Protests on Film: A talk with photojournalist & creator of Activist NYC, Cindy Trinh
Cindy Trinh is the woman behind the images of Activist NYC, she is a photojournalist with a special interest in capturing social justice movements on film. We got the chance to speak to Cindy about her experiences as a photojournalist and the disparities of minority women in the field of journalism. Activist NYC’s Instagram page is filled with moving, inspirational images of people organizing, demonstrating, and doing their part to fight off injustices. Years and years from now, when you’re retelling a story about the time you were apart of the gathering for Eric Garner or walked very crowded streets for the Women’s March, or sat-in during Occupy Wall Street, you can refer back to her photography to help you with the details.
The scary thing about mainstream media in the U.S. is that it often operates as just another corporate machine. Journalism is another business nearly impenetrable by women and people of color. Imagine the ways the journalism and media industry would change if there were more marginalized men and women working in the field. News presented to us by people who reflect our diversity. Show support to Cindy and women like her: She uses her talents in photography so that we can have depictions of historical events from a different perspective. A perspective we can relate to, one that doesn’t come from the white male gaze. Cindy dedicates her time to working in a very white, male-dominated field for the sake of honestly documenting history.
Protest: How would you describe what you do?
I am a photographer and photojournalist who is passionate about art and social justice. The primary focus of my work is documentary photography and photojournalism.
Protest: What compelled you to marry your love of photography with social justice?
I was a legal observer during Occupy Wall Street back in 2011. I witnessed so many civil rights violations and police abuse of protesters. I was frustrated with the media representation of the movement and felt that the protesters were portrayed negatively. I wanted to start a documentary project that showed the diversity of people who take to the streets and the positive outcomes of exercising our right to free speech and protest. Thus, I created Activist NYC and it took on a life of its own. I never expected my little blog to reach so many people far and wide.
Protest: Why is it important to you to document acts of resistance and social justice events?
I think it is really important to document what is happening in our streets because this is our history. I want people to look back on my photos 50 years from now and remember what we fought for. My goal is to educate people and inform them of what issues are important to us as a society. I am always thrilled when I receive messages from people all over the country and the world telling me how they are impacted by my work.
Protest: What event are you most proud of covering? Why?
I’ve covered a lot of events over the last four years but the one that really sticks out to me is the Yemeni Bodega Strike in February 2017. This action was in response to President Donald Trump’s first version of the Muslim ban. The Yemeni American community in New York City shut down their bodegas and gathered in downtown Brooklyn to protest the Muslim ban. It was one of the most emotionally driven and passionate rallies I have ever been to. I felt so much of their energy and it reflected well in the photos I got that day. The images from this action are some of my best work and I am really proud of the photos I captured.
Protest: Capturing acts of resistance on film must mean you're right in the middle of the action. How do you balance the energy of protests with maintaining peace of mind?
When I’m at a protest, I like to be in the center of it all. I want to document people up close and personal to show more emotion and expression in their faces. I am very physical and active when I photograph protests, I like to move around a lot and find interesting people and signs. Balancing the energy of the protests while staying calm and collected was hard at first, but as I got more experience it is now very automatic for me. I like to get into the moments and participate in the protest as much as possible, all while looking around to find great moments and shots to capture. Sometimes when things get heated, for example when the police arrest protesters, it can get very chaotic and violent. I have to remember that I am there to document what it happening so I have to keep calm and do what I sought out to do.
Protest: During pivotal social justice movements, like the uprising in Baltimore and Ferguson, and the Women's March, for example, people relied on social media for updates and to watch the events unfold in real time. Our peers and online communities became the reporters, using their phones to record and upload the footage to their accounts for us all to see. Can we say the recent acts of resistance are fueling a new generation of independent journalists and photojournalists?
Definitely. Civil unrest has been happening for generations and generations, we just now have the tools to show it to the world. Social media and the Internet has given us a lens to see everything that is happening in real time. It has also shed light on the injustice and abuse that we so often hear about but never actually see, for example police brutality. The videos that were captured showing the deaths of so many unarmed Black people have sparked national outrage and protest. Also, I think that people are fed up with mainstream media and want to start their own blogs and sites for independent journalism and photojournalism. That’s exactly why I started my blog.
Protest: How and why should we encourage them to consider following a career in journalism and photojournalism?
I think we need to encourage young people to consider careers in journalism and photojournalism because it has become clear that the industries have changed significantly. Digital media and the Internet has created almost limitless boundaries. We are no longer tied down to just watching the evening news on primetime television. We can get our news from so many different sources. I think young people especially are finding new and crafty ways of expressing their opinions and facilitating conversation. Digital media and the Internet has created almost limitless boundaries.We are no longer tied down to just watching the evening news on primetime television. We can get our news from so many different sources. I think young people especially are finding new and crafty ways of expressing their opinions and facilitating conversation.
Protest: Photojournalism is a very white male-dominated field, what advice do you have for other young, women of color looking to get into this profession?
Photojournalism is very white male-dominated and the few women who are working as photojournalists are also white. This is a very tough industry to crack for women of color. My hope is that the media will recognize we need better representation of women and especially women of color. I recently found out that I have been accepted into a program called the Tempest Representation Project, a partnership with The Tempest and Getty Images to highlight women of color photographers in the industry. There is also a group called Women Photograph that aims to showcase the work of women photojournalists. We need more programs like these to get more women of color involved in photojournalism. My advice to others is to keep photographing no matter how discouraged you get. Introduce yourself to different groups and organizations that focus on issues that matter to you personally. I’m still in the process of doing this too! It is a lot of hustle and networking but hopefully it will pay off in the end.
In what ways would the landscape of photojournalism and news media change if there were more women of color in the field?
I think there would be better stories to tell. I recently did a project about women who are survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. They had a lot of fears and apprehension because of how sensitive the subject matter was. But these women felt comfortable around me because I am a woman of color. If they were talking to a white man, I don’t believe they would be comfortable enough to tell their full stories. This is what is lacking in the mainstream media today. We don’t get to hear the stories of marginalized people often and when we do it is most often through the lens of a white person. I want better representation of women of color and I think only other women of color can achieve that.
Lastly, what is something you're excited for people to learn about you through your work?
I want to do work that is meaningful and impactful on people. I care about a lot of issues and I have so many other projects I want to do. A few years ago, I did a photo series about Asian American low wage workers that received a lot of praise and good feedback. I was so happy to hear from people all over the country about how my work impacted them. I want my photos to evoke strong feelings in people and sway their minds. This is why I do the work that I am doing, not for money or fame, but to leave some kind of mark on the world.
Photojournalist Cindy Trinh sets her sights on documenting social issues, historic events, and the public's resistance of injustices through protests. She's recently been accepted to the Tempest Representation Project which supports and showcases women of color photographers. Click the links on your right to keep in touch with Cindy