[Special capitalization at the request of the artist]
My name is Emery Barnes. I'm 25, originally from Chicago. I am now living in Portland, Oregon, working as a Brand Executive at Wieden+Kennedy, and on the side, I am a Photographer.
I'm a Black African-American Male. Both of my parents were born in West Africa, specifically Liberia. That's been a fundamental trait they've instilled in me at an early age. Having that heritage to your roots. What's nice about me is having family ties and knowing where I come from, and having such a large family, both within the US and outside of it, to be First-Gen, it's been a fantastic experience for me.
My mom lives in Liberia, she has been doing that for about nine years. I live in Portland, my sister is in the city of Chicago on the South Side, and my dad lives in the suburbs of Chicago. What's been amazing about that is that I get to go often to Liberia. She’ll come. It's nice to have that tie.
My dad was a photographer, and I always followed him where he was going. He showed me pictures of him living in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. I was always drawn to it. I remember the camera he shot with. He shot with a Nikon, and it was so heavy. I remember as a kid, I would just try different things. I would stage his camera next to his bed, do the self-timer, jump up in the air, and then have it take a picture of myself. It was really cool to play around with different angles and dive into that creative aspect.
I never had a camera. I would always play around with his. Then I ended up buying a Sony a6000, which is the current camera that I use today. I moved downtown to Chicago, and what better way to explore the city than to start shooting? Every Saturday or Sunday, I would simply hop on the CTA, get off at a random stop, and shoot all day in a neighborhood. It was by the end of the summer, so that was around April, May. Around September, I started posting my work on my Instagram. A lot of my friends would be like, "Oh, like, what are you doing with this? Like, are you keeping all this? Are you saving it?" by the end of it, I had roughly 1200 pictures. Within that, I probably had like, 100-200 that I liked and wanted to edit, and wanted to post a little more publicly, so I developed a website. From there, honestly, whenever I travel, whether through work or exploring a new city, I'm always bringing my camera. That's the best way to explore and get to know a new place is by capturing it. I've been doing it for about two years, I want to say.
The most important thing is to get out and do it. I have a lot of friends that have got into Photography. They may not have that fantastic picture the first time they go out, but the most important thing is to just take photos of things that you like, that you're drawn to. The more and more you do something, the more you'll get better at it. I say that with anything in life, it's spending more time with on your craft.
There is this book. I want to pull it up. I believe it's a Malcolm Gladwell book, but he talks about investing 10,000 hours into your craft. I think the book is called Outliers. That's something that I've always practiced within my art.
You're not going to get it the first time; you're not going to get the second time, you're not going to get it the hundredth time. Just keep doing it and doing it. I guess in regards to practice. I can talk a little bit about how I get my inspiration. The most significant thing is doing different things, getting out of your routine, getting out of your comfort zone. I get a lot of inspiration from other photographers, from Instagram, from different websites, from only going on a walk, listening to a podcast, music, etc.
The more I'm changing my routine and putting myself in these different environments, the more I'm getting new inspiration. I try to do that with the protests because what's been great about them is that every protest is different. It has a different route, and it has a different emotion. Some may be a little tense; some may be a bit more peaceful. As a Photographer, my job, and I've told several people with the photos, is that for the people who weren't able to attend, I want to capture the emotion and have them live it as if they were there. If you were there, I want them to be able to relive that same emotion that they had. I said the most important thing is getting out there and immersing yourself in it full-time.
I have two styles. I'm drawn to bright colors, as you can say like, pop art. I love Street Photography. I love Murals. What I'm also drawn to is Black and White Photography, specifically architecture. My mom is an architect. With that family history, I've always been drawn to buildings, whether they be old, new, high-rises. Living in large cities, I've always been drawn to these buildings. What's been cool about Portland is that you have a little combination of both. I live in the Northwest in Chinatown, but getting to walk around and seeing some different Murals in different places within my neighborhood that I can take pictures of, but then walking about 10 minutes downtown, and like, getting that architecture, that's been a cool thing.
I have started going to the BLM Protests in Portland. I have an exciting story about how I got there, but as the people may be seeing on Instagram is that I've been taking pictures, and I've been marching with the Rose City Justice Organization, so shout out to them. It's been a fantastic experience to capture the people, the emotion, Black, White from all different walks of life, and be able to document that on social, as well.
I grew up in a predominantly White Suburb, and so mostly White High School,Ccollege. The first agency I worked at was my first taste of what it's like to be in Non-White Bubbles. I was fortunate for the team, and agency that had worked at, at the time because it had so much diversity. I don't even want to say diversity by Race, but diversity of thought. You had representatives of the LGBTQ community, you had people from different Religious Backgrounds, Races, Ethnicities, but at the same time, everyone was coming from different places. It opened my eyes a bit more to this world than I previously wasn't living in. When I moved to Portland at 23, it made me realize more of who I am as a Black Male, specifically a Black African-American male as First-Gen. It made me look at myself in the mirror. When you're surrounded by people that don't look you, it makes you think of like, what are the values? How can I stay true to myself? I will say that as a Black Male, I've had a fantastic experience in Portland. I've met a great community of people here, so many people from so many different walks of life. I will say compared to Chicago, that does lack that culture as a big city would, but at the same time, there is something unique to that. Because with this small community here, I feel it's a family in a way. I think you're always meeting people and connecting with people. You're fostering these great relationships versus a larger city. It's been a good experience for me so far.
Keep building on that is the creative community out there. You have a lot of organizations, agencies, small shops that are here. What's been amazing for me in Portland is that I've been able to tap into that creative soul and explore my photography a little bit more, and feel I'm now in this circle with people that are pushing me creatively versus a larger city that I didn't have that. That's another thing that I'm super fortunate for, being out here.
June 2nd, somebody invited me to go to one of the protests in Pioneer Square. At that time, I'd never protested before. I was skeptical about it. Just having been a Black Male, and especially in the middle COVID. I had a lot of hesitation about going out there, but I felt it was my duty to go there and at least learn more about it and be involved. I went there, and I'm not going to lie, within the first 30-40 minutes, I felt overwhelmed. I didn't get to enjoy the message, and I ended up walking back.
There's a Photographer that I want to shout out. His name is Andrew Wallner. If you're not familiar with his work, he shot the notable bridge picture. I remember seeing it that day. I remember seeing a few other photos of people that were at this protest. I liked that photo because he was able to show a new perspective on the protests that I'd never seen before, and that I didn't even see in person. What was interesting is that the media amplified this and focused on the looting and the tear gas. I know a lot of that's happening, but they were focusing on the negative. When I saw that picture, I was able to see the emotion in peoples' faces, and seeing that combination of people walking together. I went back out that next day, and I felt a lot more confident.
I went with the Rose City Justice team, and they did a protest on the waterfront. As a Photographer who was shooting now and then, I brought my camera out that day. There's one particular shot, it was in the midst of this crowd, and there was a fist that went up, it hit me, I immediately had to get that shot. I felt drawn to it, because out of the sea of people, you see a hand go up, and it goes to show that this movement is bigger than me. I mean, 50 different states are doing this. It's even hit that global reach. That night, I posted it to my page. I was at like, 1200 followers, so nothing super crazy. It blew up from there. From that point on, I knew that I had a unique gift, and from that gift, it was to continue to amplify this message and put my work out there. Something I'm super passionate about. But at the same time be able to show in a perspective that the media wasn't highlighting.
For my Photography, in particular, I always make sure to Black out the individuals' eyes, because I know protesting is different for a lot of people, and I don't want to be the one that exposes them or post something without their consent. If you're doing it for the right reasons, it is a beautiful way to amplify this message and reach people who aren't too focused on what's going on, but two, it's such a lovely way to document this. I mean, I would love 50, 60 years in the future, these photos can still be cherished. What's history if you can't look back on something?
Many people have reached out to me and said, "Your photos, they've made me cry. They made me reevaluate and have these tough conversations with my family." People that aren't even in the US have reached out to me for these photos. I said it's bigger than the following. If I can change someone's mindset about what's going on and get them to get out and protest or do something, whether that donateing or have that tough conversation, even if that's one person, then I'm doing something important.
I want to do my job as a Photographer to keep going to these protests, amplifying the message, and trying to make this more significant than it is. We're in an exciting time in the world right now, especially within Portland, we're in phase one. You have seen a lot of drops off at these protests. One is people want to go out and do things and get that sense of normality, but at the same time, you have people that are burnt out. I mean, I have personal friends and people that I know well that have been out there every single day, and I know it's a lot, especially if you haven't done this before.
Long-term, I'm working with a few other photographers out here to figure out ways if we don't continue protesting for the next six months, how can we continue to amplify this message? How can we keep people engaged? How can we get new people that didn't necessarily protest now, but are more interested in issue two, three months from now? I have a vast network of people out here that all have that same mindset and eagerness to do something. So, I don't want to go into much detail now, but we're working on a few initiatives. Hopefully, that will launch a little bit later in the summer, that takes the Photography a step further and brings it into I'd say, like, the real world versus digital.
I want us to feel more united, putting aside differences. What's been interesting is to see, especially in Portland, that everyone's coming at this from a different place in their lives. One of the most beautiful moments was that I was protesting one day, and I was walking down the street, and I forgot what neighborhood it was. Still, predominantly white, there were younger white couples, older white couples, white couples with young children, throwing their fist up, throwing their thumbs up. It's like, I'm not emotional, to be completely honest, that was the closest I was to crying.
Having a world where people don't see color, and not necessarily in a color blindness, but more of like, no matter what you look like, race isn't the thing that's top of mind. it's the one thing that people celebrate, the fact that someone is different from me, looks different from me, I don't… I would love to live in a world where we're celebrating our differences and learning from it versus looking at someone already feeling divided. I honestly think that being at these protests and seeing how charged up this next generation is that… we're getting to that place. There's a lot more work to be done, but we're making the necessary strides to get to that place.
As an Artist and a Photographer, I want to continue to connect with people, tell their stories, and amplify other Black artists coming up. What's been a fantastic experience out of all this is that I'm meeting with people that I necessarily wouldn't have connected with. Portland is small, but sometimes it feels divided, especially someone from a new city—being able to communicate with these Black Artists and meet them for the first time at a protest or a get-together and talk about our stories and how we got to it. I want to keep doing that. I want to continue to expand this reach, so one day, I'm telling a story of someone that, I said, it can reach in another city, or I have big ambitions where if I'm in a new town, I want to be able to highlight people there. A lot's going through my mind right now. I'm full force in what I want to do with this.
You have to look at yourself as I'm more than a Photographer. I'm a Photojournalist who is documenting things, and with this platform and with this attention, what can I do to change things and change policies, and change the way that the world operates? Something that has been top of mind in the upcoming election in November. There's a lot of people that aren't aware or not engaged. Is there a way that we can use the medium of photography to amplify and get people immersed in what's going on and more informed, rather than posting a picture and having it be linear within the Instagram cycle? It's like how we can make our content, our art a little more expansive, beyond the simple posts on Instagram.
As an Artist, the biggest thing is, don't be afraid to put your work out there. If you're doing it for the right reason, now is a fantastic time, too, especially as a Black artist, use your brain platform to educate and spread awareness about this critical issue. Thinking a little bit long term as an artist, continue to work on your craft, and I'm still working on it to this day. I mean, there are so many things that I aspire to do, and people that I want to be, but you can't get to that point unless you make that first step as an artist and work on your craft, get those reps in, and keep being as excited as I am. Many people out in the world are eager to put their work out in the world.