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In times of doubt the importance of photojournalism is certain

In times of doubt the importance of photojournalism is certain

More than 1,000 people gathered on Market and Powell streets to protest against President-elect Donald Trump, before marching to the Castro and Mission Districts and City Hall, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Desiree Rios

The old saying goes that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but I disagree. I believe photographs engage our emotions in a way that cannot be measured with words. Written stories describe our reality, but images make us feel that reality.

Because El Tecolote is a biweekly publication, by the time we printed our first post-election issue, everyone already knew the results. More than informing our readers, our concern was to address them directly.

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Hundreds of images of protests from around the Bay Area came pouring in from our volunteer photographers. They showed faces full of anger and sadness, but also defiance and strength. It was difficult to select a single image for our front page that encapsulated the upheaval of these first days after the election.

I had zeroed in on an excellent photo of a woman with eye makeup running down her face from crying. She embodied the despair many in our country were feeling. We threw around headlines like “What now?” or “What’s happens next?” However, while accurate and attention grabbing, it didn’t quite match the message we were trying to send at this critical time. We wanted to send a message of hope and resistance to our community, not of despair.

Then our editor-in-chief noticed an image I had overlooked. It was of a young man, very possibly Latino, yelling as he raised his fist in the air, so full of energy he seemed ready for battle. I noticed there was a white man marching in the background holding a white flag. Racial unity. This image inspired a different headline that met unanimous approval: “Rise!”

James Uqualla, a Native American elder from New Mexico looks out to the Cannonball River near Standing Rock Indian Reservation on Nov. 24. Photo: Natasha Dangond

Images can serve as visual proof of an event, but their true power lies in their capacity to set the emotional tone of how a society will process a major event.

To appreciate this power, we hope that you will join Acción Latina and El Tecolote as we celebrate our 4th annual exhibition: “Latino Life, A Photojournalistic View of Our Experience.” It is the Bay Area’s only ongoing photo event dedicated to portraying the Latino experience. In it, we present a selection of the best images by our volunteer photographers. Most are photos taken in 2016, but we also offer some older gems that have not been exhibited before.

Some of the images in our exhibit, like that of a sidewalk covered in red paint hours after the fatal shooting of Luis Gongora by SFPD, may upset or anger you. But photojournalism is at the intersection of journalism and art, and both great art and great journalism should challenge assumptions, which means at times making the spectator uncomfortable.

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We also offer you images of solidarity against injustice, like a crowd of hundreds marching behind the “Frisco 5” on their way to City Hall, an entire city united against police brutality and making its voice heard.

There are portraits of artists, leaders and creators strengthening our community, and portrayals of the rituals and traditions that make us who we are.

We hope these images will bring a sober awareness of the challenges faced by our community, while at the same time inspiring the viewer with the resilience of a people who continue to stand.

“Latino Life, A Photojournalistic View of Our Experience” opens Saturday Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Juan R. Fuentes Gallery, 2958 24th Street, San Francisco and runs through Feb. 24. To inquire about becoming a volunteer photographer for El Tecolote, email mabel@eltecolote.org