Personal History: Photographer Alex Welsh Walks Through Ferguson

Photographer Alex Welsh recounts his experiences in Ferguson with protestors and police, including a robbery which left him a camera short.

Photographer Alex Welsh
  • Children pose while a family member takes a picture at the memorial for Michael Brown on Canfield Street in Ferguson.

  • Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson releases the name of Darren Wilson, the officer involved in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

  • A man in front of the burned remains of the Quik Stop on West Florissant Avenue.

  • Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, a Ferguson Native, speaks to the press after being put in control of public safety on West Florissant Avenue on Friday afternoon.

  • Protestors at the Quick Stop react to the release of the name of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

  • Protestors at the Quick Stop react to the release of the name of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

  • The memorial for Michael Brown where he was shot and killed by police on Canfield Street in Ferguson.

  • Joe Biggs, a journalist for Infowars.com, shows where he was hit with a rubber bullet shot by police the night before.

  • The mother of Michael Brown, Lesley McSpadden (right in white 'lips' T-shirt), pays a visit to the memorial for her son on Canfield Drive where he was killed.

  • The mother of Michael Brown, Lesley McSpadden (second to right in white 'lips' shirt), pays a visit along friends and family at the memorial for her son on Canfield Drive where he was killed.

  • Brandon McClelland (left) and Jaron Fisher (right) sit on top of their car parked in front of a car wash on West Florissant Avenue. "I came through because although I'm not Mike Brown, that could have happened to me. By demonstrating we are stating that we need a change, we need a revolution," said Fisher.

  • Minister Jesse Jackson arrived in Ferguson on Friday night to walk with protesters on West Florissant Avenue.

  • Minister Jesse Jackson arrived in Ferguson on Friday night to walk with protesters on West Florissant Avenue.

  • Akay Tomboy, a hip-hop artist, shows off Mike Brown's name shaved into the side of her head. That night, Tomboy, who said she lives across the street from "Ground Zero" wore a replica outfit of the one that Brown had on when he was killed.

  • Protestors chalked messages on the concrete parking lot of the burned Quick Stop on Friday.

  • Ferguson residents watch the protest pass by their homes on Saturday.

  • RIGHT: A young boy rests on the hood of his car and watches a basketball game on Ellison Drive, just a block away from the protests on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson on Saturday. LEFT: 'Polo' shows off his 'All Bout Money' tattoo outside of a grocery store in Ferguson. "This shit is messed up, and he's gonna get away with it. Cops out here mess with us for no reason, and at this point, we don't want a relationship with police."

  • LEFT: 'CB' (top) and 'St. Louis Boosie' (bottom) in a Monte Carlo on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson. "We have friends who were victims of police brutality," said CB. "We know how (police) get down, so we have to stick together. We have a right and our own authority to be out here protesting." RIGHT: Barbara Brown-Buress stands in a field on West Florissant Avenue dressed in her graduation gown on Friday. Her nursing school cancelled their graduation that day in wake of the unrest in Ferguson, but Brown-Buress said she was proud to stand with the protestors.

  • Riot police guard the businesses on West Florissant on Saturday after looting the night before.

  • Riot police guard the businesses on West Florissant on Saturday after looting the night before.

  • The track and football field at Normandy High School, where Michael Brown attended.

  • The Clark family came out from St. Louis to protest on Sunday. "People of other races believe that Mike did something to deserve this, but nothing justifies what happened," they said. "This has gone on for far too long."

  • LEFT: Johanna Pimentel previously worked as a substitute teacher at Normandy High where Michael Brown attended high school. "It's hard to get out of there, so I know he must have been a good kid with caring parents to succeed in that school," said Pimentel of the struggling school that lost its accreditation in 2012.

  • Rapper J Cole visits the memorial for Michael Brown and talks with local residents about the shooting.

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    FADER photographer Alex Welsh spent three nights in Ferguson, MO, snapping flicks of the rigid stand-offs and eerie chills that overtook the small town in the wake of 19-year-old Michael Brown's murder. Here, Welsh shares a slideshow of images of Brown's life, from his high school to hometown streets, and recounts his experiences, in his own words, with protestors and police, including a robbery which left him a camera short.

    ALEX WELSH: I got to Ferguson last Thursday, the peaceful night. There wasn’t a heavy police presence. People were partying, just driving their cars up and down streets, kind of like a sideshow. But people were definitely angry, though it was also a jovial atmosphere and unity. People from the neighborhood were telling me that youth and rival gangs were coming together with no beef, with no problem.

    I felt very welcomed. Everybody was very hospitable. When media covers issues like this, in a community that is largely neglected in its representation in the media, residents have a pragmatic feeling: they’re grateful that you're there, but they know it will disappear once the news story is over. Some people expressed that to me: “You’re coming and you’re going, and we welcome you, but we have to live here when you’re gone.” Which it true. But for the most part people embraced the media, even though they understood it was temporary.

    I’ve worked with kids in gangs for five years now, and even when I have intimate relationships with kids on the street, I know they have a hard time expressing their anger. But here, people really gave these kids this avenue to talk constructively and eloquently about their anger. There were two kids sitting on a Monte Carlo with 26-inch rims. I walked up and smiled, and asked if I could take their picture. So they raised their hands—everyone raises their hands. At first, I was trying to get something other than that, but I realized this is what they want to communicate. There is a powerful imagery in the portrait.

    They had a friend recently that was gunned down in north St. Louis. They talked about how all of their friends have been victims of police brutality. They said they have friends that have been killed by the police. He told me, “We already know how to get down and we have to stick together. Because they’re killing innocent people, we have a right to protest and we have an authority to protest.”

    As for the militarization of the police, people respond physiologically to that force. Without it, there isn’t a place to direct their anger. As soon as the police come in and have guns pointed at the community, shooting tear gas, everything escalates. Members of the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers were trying to keep the peace and tell people to go home, while any of the violence came from angry kids throwing Molotov cocktails. Or looting.

    99% of the time I felt safe; I didn’t feel threatened, although at night, people talked about looters turning against photographers. Some photographers had been robbed; some had had bottles smashed on their face. At 11PM on Saturday, I went to my car, which was parked on a side street. I realized there were two kids across the street that were walking beside me, their faces covered in T-shirts. But everyone had their faces covered in bandanas. As soon as I got to my car, they confronted me, and took my camera and my bag. I negotiated keeping one camera somehow. It wasn’t super aggressive, with weapons pointed at me. But it felt more opportunistic than anything. I totally understand it; I’ve been jacked before.

    After my camera was stolen, I left, but still I felt cautiously optimistic. I felt the police response was progressing in a way that was smarter. But when I got to my hotel and read my Twitter feed, I saw reports of tear gas. It was said to be one of the more violent nights, and now it’s escalating. I don’t know how crazy this is going to get. I think what will change it is if this cop [Darren Wilson] is brought to justice. 

    Personal History: Photographer Alex Welsh Walks Through Ferguson