Saturday, October 31, 2009

Death Penalty Rally. Austin, TX.

Former death row inmate Shujaa Graham.

Former death row inmate Shujaa Graham carries a 6,000 signature petition asking for a moratorium on the death penalty to Gov. Rick Perry’s Office.

Shujaa Graham in the office of state representative Elliot Naishtat

Curtis McCarty, former death row inmate, joins protests to support a moratorium on the death penalty.

Anna Terrell weeps outside of the state capitol at the loss of her son, death row victim Reginald Blanton, moments before his execution in Huntsville, Texas. Blanton received a lethal injection Tuesday evening for the shooting of 22 year old Carlos Garza in April 2000.

This entire day of photographing may have been my most difficult yet. I was assigned to photograph an anti-death penalty rally at the capitol which is expected to be another hundred-man republican bash party. When I opened the door to the south mall of the Capitol, only four individuals awaited the media's attention. Two were exonerated inmates on death row, two worked for the Coalition Against the Death Penalty, an organization to abolish capital punishment nation wide. Rather than being able to hide behind my camera as I usually do during sensitive events, I was forced approach the former prisoners because there was no other picture. I wrestled with the extent to which I photographed because I always worry that I'm shooting for the wrong reasons. In situations like this, I convinced myself that it is no longer is about the moment, its about the impact the photo can have on its viewers.

In her essay about experience in Vietnam, Trip to Hanoi, writer Susan Sontag realizes that while she spent two weeks with Vietnamese citizens outside the context of war, she still could not relate to them on anything more than a basic human level. Her western perception of the Vietnamese was challenged and she found similar elements of the human experience to share even though she could never related to the Vietnamese people.

I felt like Sontag all day.

I never thought I would ever speak to and ex-convict, let alone a wrongly accused exonerated inmate. After getting permission to photograph from Shujaa Graham and taking multiple pictures I asked where he was from in an attempt to make small talk. What surprised me was that he grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and live in Tacoma part, my own home turf. We launched into a conversation about "home" and Maryland as I thought about how I could never even begin to understand what it was that he experienced.

I would never be able to relate to an individual like Shujaa or the Anna Terrell, the mother of the most recently executed death row inmate. With something as powerful as death row, I hope that my photographs help others to imagine and consider their experiences in order to continue the dialogue on capitol punishment. I feel that is my responsibility as a journalist. Its not about telling people what to think, its about giving them something to think about.

1 comment:

  1. Wow crazy story-- I can't believe he's from Maryland. He really looks like he's made of stone. I hope you told him that you filmed a performance of The Exonerated.