A Duty To Bring Visibility: Photographer Samer Ghani On Capturing Milwaukee's Protests

Jun 9, 2020

Civil rights protesters continue to march around the country and in Milwaukee against police brutality since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

The way many people are connecting with the demonstrations is through the videos and photographs from people on the ground. At WUWM, our reporters have been aided by local photographer and videographer Samer Ghani, who has been out at the protests nearly every day working to capture what’s been happening in our city.

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Ghani's usual work includes abstract photography, portrait and music photography for local musicians. He hasn't been able to work in music venues since the coronavirus pandemic, but he felt that as a community leader, artist, and a person of color that he needed to bring visibility to the current events.

"Since COVID, I haven't been able to do community work and I haven't been able to bring positivity to the community like I'm used to ... So being able to do that now, as terrible as these events that have led up to these have been, I just feel ... it's truly my duty being out there bringing visibility to who we are and what we're trying to accomplish as a greater community," he adds.

 

Photographer Samer Ghani stands on a pillar during a protest in Milwaukee.
Credit Courtesy of Kozzy

As Ghani has been capturing the protests in Milwaukee he says that "there's truly no doubt" that they are peaceful. "I march alongside these people with my camera in hand to show everyone that’s staring at us and to show the police that we’re not afraid to document what happens here. Because we have no ill intention — we're not the ones who have guns," he says.

Out of the hundreds of photos that Ghani has taken so far, two captured on the first day he went out hold a particular significance for him: one is of a woman getting arrested when protests took place on the highway just south of North Avenue in Milwaukee, and the other is of a Black protester wearing an "I Can't Breathe" shirt with a crowd of people behind him.

A black protester wears an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt during a march in Milwaukee.
Credit Samer Ghani

A woman gets arrested by Milwaukee police as protesters were cleared from a highway just south of North Avenue on May 30.
Credit Samer Ghani

"Those two photos are of two very different people from different walks of life, but the unity that they both shared that same day was very important to me ... They contrasted each other, but they sent the same message and I think that was very important," says Ghani.

Ghani admits that balancing his duty as a photographer to document while protecting the identities of protesters has been difficult. He tries his best to capture the back of protester's heads and their signs, and the only people he captures directly are of protest and community leaders who are actively sharing their platform.

"I've found myself really struggling on that line and I've been having a hard time finding what to post and how to keep our community energized moving forward," he admits. Ghani says this movement has brought together people from all walks of life unlike any previous movement, and he wants to protect and respect them.

"There's a large cloud of fear I think that surrounds all of us when we go to these protests, but what's stronger than our fear is our will to fight for change."

These daily protests are also occurring during a global pandemic. Ghani says he does fear for his and his family's health, "but at a certain point, we have to fight for what's right. There's a large cloud of fear I think that surrounds all of us when we go to these protests, but what's stronger than our fear is our will to fight for change."

Ghani hopes that people feel inspired to act when they see his photographs of Milwaukee protests. 

"I just hope to be a part of that flagship to keep people energized, keep people safe, keep people feeling protected and to keep people fighting for the right cause," he says.