We Still Can’t Breathe; Manchester creatives reflect back on the protests through their work

It’s hard for me to summarise how I feel about what’s happening in the world at the moment. Not because I don’t know what to say but because I, like many others, have accepted racism as part of my life.

Brandina Chisambo | @bijuaru

It’s a sad thing to have to admit but long ago, I made peace with the fact that people would hate me purely because of the colour of my skin.

Personally speaking, the protests that have followed the murder of George Floyd have been a joy to see. Yes, I know that they are set against the backdrop of a global health crisis and I would never want the health of any individual to be put at risk but the pandemic of racism is something that can no longer go unchallenged.

For over 400 years, Black people have faced systemic racism and oppression. We have been enslaved, stripped of our dignity and human rights, not because we are criminals but because we are a different colour.

There are those who often challenge ‘Black Lives Matter’ with ‘All Lives Matter’. If all lives did matter, George Floyd and the many who came before him would still be alive today.

The reality is that until we achieve equality for all people, regardless of their skin colour, gender, religion and sexual preferences, all lives, in the eyes of some, will not matter. As Nina Simone once sang ‘I wish you could know, what it means to be me, then you’d see and agree, that every man should be free’.

When you look at these images, please remember that all we want and have ever wanted is to be truly free.

Kehinde Ogunneye | Photographer

“It’s a sad reality that we live in, to think this is still an issue. That video of George Floyd really touched a nerve in the Black community. That’s why there is a lot of despair in the black community that maybe white folks don’t understand, they never will. But in all our tears, there are a couple million white folks that saw that video and were disgusted by it and its good to see that many people come together globally to fight against it.

I believe this protest is something that should have happened a while ago, it shouldn’t have taken another black brother’s life to make change. But amidst all the protesting, it is imperative to try to send the right message and not let what is being built get tarnished in the chaos. Unity is key to any movement and it’s good to see that most of the world is on the same page against racism and police brutality.

Kehinde Ogunneye | @kennyo_e

Kehinde Ogunneye | @kennyo_e

Kehinde Ogunneye | @kennyo_e

Kehinde Ogunneye | @kennyo_e

I really don’t want to coerce anyone’s feelings towards my images. I just want people to get whatever feeling they make of it and see the message I’m trying to send.”

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Brandina Chisambo | Photographer

“Attending the marches over the weekend filled me with so much hope and joy. I’ve marched before in the past but this was completely different! When I arrived on Saturday, I was already met with a sea of people of all different races, protesting in unison. Marching in agreement that my life does matter.

I don’t know what I had expected to see but that was not it. The support was overwhelming and it was beautiful! While marching and shouting out, I came to the realisation that for change to come, we need unity! Only together, undivided can we truly make a change and be the change that we want to see!

I attended the Sunday march too. Because the numbers were significantly less than the Saturday march, it was a more intimate gathering but with the same uplifting atmosphere. It was a protest but also felt like a celebration for what’s to come, with most of us staying well into the evening talking and dancing.

Brandina Chisambo | @bijuaru

Brandina Chisambo | @bijuaru

Brandina Chisambo | @bijuaru

Brandina Chisambo | @bijuaru

I wanted my photos to focus on the unity and togetherness that was so present on the day. Also to show the many different ethnicities that came to fight alongside us. It’s very much appreciated. I decided to edit the images in a way so the bright colours in the frames can stand out but not be overbearing or the centre of attention. The brighter colours also flatter the darker skin tones.”

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André Lance | Founder of LØST CULTURE & Visual Director

“Being a young black man myself, going through the motions of racism in the UK, I felt it was only right to use this publication to create some content.

This was a chance to capture a moment in history. Telling the story the best way I know-how which is through visuals and film.

When I got to the protest I was overwhelmed with the positive energy and passion that was present. I really found myself on repeat in my head saying “This just feels different”. I have seen protests before for similar causes but this one had a level of unity I have not experienced in my entire life.

So with camera in hand, I went for the fly on the wall approach just being present in the moment. Capturing powerful speeches and chants from protesters. The unity of the thousands of people marching in solidarity around the city allowed me to capture so much emotion. I knew as soon as I looked at the footage I had exactly what I needed. Hosting for a black and white colour grade to finish this gave the same feeling of a historic moment like the Martin Luther King I have a dream speech”.

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Sam Marvell | Photographer

“As a black man and a creative, I was very moved by the amount of people from Manchester that rallied behind black people and turned up to support the movement that is Black Lives Matter. Personally, I have seen how black creatives, like myself, get overlooked for jobs, especially ones pertaining to black culture. We are not included in the conversation. This movement has definitely highlighted a lot of serious issues which are often overlooked. The conversation is finally out there.

It’s the perfect time to be black and proud. And it’s encouraging to finally see that the unjust and treatment of black people is at the forefront of the conversation and not behind like it usually is. I hope this will be a time for self-education and change in the collective consciousness of how black people are treated here in the UK and around the world.

Sam Marvell | @marvellshotit

Sam Marvell | @marvellshotit

Sam Marvell | @marvellshotit

Sam Marvell | @marvellshotit

I captured the shots and people that stood out to me the most. Many of the protest signs were thought provoking, for example “How many weren’t filmed?”.

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Melica Nejati | Artist

“The 2020 protest for BLM gave me such a sense of unity due to the amount of people standing for the same cause, especially during a pandemic.The statistical, political and economic racism towards black people has been going on for decades with many undocumented cases. One of the most educational moments for me was hearing the numerous stories/poems by the public. There were stories of cases like Shukri Abdi and personal experiences with mental illness. Stories of histories of colonisation and appropriating racist culture. I’ve learnt that education is the cure to ignorance and protests like these can open up people’s minds.

Melica Nejati | @melica101

For the protest, I decided to use my art project that I painted back in 2017 which was based on equality. This is a painting of Angela Yvonne Davis an American political activist, philosopher and author. She took part in the the black panther party in the 1960s and my use of colours is to illustrate her vibrate persona. The chain around her neck is to quote her statement “unbroken line of police violence in the United States that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery”. Sadly, this quote still holds the same weight till this present day. I have faith that this protest will hopefully make change for the years to come.”

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O’brien Richards | Photographer

“The events of the year 2020 are pivotal moments in our history that will be engraved forever.

In the not so distant future literary professionals will defragment and compose books, documentaries, and theatre on these happenings and you will read about it, your children will be taught about it. Artists will compose varying depictions on how injustices ripple through the modern world just as it did centuries before it.

You will be a part of those depictions, the uncomfortable you, the ignorant you, the dismissive you, the you that took action, the you that marched for justice, the you that understood that these events are just like the ones your grandparents experienced, the you that stood up for a better, equal world for everyone.”

O’brien Richards | @obrienrichards

O’brien Richards | @obrienrichards

O’brien Richards | @obrienrichards

O’brien Richards | @obrienrichards

My initial intentions were to focus on the pure passion and emotions of the people of Manchester. I wanted to capture both the geopolitical knowledge expressed through handmade signage along with the sheer emotional frustration of protesters through vulgarity and profanity. Emotion and expressiveness is at the core of my editing and framing.”

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Grace. M | Photographer

“In times where we are in a global pandemic, emotions are already high and to see someone who could’ve been my brother, my dad, uncle, cousin etc be unlawfully killed again made my heart hurt. Social media lead a strange and depleting feeling because although there is hope with lockdown regulations easing there was another pandemic that I was witnessing again; racism. The fact that most of the world was in lockdown, everything was heightened way more than previous times. However, it allowed us to be heard because the whole world is glued to their screens and this time there was no way of ignoring this.

To finally see people begin to understand the injustice that black people face even after decades since slavery or the apartheid had been abolished. My heart has been heavy and it has been difficult to conjure up words that can sum up everything that I have felt all the way into the protests during the weekend and, after. The protest, I never expected so many people to turn up and it brought so much joy within my soul that a week later I’m still in awe.

When shooting at the protest, I felt so empowered and connected to everyone on a level that I have never experienced before. At first I wanted my images to all be in colour but this history changing moment had to be in black and white. I feel as if black and white photos are timeless, they strip down everything we normally see and the final image forces you to focus on every person that is in frame. Black and white, strip it all down we are all human beings. We are all fighting for the same thing and there doesn’t need to be a divide, I wanted my photos to convey the same level of empowerment I felt when I walked along with the people of Manchester.

Grace. M | @ninetyfourgrace

Grace. M | @ninetyfourgrace

Grace. M | @ninetyfourgrace

Grace. M | @ninetyfourgrace

I hope you like the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. I hope you see the fire that I saw within the eyes of those in frame, I hope you see the power in everyone coming together to fight for change. That’s what it’s all about. Fighting for equality and change.”

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Lee McLean | Photographer

“I was optimistic and excited heading to the Black Lives Matter protest over the weekend, as this is something that I have never covered before and I knew it was something that I wanted to be apart of – to show solidarity from a photographic perspective.

The movement is something that I’ve seen grow over the years and it was empowering to be a part of it. We all have a long way to go to reach racial equality across society. Ideologies still have to shift, as racism remains a deep rooted issue. I hope that this the start of a real change.

Lee McLean | @cleany

Lee McLean | @cleany

Lee McLean | @cleany

Lee McLean | @cleany

As I was documenting the protests, I felt a sense of harmony amongst the diverse crowd. I saw people laughing and enjoy the community spirit but most importantly I witnessed passion for wanting a radical change.”

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Aaron Walker | Photographer

“I personally thought the protest was inspiring, and a beautiful occasion, full of diverse people coming together for an incredibly relevant cause which Millions of people suffer with. The atmosphere was electric, everyone was unified. The media will twist depiction of the march, but its important and vital we keep pushing to eradicate racism.

Regarding the photos, I was really glad I actually took my camera out, I was in a split decision whether to or not. Keeping up with people was hard, due to the pace of the march i either had to get in front of people or have the shutter speed high and walk with people. But I tried to capture emotion mainly, on top of this capture moments as well.

Aaron Walker | @theman_____az

Aaron Walker | @theman_____az

Aaron Walker | @theman_____az

Aaron Walker | @theman_____az

Aaron Walker | @theman_____az

These photos are my favourite from the ones I took. I think the baby and her mother photo is a really lovely image, all I could think is her mum’s doing a great job at raising her, allowing her to see the love first hand. The three girls who I think were triplets, were stood there completely still, which I think drew my attention because everyone else was marching. The fist was just a symbolic image that caught my eye when I was panning round. The guy with the cap and mask on was extremely vocal, booming chants out, even though he’s got a mask on you can see him putting his chest into it. The three lads outside the public library were absolute G’s. Beautiful to see them come together and lead the noise. Lastly, the woman with the berèt. Her face depicted a high level of seriousness and passion.”

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