Dee Dwyer on the importance of real historical representation

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography journal, Activism & Protest, shipped direct to you with an 1854 Subscription.

For the past half 10 years, Dee Dwyer has noted the ongoing protests happening in her city, Washington DC,   feeling this her duty to tell the storyplot from the perspective of the Black community.

Dee Dwyer grew up in Buenos aires, DC, a city she describes as a “battlefield for the purpose of change”. Using photography, the lady tirelessly documents the Black Lives Matter and anti-racist protests that have taken place in the city since 2015, such as the toppling and burning from the statue of Confederate general Albert Pike on Juneteenth 2020. The documentary photographer has also attended pro-Trump marches, captured dirt bikers to the streets, and photographed labor, representing her ongoing fascination with all kinds of radical acts that shape the public consciousness. Dwyer’s photographs have been widely released by platforms including The particular Guardian , The Nyc Times and The Wall Street Journal . They are part of an important counter story in the mainstream media, where the movement is often portrayed by white photographers for white spectators with hyperbolic crisis.

Dwyer discovered a really like for black-and-white photography whilst studying for a BFA inside film-making, amid the powerful context of her day-to-day surroundings: “I’ll be out for lunch and see a protest, ” she quips. This particular, paired with an undeviating artistic vision, set her on a new path to empower by means of images. We see remnants of her training in the cinematic sensibilities of the girl work, photographs that capture the emotional intensity as well as the bubbling tension. Without descending into sensationalism, she instead chooses to focus on the individuals and moments that are missed in the midst of the crowd’s momentum.    

June 6 2020 Protesters at the Freedom Fighters Protest lat Dirksen © Dee Dwyer.

© Dee Dwyer.

What do you mean if you refer to Dee Dwyer Jonts? What does ‘jonts’ refer to?

‘Jonts’ is [Washington] DC lingo for bones, referring to things. Spike Shelter calls his films Spike Lee Joints, so I make reference to my images as Dee Dwyer Jonts to give all of them that ‘DC flava’. We were young, I was inspired by the way Lee represented Brooklyn and his storytelling skills about his own neighborhood, so much so that I went on to study film-making. It was during a black-and-white film photography class for my degree that I found out my love for photography. My goal was to rep south-east DC, where I grew up, and tell our stories towards the world as well. Soufside, as we call it, is the hidden gem throughout the bridge from the White Home, full of Black people plus culture.  

How did your skin flick protest work, particularly of the BLM protests, evolve from your first series of protest pictures you shot, titled Tension ?

In 2018, when Trump has been president, white supremacists kept a protest in DC and Black Lives Matter led a counter-protest in order to shut them down. I actually went out alone with my camera to document this. It was the biggest anti-racist protest I’d ever witnessed during those times. That’s when I decided to consider documenting the movement a lot more seriously, because I was feeling that there weren’t enough Black visual storytellers reporting from your front lines. I saw how the protesters fighting the good fight to end racism were badly represented in the media. We knew the importance of having these historical moments told the right way. During the 2020 protests and pandemic, it was a spiritual calling for me. It was our duty.    

© Dee Dwyer.

Knuckle Head that is a local DMV rapper is at MLK Deli’s 1 year special event in Southeast, D. C. © Dee Dwyer.

“All I have in mind is showing the truth. I aim to tell a well-balanced tale. I aim to put mankind first and to clear up any misconceptions. “

What is going through the mind when you’re at these types of protests? Previously you’ve said that photographing them is a way to give a shape to what’s happening, to understand it in some way.

All I have in mind will be showing the truth. I aim to tell a  well-balanced story. I aim to put humanity first and also to clear up any misconceptions.    


You seem to do that with a distinctive aesthetic approach. There’s a timelessness to your images.  

I really like black-and-white images. It’s due to the fact I feel they are timeless. It forces one to focus read more about what’s happening in the pictures rather than the colours. My type of photography is raw. I like to get close to the individuals I’m documenting. I want people to encounter what’s happening in the image and not just stare at it.    

I’ve also noticed your images focus quite heavily upon male bodies and topics, on both the protesters’ plus police side. There’s normally a muscular male presence, though it is not always threatening or violent – you appear to create an ambiguity about men and their power.

It’s funny to me that you declare. I said to myself recently, ‘Wow, I photograph lots of males’. I thought about this for a long time one day and realised it’s because growing up I was frequently surrounded by men: my father and his friends, or my male cousins. I was raised in a house with brothers. I enjoy being around a great deal of men. But at the same time, I realize how society views males and how they’re limited to the way they express themselves because they’re required to live up to a perception of being solid, resulting in them not displaying much emotion. I feel I am naturally drawn to that male energy or that power is drawn to me. I have a clear understanding of women due to the fact I am one, but guys, I try to understand stuff from their perspectives more and talk about it. Perhaps it’s because they’re the opposite sex from what I identify as. I often use my camera to try to clear up misconceptions placed upon the misunderstood, as well as for me, Black men are one of the most misunderstood people in the world. The particular Black man is forced to be silent and only present strength. I like to focus on both their strength and weakness.    

A young lady sits in her artwork class in a daze. The lady seemed to be deep in believed with a lot on her brain. This photo is from my series Last Queue of Chocolate City? © Dee Dwyer.

“[…] as a grown lady, when I have to get into [men’s] spaces, We carry that same energy – by letting them know through my dominant existence that I will fearlessly tell their stories as well. We aim to show the world exactly what it’s made of at the end of the day. Including the good, bad and unsightly. ”

Is this a call-to-arms against the patriarchy in a way?

It’s just me letting the brothers know that I see them, listen to them and understand all of them. It’s me letting them understand that their stories are safe with me. I am my brothers’ keeper. I always have been and at all times will be.  


If you photograph white men, are you currently ever fearful?

The males I photograph who clearly don’t like me because of the colour of my skin rather than the content of my personality, you know, the white supremacists? Growing up, I was considered a tomboy. I never supported down from a challenge from your boys – they all honored me because of this. Now, being a grown woman, when I have to get into [men’s] spaces, I carry that will same energy – by letting them know through my dominant presence that I will certainly fearlessly tell their stories as well. I aim to display the world what it’s made of at the end of the day. This includes the good, bad and ugly.  

On May 31, 2020 Protesters at the protest for the purpose of George Floyd and others who is been mistreated by Police in Washington, D. Chemical. Telling a Black Official that “At the end of the Day her badge doesn’t issue because at the end of the day she dark. ”

How do you feel about the dynamics associated with protests, the fear some people have got of them? Is it an effective way associated with galvanising change?  

It’s most definitely effective! It’s a method to put pressure on folks who aren’t making wise plus respectful decisions to change their own ways of thinking through action. If it’s led right, it’s a strong action with results leading to change. It’s not a pretty fight, it’s tough, mentally and physically tiring. As John Lewis mentioned, there’s nothing wrong along with getting into good trouble.  


You’ve been existing at so many landmark protests in recent years, what do you think defines protest in our era?  

In our times, protests for any good cause could be thought as movements needed to put an end to long-lasting trauma and the wrongdoings against the misunderstood and unappreciated individuals of the world.    

Charlotte Jansen

Charlotte Janson is an arts journalist and editor-at-large of Elephant Magazine. Jansen offers written for publications such as the Guardian, The Financial Situations, ELLE, Wallpaper*, Artsy, Vice and Frieze, and has authored two books on pictures: Girl on Girl, Art and Photography in the Associated with the Female Gaze (2017) plus Photography Now (2021). Jansen is also the presenter of the Dior Talks podcast series on the Female Gaze.

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