Photographer Mel D. Cole captures BLM protests and insurgency
Photographer Mel D. Cole recalled the moments while taking photos during the January 6 uprising when he questioned the volatile situation around him.
Cole is black.
A study of participants who violated the United States Capitol found 93% of them to be white. And a number of them were members of various pro-Trump white supremacist and far-right groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.
“There have been plenty of times I’ve been like, ‘What … I can’t believe it [expletive] is happening, “Cole remembers.” I called my wife and told her to turn on the information, because I wasn’t sure she knew what was going on… I called her and I finally succeeded, and I said: the craziest [expletive] day of my life and you gotta turn on the tv. “
He continued, “I told him I loved him, because inside I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.… There might be a guy or two who could be there and just like, ‘Oh, here’s a black guy with his back turned and we could just hit him on the head and nobody would know what happened.’
It turns out that Cole, who lives in Jersey City with his wife and son, survived that day and has the photos to show.
They are part of the images, almost all in black and white, that appear in his new photo book, “Mel D. Cole: American Protest: Photographs 2020-2021”, which will be released next month.
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The collection captures not only the insurgency, but also the Black Lives Matter protests in New York City and across the country following the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin.
The images are quite different from the usual work of Cole, who has photographed some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B for about two decades.
Among the artists who admired Cole is Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the drummer, filmmaker and co-founder of The Roots, whom Cole has photographed for years.
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Thompson, in a preface to Cole’s 2020 book, “GREAT: Photographs of Hip Hop,” said of Cole: “I’ve heard music in relation to a lot of things. Some say it’s a game. .Some say it’s hell. I say it’s a war Photographers are correspondents in this war who document every battle … Run DMC & The Beastie Boys had Ricky Powell and the Roots had Mel D. Cole – or should I say Mel D. Cole had us? “
Cole, from Syracuse, New York, said the transition to capturing protests and political events occurred when COVID-19 restrictions led to the cancellation of live music events coupled with social unrest after Floyd’s death.
“Basically when he was murdered a light bulb went out,” Cole said. “I told myself that I would dedicate myself, my platform and my career to documenting the significance of these events.”
This “bulb” lit the path that went from photos of New York City streets to the early days of COVID to BLM protests and then to Trump election year rallies until he took him to Washington , DC, in January.
Cole said the decision to shoot a black-and-white film was influenced by the work of famous photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks, who was renowned for his photos of African Americans from the 1940s to the 1970s.
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Cole’s background in photography in the music world also helped him prepare when he pointed his lens at times of tension like the insurgency.
“If you document someone as a new musician or artist that you’ve never seen play before, you don’t know what they’re going to do on stage. You have an idea. You think they might go left , it might go right, you think it’s a song that skips or the pyro can go up. You really don’t know, “Cole said.” It’s the same with protests. You have to keep your head on a pivot, as I like to say. You have to be prepared for the unexpected. “
Ricardo Kaulessar is a cultural journalist for the USA TODAY Network How We Live in the Atlantic Region. For unlimited access to the most important news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.