“I can’t breathe” is the phrase repeated for nearly nine minutes by African-American George Floyd, before succumbing to a police intervention on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Texas. This is also the name of the Visa pour l’Image exhibition. A selection of photographs from four American dailies is on display at the Convent des Minimes, in Perpignan.
The first part of this exhibit heads west in the United States. The second-largest American daily after the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times has set itself the task of translating reactions to Floyd’s death into pictures in southern California and Minnesota. This selection, as eclectic as it is striking, shows particularly muscular clashes between demonstrators and police.
Three pictures, bathed in the same orange light from the flames, bear witness to the rebellion of the Black Lives Matter movement. From garbage can fires to abandoned and burnt police cars, the fight in the streets has been intense. One of them is particularly striking. Wally Skalij captured the arrest of a man who broke the curfew, in downtown Los Angeles, on May 31: his hands are tied behind his back, and he is dominated by the shadow of the policeman with a gun .
Fists and flags raised
On the east coast of the United States, the New York Times relayed the numerous demonstrations of New Yorkers who took to the streets by the thousands to demand justice for Georges Floyd and support the movement. “To know me is to love me but you only see my color” this is what we can read on one of the signs carried at arm’s length by the demonstrators in the first photo.
The latter sets the tone for the exhibition: scenes of demonstrations, more or less violent, often in the middle of the night. Fists raised too, in protest, and among the crowd, the American flag raised high in the sky, sometimes blackened by the smoke of tear gas. Finally, a face. That of Rayshard Brooks, another African American, killed by police shot twice in the back, less than three weeks after the death of Georges Floyd.
The peaceful Sacramento
In Sacramento, California, it all starts with a look. The angry look of a protester in front of the police. A moment frozen by Paul Kitagaki Jr., photographer at the Sacramento Bee. In the Californian capital, the mobilization on behalf of Black Lives Matter began two years ago, since the murder of Stephon Clark by the police. After the broadcast of the video of George Floyd’s death, anger erupted again in the city. Images of burning car wrecks and looting illustrate the violence of the protests.
Then comes the chilling calm of the images of thousands of Americans lying on the asphalt. On June 5, 2020, for nearly 9 minutes, they simulated death under posters bearing the names of the victims. In the middle of it all, blonde hair 4-year old Spencer Fernandez snuggled up in his mother’s arms, brings a touch of innocence and hope under a sign bearing the name of the murdered man.
In the privacy of the Floyd family
The Washington Post series alternates scenes of crowds, violence and moments of tenderness and comfort. In the distance, the White House appears, protected by the National Guard. For this final part of the “I Can’t Breathe” exhibition, George Floyd returns to the center of the topic. The photos also become more intimate. Salwan Georges, photographer for the daily, focuses on Quincy Mason Floyd, son of George Floyd, who pause for recollection during a press conference.
Further on, two strangers hug during a peaceful protest. The exhibit narrows towards the conclusion of all of these events, the African American’s funeral. The last photo of Tamir Kalifa puts an end to it. Crowds watch the carriage with the coffin of George Floyd pass the last mile to the Houston Memorial Cemetery, where he was buried.
Priscilla Cathalan and Léa Le Breton