedly presents an undistorted picture of reality), but also from the cloud that Shabazz cast over the day’s events. Even though she is the star of the shot, this woman’s particular story is obscured; the photo renders her mute, and the only thing clear on her sign is the word “BLACK.” Instead of an individual, she becomes part of a crowd that speaks with one voice. As is so often the case at protests, that one voice does more harm than good, the voices of extremists taking precedence over moderates, with noble intentions twisted and distorted into ignoble ones.

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