Usually, my work focuses on stories about Indigenous peoples. The seven months I documented the Standing Rock movement created the foundation for how I now approach any story: Intention is crucial. At Standing Rock, we had hundreds of photographers at some points, most of them parachuting in for a weekend and then heading out. The images they made were superficial, relying on stereotypes and clichés and staying on the surface of the movement. That experience cemented my belief that your intention as a photographer matters to the quality of the images you make: the amount of work you do to educate yourself on the issue you’re documenting, the time you spend making connections with the people you’re photographing, always shows itself in the images. And if you believe, as I do, that photographs don’t simply document our world but can also help bring new possibilities into being, that work is worth it.
Images have power, but that power can be for good or for bad. I know the pain racist, stereotypical mascots cause for me, I know the shameful example those set for my son. So while I can’t fathom the particular pain that my Black relatives feel when, year after year, videos of Black people being murdered by police are repeated ad nauseam and lead to only piecemeal reforms, I know that if we’re going to create the change we need for all of our liberations, we’ll need images that serve the movement.