Richard Tsong-Taatarii The story of behind the photographer’s powerful protest image

Cover Image - Richard Tsong-Taatarii

Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 2016. One year later, the police officer involved was cleared of all charges. Black Lives Matter organized a memorial service where Richard Tsong-Taatarii took this powerful picture.

The man is John Thompson, a close friend of Philando who became a key figure and activist in the BLM movement. Nominated in this year’s World Press Photo, General News category, it’s a seemingly simple picture that tells a thousand stories – about a person, about a community and about a country...

Since 2016, we’ve partnered with the World Press Photo awards to tell the stories behind the best photojournalism around, in the photographers' own words. See the whole series here.

John Thompson is embraced in St Anthony Village, Minnesota, USA, after speaking out at a memorial rally for his friend Philando Castile, after police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges in the shooting of Castile. By Richard Tsong-Taatarii

This photo was part of a daily assignment to cover the protests against the not-guilty verdict for the police officer.

It has a lot to do with the history of the United States. The Philando Castile case was one of the key flashpoints in the Black Lives Matter movement. The acknowledgment of John Thompson's inner pain – as a black man losing a close friend – is something that a large part of our society has not recognized.

If at all possible, I try to create a single frame which can tell a lot of the story. A haiku with only 17 syllables can give you a lot of insight about life. Hopefully a single photograph can too.

Once the main subject of the frame was in focus, I tried to clean up the background and make sure it contributed to the story. In this case, the black power salute was a reference to the resistance that continues today.

When you make a storytelling frame, there is definitely a surge of energy, or cognition, that goes through your body. All the frames taken in the past lead you, as a photographer, to be ready for this moment. It's then up to you to put the visual elements together.

You definitely want to create images that make the reader feel something. One image can change people's minds, or at least make them recognize what someone else, whom they may never encounter in daily life, is going through in this journey we take as human beings.