From left: photographers Mostafa Bassim, Christopher Lee, Gabriela Bhaskar, Victor J. Blue, Shuran Huang, and Dakota Santiago at Storming the Captial, an exhibition at the Bronx Documentary Center. Photo: Peter Gill

Capitol riot photographers meet in Melrose

Pictures have the power to convey truths — sometimes ugly ones — that cut through lies told by people in positions of authority. But in the so-called “post-truth” era, when politicians routinely accuse journalists of reporting “fake news,” does photojournalism still resonate?

This was among the questions considered by a panel of six photographers who documented the Jan. 6, 2021 riot in Washington, during a discussion at The Bronx Documentary Center last week.  The center is currently hosting Storming of The Capitol, an exhibit with over two dozen pictures from that fateful day. The free exhibition ends March 20.

“It’s been  amazing to  watch the way the right has been able to twist and change the narrative.  But I also think that if all these pictures didn’t exist, it’d be so much easier,” said photographer Victor Blue, who has also reported from Afghanistan and Syria.   “It’s our job to provide evidence for history.”

The Jan. 6 Commission, which is investigating the attack, recently laid out potential criminal charges against former President Trump.  Meanwhile, the FBI has made over 730 arrests, including at least 13 in New York City.

Holding the exhibition in the South Bronx is important because many local residents do not have the time or interest  to dive into what actually happened, said Cynthia Rivera, co-curator of the show.

“We do have a fair number of Trump supporters here, too. I think that’s an important reason for having this show here, because we need to have these conversations about the truth,” she said.

One iconic photo in the exhibition, by Egyptian photographer Mostafa Bassim, is taken from inside the Capitol rotunda.  The lower half of the photograph is a scene of chaos, as protestors battle police. Above them, the Capitol’s grand architecture and large paintings of the founding fathers project a dissonant-seeming sense of order.

Another photograph, by Ashley Gilbertson, depicts the bravery of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman as he diverted part of the angry mob from the congressional chambers.

The exhibit also features videos. Rioters tear through police barricades, then parade through the building carrying Confederate flags. One man places a MAGA hat on a bust of George Washington.

The FBI has used photographs and videos posted on social media to identify many of the rioters. However, none of the photojournalists at the exhibition had been contacted by law enforcement. Had they been, they still would not have turned over their photographs, they said. Most journalists consider it unethical to share unpublished pictures with the police, especially when photographic evidence can be obtained through other means.

Photographer Gabriela Bhaskar remarked on the differences between how Capitol police dealt with majority-white protesters and how the NYPD responded to Black Lives Matter protests in New York the previous summer. In the South Bronx, the police responded to June 4, 2020, protests with a heavy crackdown that later drew rebuke from Human Rights Watch. By contrast, the Capitol police — many of them people of color themselves, and vastly outnumbered by the rioters — were much more restrained in response to the Jan. 6 rioters.

Photographer Dakota Santiago said that the extreme nature of the rioters’ belief in conspiracies became apparent after protester Ashley Babbit was shot.

“In real time, people that were outside started saying, ‘They’re all actors.  Look at them — they’re all  bullshitting,’” said Santiago. “It was insane.  Someone had just been shot, died, bleeding all over the place.”

Perez, the show’s co-curator, said that people’s susceptibility to misinformation is part of the impetus  for the show.

“People have been manipulated certain ways to believe certain things, and that has to do with twisting the media, and a lot of things that we stand against,” she said. “And that’s why we’re here.”

Protesters attempt to breach the US Capital building after they earlier stormed the building during a day of protests against the certification of President Elect Joe Biden’s win in Washington, DC, Wednesday January 6, 2021. Congress met on this day to certify the vote of the electoral college, after weeks of legal challenges and baseless claims of fraud by President Trump and his supporters.
© Victor J. Blue
November 14th, 2020. Washington, DC. A shadow of a supporter of President Trump posing for photos is pictured during a ÒMarch for TrumpÓ rally that echoes the false assertion that the presidential election was marked by fraud in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. One week after President Joe Biden’s presidential victory brought about spontaneous celebrations in the nation’s capital, a crowd that included the group Women for America First, right-wing activists and conspiracy theorists gathered in Washington, DC, to contest the victory.
© Shuran Huang
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2021- Washington D.C.: People attend a Stop the Steal rally in to stop the certification of the electoral college vote at the U.S. Congress. They later stormed the capitol causing a lockdown and evacuation of the building. © Gabriela Bhaskar
Dominic Pezzola, a member of the Proud Boys, smashes a window of the Capitol building with a US Capitol Hill Police riot shield, allowing other rioters to enter. On January 6th, during the insurrection, supporters of Donald Trump attempted to overturn the certification of votes from the presidential election in Washington DC. Pezzola was later charged with conspiracy and assault. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly described Pezzola as “the tip of a spear that pierced the United States CapitolÓ.
© Christopher Lee / TIME
Capitol police confront the first rioters. Upon the first breach, rioters chase an officer through the halls to the entrance of the senate. Washington D.C., January 6 2021
© Mark Peterson
Supporters of Donald Trump breach the east entrance to the United States Capitol during the Capitol Riot in Washington DC, United States. January 06 2021. Five people died during the attack on the US Capitol as supporters of Donald Trump sought to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. © Adam Gray / SWNS
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