We speak to photographer and filmmaker Ken Kamara about his compelling images from the Alexanderplatz march in June.
On 6 June, over 1500 people took to Berlin’s Alexanderplatz as part of the international Black Lives Matter movement. Demonstrators, wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and dressed in black, were silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the same duration of time that a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck, leading to his death.
Present at the protests was Ken Kamara, a Sierra Leonean-British photographer and filmmaker currently based in Berlin. Bringing his camera with him on the day, he captured an atmosphere of solidarity, respect and empowerment. Seeing Ken’s photos of the protest on Instagram, we reached out to hear more.
In the text to accompany the series, you write “There are people out there who understand, and there are people who don’t understand but decide to stand and support the cause.” It’s very simple and very powerful. How did this distinction affect the series?
I didn’t see it as a distinction. The series does portray both individuals who have suffered or continue to suffer from systemic racism and individuals who don’t, but it also wishes to underline the fact that they all recognise injustice and chose to stand against it. Something to be said about those who have not experienced systemic racism directly, is that empathy is what informed their decision to join the movement in the fight against inequality. This is the multifaceted unity the series wishes to depict.
Could you talk us through some of your photos in the series? Who are they and how did you choose to photograph them?
They are individuals from all walks of life singing from the same hymn sheet: “discrimination based on the colour of your skin is wrong and we want equality – remaining ignorant, silent or on the sidelines is no longer an excuse.” I followed my instincts and approached demonstrators whose presence spoke to me, be it through their energy, behaviour or the signs they were carrying. In the mix, there is a bit of everything in terms of ethnicity, belief system, age, gender and popularity. From the girl next door to the American-British artist Nikeata Thompson.
What was the atmosphere like during the silent demonstration at Alexanderplatz?
There is a mix of emotions that go through your body when you participate in events as such. Surrounded by roughly 150,00 people taking a knee in silence, I perceived an unspoken energy, unison, respect that led me to hope that the outset of a more just society is not only possible, rather it is on the horizon.
You are British born with West African descent. What has it been like experiencing and being part of the BLM movement in Germany?
Germany has a history not too dissimilar to Britain, where colonialism is concerned. As a British born of Sierra Leonean heritage, I brought my experience to the conversation in this country and found out that there are countless individuals of African descent who were born here and who have endured similar experiences to myself in the United Kingdom. It is those shared experiences that permit us to get together regardless of our backgrounds or the language barrier. The BLM movement in Germany is part of a bigger movement around the world.
What is it that draws you to analogue photography?
Commitment, I would say, and no specific technical reasons. Analogue photography warms my heart, and it does so especially when I photograph with my cameras. I also enjoy the restrictions that come with shooting film, as they teach you to hone your craft.
What are your hopes for the series moving forward?
I wish this series can reach as many people as possible, and can somehow contribute to making the conversation that we are having now go from words to actions.
Any mottos for 2020?
To quote a line from a famous book written by a half Haitian, half French writer: “all for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.”
See more images from the series below and follow Ken on Instagram at @kenkamara.
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16 July 2020