A Black woman with a face full of anguish turns away from a white police officer who is attempting to calm a crowd. A priest with a mobile phone and searching eyes stands amid piles of bricks and other debris. An officer's baton hovers in a cloud of tear gas above a barely visible target.
They are among the images in a remarkable photo exhibit, "Documenting a Reckoning: The Murder of George Floyd," now on display at the Elmer L. Andersen Library on the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus. These images tell stories, some of them familiar and some not, that played out after Floyd's death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
The series of photos begins in the hours before the murder, with the image of a Black child holding a U.S. flag during his family's celebration of Memorial Day. It ends almost a year later, with the jubilation that greeted the guilty verdict against former Officer Derek Chauvin. Between those bookends stand scores of photos that document moments of grief, terror, rage, dignity and redemption.
A crowd tries to scatter as a tanker truck bears down on protesters blocking Interstate 35W. A 13-year-old Black girl joyfully jumps rope in a Juneteenth celebration in the parking lot of a damaged Target store. A police officer impassively looks away as a protester makes an obscene gesture inches from his face. A student hoists a Black Lives Matter sign along Lake Bemidji as pleasure boats cruise in the background.
The exhibit chronicles events that are too recent to be history — and yet they are inarguably historic. To view these photos is to be reminded of how profound the George Floyd saga was for the life of Minneapolis and the world beyond.
The images are the work of photographers with varying degrees of professional status. Some, like several from the Star Tribune, represent local news organizations. Some are freelancers on assignment for national or international media. At least one was simply taking pictures of her family.
The organizing force for the exhibit is Regina McCombs, a senior fellow at the university's Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who recognized that the events surrounding Floyd's murder had been transformative not only for the community but for the photojournalists who sought to document them. Photographers and others journalists worked under extreme conditions, risking arrest, injury or worse, some without benefit of employer-paid lawyers or health care.
McCombs and her colleagues in the project, documentary photographer Nina Robinson and New York Times photo editor Brent Lewis, made their selections from more than 500 photographs submitted by 81 photographers. The chosen images are beautiful in their composition, stunning in their impact, or both.
Visitors can record their reactions on sticky notes at the end of the exhibit. One aptly pointed out that it's a privilege to be able to view images of such a reality rather than having to live it. In another note — three notes, actually — a different visitor denounced the display as "Black Trauma Porn pretending to be educational."
Clearly, the pain of these photographs will elicit different reactions from different people. That is as it should be. From our perspective, the exhibit is indeed educational, and the organizers have done a creditable job of amplifying the voices and perspectives of the photographers' subjects and the photographers themselves.
And the exhibit is appropriate for other reasons. Remember, the story of George Floyd's murder is familiar to most of us because a teenage bystander saw what was happening and had the presence of mind to raise her phone and capture the image. It was an act of instant journalism that won Darnella Frazier a Pulitzer Prize citation. Her actions directly led to a reckoning that is helping to change the world.
These photos are part of the change.
The "Documenting a Reckoning: The Murder of George Floyd" exhibit is free and open to the public, now through March 4. It will move to the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis March 17 to June 5.