I went out to document the protests to capture what had happened in the initial days after George Floyd was murdered. I had just seen my city get pillaged and vandalized from out of town protestors who looked and behaved nothing like me, so I went out and started documenting the streets. I wanted to provide a counter-narrative to what was being said in the media, that narrative that blames the majority of looting and vandalism on Black protesters, which isn’t true. I wanted to put some humanity around what was going on. That was the whole intent: to provide America with some up close personal portraits, gritty landscape, and the different looks of emotion. I wanted to get powerful signs and images, find interesting people, and understand their story. That was my whole mindset: To allow the story to present itself and to document history.
May 31—This is a picture of a protestor on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland, across the street from Lake Merritt. This is when people were protesting in honor of George Floyd. Her and her party were in the middle of the island with their signs. I thought that it was a very simple sign, which stood out to me.
June 1—This photo was taken at 17th street. It was the end of the day and I was starting to wrap up, 8:00 p.m. was the curfew time. I wanted to make sure I was getting going. I saw a young lady coming towards me…she had this mask that really stood out. I asked for the shot, we tried a couple different looks, and the one that stuck was this portrait of her. The thing that stood out was really her eyes, the depth of her eyes, I think it says a lot more than what I can really convey. After this photo went online people resonated with it and it kind of went viral, started to create momentum. This is Ebonee right here.
May 31—This dancer was a part of the Aztec, or native tribal dancers who were present at the protest at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater. They were out doing different dances and ceremonies, and honoring their ancestors. What stood out for me in this photo was the expression, the emotion, the gauges in her ears. The face mask is like a time stamp. Any photo from this time you can identify by the face mask. I thought it was iconic.
May 31—This photo was taken on the same day of the other lake photos. Cars were driving down lakeshore driving to be in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests. There was a car where this young man had his fist up. The whole lakeshore stopped for close to five minutes to celebrate this young man. I think it really tells a lot about Oakland.
May 31—This photo was taken at Lake Merritt around sundown. It was a ceremony for Black and brown people honoring Sean Monterrosa and others. People were dancing and there were different speakers from all different kinds of communities, from the Muslim community to the Satanist community. They were burning Palo Santo and other things. This person decided he wanted to bring out his trumpet and start playing. After I looked at it I just felt like it was the sound of victory, after everything that is happening in the world.
June 9—This photo was taken in Downtown Oakland. The young lady was walking and I asked her for the shot. It was toward the end of the day. We took a couple minutes and got a shot. It’s a standalone with the fist of Black power. I think it’s important to show that in this movement, women are definitely in the movement. Plus her youth, everything about it worked for me.
June 3—This is community member Needa Bee. She works in community. She serves homeless and unsheltered folks. She is also known as the Lumpia Lady, she is of Philippina descent. She came out to provide water, tear gas masks, and ear plugs. This represents community. This was important to me to document because a different photographer might have chosen to just highlight the action, the carnage, the rage, the pain. For me I want to highlight a different segment of that same population.
June 4—This photo is a good friend of mine. I’ve shot him before, and I’ve seen him at a lot of events here in the Bay Area. We was right at Oakland City Hall. So that’s city hall, that’s the pillars, and he was listening to some speeches that was put together by the APTP (Anti Police-Terror Project). He has all black on, big beautiful afro, and a face mask.
June 6—I was going to get some food with my family and this young girl was walking towards, me so I asked her and her mom if I could take a picture of both of them which I did and then I took this photo of her solo. She did a lot of smiling ones, but I didn’t feel like smiling with the sign was appropriate. Once I said don’t smile, the face dropped so completely and dramatically. Most kids can’t do that, which I thought was interesting—that she dropped her smile it at the drop of a dime.
June 3—Unidentified drummer. He was drumming during the ceremonies. He came in towards the end and added accompanying music to the protestors. He was drumming away and I got low and captured him in the moment.
June 4—This is a picture of my good brother Damian McDuffie. He is an educator in the community. I love the shot, it is symbolic of the evening. I just had him stand facing me with the crowd to his back. I thought it was symbolic: It’s Oakland, it’s him, it’s Black, I just felt like the aesthetic was right. The night was a collective effort, so I titled this photo “WE did it Oakland!” Because I felt it was a night of positivity. This was the night of the curfew protest, the whole people vs. the system showdown.
May 31—This is one of my favorite shots from the Lake Merritt set. Everyone was burning different things: Paper, wood, even burning money. The people who were in the shot created a shadow for themselves. The image shows youth coming together, of various ages and colors. I like this photo because you can see different hair styles and textures. The fire represents America and how it’s burning. I titled it “The Fire This Time!” which is a play off of James Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time. “This time” is putting it in the present tense. America is burning, we are the fire, and we are not going to put the fire out.
Amir Abdul-Shakur, also known as “Amir The Photographer” is an Oakland-based photographer focusing on black joy, street photography, and portraiture. Amir began his photography journey in February 2018 at a local parade in Oakland. Since then, he has focused on capturing the essence of black life and the beauty of humanity both domestically and internationally. Follow him on Instagram @amirthephotographer.