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A London Museum Wants to Relocate a Statue of Its Slave-Trader Founder—But the U.K. Government Won’t Let It Happen


London’s Geffrye Museum has changed its name to the Museum of Home, but the institution’s statue of former namesake Robert Geffrye, an English merchant and slave trader, is still a source of controversy—and the government is preventing the museum from removing the sculpture from its prominent place above the entrance.

The museum, which reopens to the public on June 12, has just completed an £18.1 million ($25.5. million) redevelopment project that began in early 2018.

But its reopening festivities are expected to be marred by protests, with local Hackney member of parliament Diane Abbott set to speak at a rally calling for the statue’s removal, reports the Hackney Gazette.

The dispute arises as institutions across the U.K. wrestle with how to interpret the official government policy to “retain and explain” monuments to racist, colonialist, or otherwise problematic figures, from slave trader Edward Colston to British imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

Exterior of the Museum of the Home from Kingsland Road. The statue is beneath the clock, above the door. Photo ©Jayne Lloyd, courtesy of the Museum of the Home.

Exterior of the Museum of the Home from Kingsland Road. The statue is beneath the clock, above the door. Photo ©Jayne Lloyd, courtesy of the Museum of the Home.

Geffrye was the part owner of a ship chartered by the Royal African Company that transported men, women, and children from West Africa to Jamaica, where they were sold into slavery. He also paid for the almshouses in London’s Hackney borough, which is now the site of the Museum of the Home, dedicated to period rooms recreating domestic life in the U.K. from the 1600s to the present.

Museum of the Home opted to keep Geffrye’s statue in place even after it changed its name from the Geffry Museum in November 2019. Under renewed pressure last summer, the museum’s board said the institution would “respond to the issues raised by this debate” and “reinterpret and contextualize the statue where it is,” according to a statement.

But the debate wasn’t over.

“Since then, an alternative interpretation of retain and explain has been suggested, envisaging that the statue could be relocated elsewhere in the museum’s grounds,” a museum representative told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email.

“The museum staff feel that by moving it to an alternative location on site we can explain it better,” Tamsin Ace, the museum’s director of creative programs, told the Telegraph. “Having it at height on a really visible thoroughfare in Hackney is problematic.”

Ace proposes moving the statue to the graveyard where Geffrye is buried on the far corner of the lawn. “It’s a great spot for contemplation and reflection, and people can choose whether they engage with him in that way because the statue remaining in position is a painful memory,” she explained.

But that effort was stymied when the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport made it clear it would not approve an application to relocate the statue elsewhere on the grounds of the building, which is has been listed by Historic England as a building of exceptional interest.

Now, the museum says its hands are tied. “In light of new legislation proposed by the government in January 2021 to protect historic monuments at risk of removal or relocation, the board believes that its original decision is the only practical option for the foreseeable future,” the museum representative added. “The museum is continuing to explore options for the statue and to listen carefully to all the issues raised.”

The statue at the Museum of the Home was originally installed at the former almshouse founded by Geffrye in 1724, and replaced with a replica in 1912 or 1913, before becoming a museum in 1914. It will now be accompanied by a sign that reads “these buildings were founded by Robert Geffrye, an English merchant who profited from the forced labor and trading of enslaved Africans.”

Other statues in the U.K. have been the source of similar disputes. In Bristol, protestors toppled a statue of 17th-century merchant and slave trader Edward Colson and dumped it in the harbor during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. A year later, it has gone on display at M Shed, part of the Bristol Museums.

And debate is still swirling over the fate of a statue of Rhodes at Oxford University. A college at the school voted last June to remove it, but determined last month that it would remain in place due to the costs involved. Now, 150 academics are boycotting the institution, refusing to teach while the statue remains in place.

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Western Museums Are Finally Reconsidering Their African Collections. We Gathered 3 Experts to Explain Why—and What Needs to Happen Next


After many decades of inaction, many museums in the West have been forced to recognize that tucked into their storage facilities are a stunning array of wonders that were forcibly taken from the Benin Royal Palace in 1897 by the British on a so-called punitive expedition.

And now, finally, changes seem to be underway.

After the publication of a groundbreaking report in France by Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy advising President Emmanuel Macron to return the Benin Bronzes in national collections, a portal opened, catalyzing other European nations to do the same. Suddenly, after so much silence, restitution finally seems like a real possibility.

Germany, which has some of the largest collections of the Benin bronzes after the U.K., announced last month it would begin returns in 2022. It is likely that many of the work will end up in the David Adjaye-designed Edo Museum of West African Art after it opens in 2025.

To better understand this critical turning point, Midnight Publishing Group News brought together three key figures for a conversation about the restitution of the Benin bronzes: Victor Ehikhamenor, a Lagos-based artist and trustee of the Legacy Restoration Trust, an organization working on the Benin bronzes’ return; Pitt Rivers Museum curator Dan Hicks, author of The Brutish Museums; and Marla Berns, director of the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles.

Here’s what they told us.

From left, Dan HIcks, MB, and TK.

From left, Dan Hicks, Marla Berns, and Victor Ehikhamenor.

Victor, you came to know about this art as a young person. What does the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) mean, and how can it show these objects in a way that other museums cannot?

Victor Ehikhamenor: The EMOWAA museum is many things. I realized through recent conversations that some only look at its being built because we expect the Benin Bronzes to be returned. We are forgetting that after 1897, creativity did not stop. Benin has always been a kingdom that innovates and builds. The Western narrative is that there is no history if it has not been told by a Western historian. But there are questions for the whole of sub-Saharan [Africa] too: how did our artworks reference each other? How did we feed off each other creatively?

We are building this museum for many reasons. Its absence has become an excuse for some people who don’t want to return the stolen items. “Where are you going to put them?” they ask. These people forget that they were not stolen from a museum. These objects were taken from a particular place where they were meant to be.

The punitive expedition and the reality of colonialism has largely been omitted from education in the Global North. How is this history addressed in your educational systems?

VE: It is not something that is present. We knew that the kingdom was attacked, burned down, and rebuilt. We knew that we didn’t have an oba [hereditary ruler] for 14 years while the British were trying to skew things. Those are all oral narratives. As a young student, we studied the empires: the Ghana empire, the Yoyo empire. The education we were fed was also a colonial education. Certain facts were omitted. We can even go back to the language of a “punitive exhibition.” What is a “punitive expedition”? I know that Dan [Hicks] has also questioned that. Language and education were part of the tools of colonialism.

Dan Hicks: What I learned in writing [The Brutish Museums], which was a shock, in some ways, was how many of these “punitive expeditions” were undertaken. At the time, the so-called Little Wars that the Victorians wrote about were immense military interventions. Yet they describe them as individual events. They did not underline how connected these events were after the Berlin Conference of 1884 [in which European powers partitioned Africa], which is a sort of ground zero for this history. In what is now Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Sudan, there was the removal of chiefs, kings, or obas who outlived their usefulness and who were getting in the way of an increasingly aggressive and capitalist corporate colonialism. This was happening in a so-called “protectorate.” The language of the protectorate is the language of the mafia. “We’re going to protect you—or else.” So the language of the “punitive expedition” defines these attacks as a punishment. Whether in the case of the Benin attack, or in the case of a whole host of other attacks, the notion is about reprisal, and that there is some earlier act that justified this ultraviolence. 

This happens for restitution conversations now as well. The idea is that those who want restitution are attacking museums. We have to understand how the logic of late Victorian colonialism continues into the present.

Photograph of an ancestral shrine at the Royal Palace, Benin City taken during the visit of Cyril Punch in 1891. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. EEPA.1993-014.

Photograph of an ancestral shrine at the Royal Palace, Benin City taken during the visit of Cyril Punch in 1891. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. EEPA.1993-014.

Marla, can you speak about what you have been doing at your institution?

Marla Berns: Just two years after the Fowler Museum was established in 1963, through a kind of serendipitous meeting, the chancellor of UCLA and a member of the Wellcome Trust had a conversation about how much money it cost to store this phenomenal collection that Sir Henry Wellcome had amassed around the turn of the 20th-century. There were dispersals of this vast collection—especially the ethnographic component of it—after World War II, and a lot of work went to the British Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum.

In 1965, we received 30,000 objects from that collection in one fell swoop, sent by ship to this fledgling museum. Among those objects are about 7,000 from Africa, including a number of pieces that are from Benin. We knew about those objects since they arrived on our doorstep. Since those early moments in the 1960s, the museum has never focused on provenance research on this collection. This is a major shift in the curatorial work of museums in recent years. We have an objective of knowing what we have, where the objects came from, and how they came to us. We are the secondhand or even fourth-hand owners of these objects. 

Provenance research is important for us to know what we have, but also to tell the histories of colonial collecting. We were able to do this because of funding that we received from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, specifically for collections research—which is really significant, because museums don’t typically have the resources to hire archival researchers or conservation specialists. It’s very resource intensive. Because of that, we’re now able to learn more about the pieces we have. We have at least 20 objects that we think were plundered from the palace, and we have confirmed that six of them actually came directly from that event via a colonial officer or someone else who took it out of Nigeria. This has become really an important part of what we’re doing.

Interior of the Royal Palace during looting, showing Captain Charles Herbert Philip Carter (1864–1943), ‘E.P. Hill’ and an unnamed man, February 1897. Pitt Rivers Museum (accession number 1998.208.15.11).

Interior of the Royal Palace during looting, showing Captain Charles Herbert Philip Carter (1864–1943), ‘E.P. Hill’ and an unnamed man, February 1897. Pitt Rivers Museum (accession number 1998.208.15.11).

Germany has made some leaps and bounds in regards to funding. They are now giving grants for provenance research to institutions. I’m curious what you think about the pace of Germany versus other nations?

MB: I just think we haven’t gathered over these issues in the way that Europe has. The Benin Dialogue Group has been meeting for about 10 years and has been discussing these matters, Germany included. We’re coming into this a little bit later, but we are beginning to form a consortium and we’re trying to work together because reaching out to communities is paramount. Talking to people like Victor and understanding what our responsibilities are and being collaborative is at the foundation of the work we’re doing.

The U.S. should take guidance from NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which has governed how American reckon with our colonialism and our history of domination of Native American peoples. There are two main lessons from that. One is inventories, knowing what you have. And the second is communication, collaboration, and respect.

DH: The work we just heard about so eloquently from Marla is at the heart of what restitution means. It starts with an acknowledgement of how much was taken and destroyed. Much of that was knowledge. What some call the decolonization of museums, I prefer to frame as the unfinished work of anti-colonialism and anti-racism. I think that’s fundamentally what we learned in the U.K. This means looking not only at the looting by 200 soldiers, sailors, and administrators who simply took what they wanted for their own gain, but looking at the art market and museums’ acquisition programs, which both worked for purposes of cultural supremacy.

A lot of the German debate is framed around the notion of being transparent. But transparency is one aspect only. Accountability is something else. When we heard the verdict after the trial related to the racist murder of George Floyd, there was an interesting moment where [U.S.] Attorney General Keith Ellison said he wouldn’t call it “justice, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability.” He said that accountability is a step towards justice. That is what this work is about in our museums.

Victor, there are all these different stakeholders in a complicated network to get these objects really moving. Can you speak a bit about the Legacy Restoration Trust’s work in that regard?

VE: I was invited to become part of it in 2020. This whole restitution debate has become part of the mandate for it, but the Legacy Restoration Trust is actually many things. We know how complicated this subject can be. The board members come from different angles—some are from history, from art, from finance. We try to be a central point of conversation for all the moving parts of this issue.

DH: What’s incredibly exciting for Europeans and Americans is that we are taking ourselves out of the conversation. We’ve been taking up space about returns for so long. There are different agents in Nigeria from the nation-state, to the governor to the Royal court—these conversations within Nigeria should be happening without neo-colonial interference. It’s wrong for us in the West to expect closure.

Retired hospital consultant Mark Walker (R) hands over two bronze artefacts he returned to the Benin kingdom to the Oba (King) of Benin, Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa I, during a ceremony in Benin City, Nigeria, on June 20, 2014. Photo: Kelvin Ikpea/AFP via Getty Images.

Retired hospital consultant Mark Walker (R) hands over two bronze artefacts he returned to the Benin kingdom to the Oba (King) of Benin, Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa I, during a ceremony in Benin City, Nigeria, on June 20, 2014. Photo: Kelvin Ikpea/AFP via Getty Images.

In the Sarr-Savoy restitution report, they said that if an object is stolen, it should be returned. In the case of Benin, as you said, Dan, the ransacking is well-documented. In Germany, in the case of Nazi-looted art, works have been returned when duress is proven. There are so many instances and situations where that would likely turn out to be true all across Africa. This should and will grow to become really big in scope.

MB: It’s a lifetime of work. We’ve talked about it at Fowler. We have objects that came from the Ashanti Wars in the early 1870s. We want to work directly with the Ashanti Palace in Kumasi. We need to know who to go to, but it’s complicated. There’s no other word for it, other than it’s complicated. We have objects from South Africa. To whom do we speak when we have objects that belong to villages or former kingdoms? It’s really such a difficult situation, but one in which we still profoundly want to make progress and want to do the right thing. From my point of view, it really is going to reshape the role of the curator, the importance of archival work, and the priorities of curatorial work.

Victor, I can imagine colleagues in neighboring countries are probably looking to adapt and create their own versions of the Legacy Restoration Trust.

VE: Colonization of Africa didn’t happen at once. Even though these are not new conversations, this is the first time we are having some traction. But if restitution is going to continue to work, we have to build a model. Like Marla said, it is going to be a lifetime of work. But it is starting. Martin Luther King was in the 1960s. Obama was in the 2000s. But you cannot, we could probably say, have had Obama without having King before. So the models that are being created right now are kind of like the pillars for futures. If other people see what is being done with the Benin Bronzes, and if we are successful, then there will be precedents to reference.

That could also be frightening to a lot of museums. “Where does it stop?” one might say. We have to do a balancing act. We’re doing it correctly when we’re addressing the provenance. We’re not asking for people to just give everything, as if a museum is being raided. This is not a revised punitive expedition. The objects you can trace must be addressed in a way that is beneficial to both parties. 

A plaque which decorated the palace of the Obas, Benin warriors are depicted in battle. Nigeria. Edo. Probably late 17th century. Benin City. (Photo by Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

A plaque which decorated the palace of the Obas, Benin warriors are depicted in battle. Nigeria. Edo. Probably late 17th century. Benin City. (Photo by Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Speaking about different strategies, I wanted to bring up the activist Mwazulu Diyabanza, who has been actively removing objects from European museums. I wonder what your reaction is to his actions?

VE: There is no one cookie-cutter approach. If you look at colonialism, Belgium was different in their approach; Germany was different in their approach; France was different in their approach. People asking for restitution are going to have different approaches to it, too. At the same time, we have to bring humanity and civility to that conversation. How do we go about it lawfully, even though a lot done during colonialism was unlawful? You do not stamp out fire with fire.

DH: The Rhodes Must Fall protest was happening outside the [Pitt Rivers] museum. When your audience comes to your front door and protests your institution, you have to try and understand. I think Diyabanza’s interventions were designed to expose the question about legitimacy. The French culture minister said the objects in French museums are inalienable. Well, they were also inalienable to the oba of Benin. So whose system of justice is right? Who is the thief? Who is the criminal?

I don’t know the details of these interventions or whether laws were broken, but what I know is that, as a performance art intervention, it seems to me  that it is a rightful challenge to the legitimacy of the museum, especially when it presents itself as under attack.

What about private collections? The number of works in private collections is totally unknown.

MB: Museums can educate their audiences and work with collectors so that they understand the issues in a dispassionate way. Ownership is not static. They need to think about how they personally are obligated to contend with problematic histories of these objects they own. It’s up to museums to educate not by sitting them down and saying, over drinks, “You really need to think about your collection,” but by doing exhibitions, public programming, and really trying to frame these arguments to the fullest degree that we can. There are collectors who are doing the right thing. But some are caught up in the investments they made to buy these objects. That’s part of what’s going on in their minds. I think they have to be led to go beyond that, and to think about what’s right.

VE: Auction houses have a lot of work to do, too. They need to turn some of these objects down. They keep coming up for sale and auction houses keep selling them. Dealers have work to do too, because they deal in these objects. I would even exonerate the museums from this specific conversation, because it is really the dealers and the auction houses who know where objects might be, and who have the responsibility.

DH: There was an interesting piece in the Financial Times last weekend, which I appeared in, that talked about the changing questions over the value of the looted Benin art. There are questions of the saleability of these items. In many cases, maybe half the cases, we are looking at objects where people made an investment, but maybe half of what’s out there has been inherited. These are the descendants of those who took it. In those cases, we are seeing returns. We’re seeing exactly what we see in museums: not a legal process but rather a coalition of the willing. That phrase is from a different and rather horrendous context of the Iraq War… But maybe we can reuse and reclaim it to describe how many are acting today.

MB: In the case of Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in 2007, the museum decided to deaccession a Benin bronze head at auction for almost $5 million to use that money to buy other art. It raises really thorny issues about the fact that that institution gained that resource from that one piece that was stolen. They didn’t even own it in the first place. Auction houses are now becoming very reluctant to get into the middle of what is, in fact, an illegal transaction.

Carved elephant tusks looted by British soldiers from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 are displayed in the "Where Is Africa" exhibition at the Linden Museum on May 05, 2021 in Stuttgart, Germany. Photo: Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images.

Carved elephant tusks looted by British soldiers from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 are displayed in the “Where Is Africa” exhibition at the Linden Museum on May 05, 2021 in Stuttgart, Germany. Photo: Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images.

Hopefully it doesn’t drive it underground, though, because there’s a growth of these private sales at auction houses.  

MB: But when you find out, there’s the shaming aspect. People put it right into the press and that helps, actually.

DH: I don’t think we can imagine a European or American Museum actively purchasing a looted Benin artwork now. We have passed that point. Some wonder whether, when the Aberdeen object is returned to Nigeria, the British government will attempt to intervene and force a sale within the U.K. I don’t think the British Museum or any U.K. institution is going to take that Aberdeen object at this point, though. I think we are seeing a sentiment change in a very interesting way. These are no longer being understood as just “assets.” They’re royal, sacred, stolen objects.

View of main entrance and courtyard garden © Adjaye Associates.

View of main entrance and courtyard garden of the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) in Benin City, Nigeria. © Adjaye Associates.

What is one of your hopes for the next steps in this debate?

VE: Museums shouldn’t be afraid to return works that are problematic. If you can trace the provenance to the fact that it was looted, a lot of them should do the right thing and figure out a way to return them to their original owners. They can always acquire new artworks to continue that history.

MB: What the museum field needs are resources to do this work. I would like to advocate for philanthropy turning its attention to helping curators at institutions that are committed to knowing more about their collections. We are not just taking on the high-profile cases like the Benin Bronzes. We must address all the other material we have that we need to know more about. Institutions need multi-year grants, they need to cover staff time, travel, all the ways that we need to further the work. It’s never good to say, “We can’t do this, because we don’t have the money.” We have to find the money. We have to make the persuasive arguments. We have to  make these issues public. So bravo to those who support the work, and let’s find more foundations who can do this in the future.

DH: One of the real challenges for us is to be able to lower our standards of evidence. The men in the expedition took photographs and documented and wrote down everything. You couldn’t ask for more accuracy. In other cases, there won’t be that level of documentation, but that doesn’t mean the case for return isn’t any less compelling. That’s the challenge for us as we do the provenance research. We have to make sure that all these other historical incidents do not get brushed under the carpet. 

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‘The Police Didn’t Know What Was Going to Happen’: 5 Photographers on What It Was Like to Document the Storming of the US Capitol


What has historically been the routine task of ratifying the results of the US presidential election devolved into unprecedented chaos on Wednesday as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, overrunning law enforcement and vandalizing the building in a brazen attempt to interrupt the proceedings.

Urged on by President Donald Trump at a rally outside the White House, and fueled by the false belief that the election results are fraudulent, the protesters became an invading force, waving Confederate flags and neo-Nazi banners at the seat of US democracy.

The mob was eventually cleared off the premises and Congress resumed its session, certifying the election of Joe Biden in the wee hours of the night. But the uprising marked the first time since the British invaded during the War of 1812 that Washington was so overrun.

The scene was documented by a fearless press corps that braved tear gas, pepper spray, and attacks to record the day’s events, which so far have left five dead. We spoke to five photographers about their experiences capturing this dark moment in US history.

 

A group of pro-Trump protesters raise a giant America Flag on the West grounds of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

A group of pro-Trump protesters raise a giant America Flag on the West grounds of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

Over the summer, I shot 38 consecutive days of protests in Louisville, Kentucky, related to the Breonna Taylor killing. I knew there was going to be an insurrection attempt of some kind just based off of the online chatter from Trump supporters such as the Proud Boys.

I originally pitched it to Getty and they said their coverage needs were already fulfilled. But I made the nine-and-a-half hour drive anyway. This was actually my first time visiting Washington, DC. The night before, my editors said they actually did need some coverage help, so they assigned me an area to be on the east lawn.

I have a press pass that’s attached to my bullet proof vest. Dozens of people came up to me asking who I was with, and if I was Antifa. I would tell them I was shooting for Getty Images. They would say, “that sounds like fake news to me.”

Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

As a Black member of the media, I have often found myself the target of harassment from these far-right groups. When I was taking photographs of Proud Boys before they started marching, one of them started fake coughing and sneezing on me without a mask.

I spoke to one of the Proud Boys, named Billy. He said he stuck up for me because some of the others thought I wasn’t really media, and that I was Antifa and was going to try to attack them. I was there with other media and I gave no sign that I was different than them other than the color of my skin. It’s a very uncomfortable position for [Black members of the media] to be in.

But I joined the Proud Boys in their formation as they marched from the west side of the Capitol to the east side of the Capitol. They started getting each other riled up, screaming and chanting. Some of them announced that it was time to rush the Capitol.

A member of a pro-Trump mob bashes an entrance of the Capitol Building in an attempt to gain access on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

A member of a pro-Trump mob bashes an entrance of the Capitol Building. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

At this point, it was pretty obvious the police didn’t know what was going to happen. They tried as hard as they could to keep the barriers intact, but eventually the Proud Boys made their way in.

I had a faulty gas mask, so I didn’t even wear it. Fortunately I wear glasses, so the pepper spray didn’t get into my eyes, but it still makes you cough and sneeze pretty heavily. The tear gas wasn’t as powerful; it just had kind of an itching burn in my lungs.

Another thing that leads me to believe the police were not prepared for this potential insurrection is that they didn’t even have gas masks on. They were suffering the effects of their own tear gas and their own pepper spray.

A group of pro-Trump rioters wave flags from a platform on the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

A group of pro-Trump rioters on the Capitol Building. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

The level of violence that was happening at that point, with melee weapons and projectiles—the only thing that wasn’t happening yet was gunfire. I didn’t want to end up in position where there were live rounds going off inside the Capitol building, and I didn’t have a way out. So I stood at entrances and took photos.

There is a shot that describes the day quite well. I took it from the west pavilion, inside one of the tunnels. There are crowds inside and it’s very dark, and one of the platforms outside is stuffed banister to banister with Trump supporters. In the foreground, all you see is the tops of the heads of all of the people with the tunnel who are shrouded in shadow. There’s a natural frame from the ornate stonework of the tunnel. I was very intentional about that composition, and it turned out exactly how I wanted it.

 

Rioters gather storm the Capitol and halt a joint session of the 117th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Kent Nishimura for the <em>Los Angeles Times</em> via Getty Images.

Rioters at the Capitol. Photo by Kent Nishimura for the Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

My plan was to start out at the rally near the White House and to make my way back to the hill for the certification, but once they marched to the Capitol, it took on a life as its own.

I initially started out on the west side of the Capitol, but a line of law enforcement officers was blocking the mob from getting access initially. I walked around to the east side right as they were about to breach the doors.

It didn’t seem like there was much of a plan. Some of them came in with full tactical gear and zip-tie handcuffs. But most seemed just intent on getting in, because that’s what the mob mentality was saying they should do.

Rioters gather storm the Capitol and halt a joint session of the 117th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Kent Nishimura for the <em>Los Angeles Times</em> via Getty Images.

Rioters gather to storm the Capitol. Photo by Kent Nishimura for the Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

I was definitely surprised that they made it all the way in. When I came around the side of the building, I was honestly shocked that they were even on the steps. It honestly didn’t settle in until I saw the doors open and that wave of people starting pouring in. At some point I got locked in with a group of people.

I basically felt myself being carried by the flow of the mob into the Capitol. I have a hill credential, so I am allowed to be there.

I wasn’t fearful—I had so much adrenaline pumping through my system, I didn’t have time to think about that. The paper outfitted me with gear. I had a helmet, ballistic body armor, and a gas mask, and ballistic eye gear and a respirator. I was misted with pepper spray a bunch of times and my skin felt like it was on fire.

Rioters gather storm the Capitol and halt a joint session of the 117th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Kent Nishimura for the <em>Los Angeles Times</em> via Getty Images.

Rioters gather at the Capitol. Photo by Kent Nishimura for the Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

The scene inside was chaotic. People were going in every direction. They were writing on walls and knocking over and destroying equipment that was set up for the vote. There was shattered glass on the floor.

The weirdest thing that I noticed was that a lot of them were just taking selfies of themselves in the building. They literally just broke into a federal building and now they are documenting the act!

A shattered window pane in the aftermath of a pro-Trump invasion of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

A shattered window pane in the aftermath of a pro-Trump invasion of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

I took photo of a window on the east door, you could see the crack on the bullet proof glass and I caught the reflection of the American flag in the window, and the crack is right over. And you can see some of the residue of the pepper spay projectiles on the door.

It was an after-the-moment image, but it felt very poignant and really summarized the mood, in a metaphorical sense, of what had happened that day.

 

A Trump supporter waves a flag as he stands on a government vehicle in front of the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 6, 2021. Demonstrators breeched security and entered the capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images.

A Trump supporter waves a flag. Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images.

I’m the editor of photography at AFP, which has about 10 or 11 staff photographers across the country. As a wire photographer, you get thrown into any situation, and you have to be able to produce. Six or seven of us were working that day.

We knew the president was speaking early, and that his supporters would be there early, so some photographers started in the morning. I had pulled the afternoon shift. In the past, people tend to start to get really aggressive and fight as the day drags on. So my job was to come on at 3 p.m. and see which way the night went.

You can see the Capitol all the way down at the Washington Monument. As soon as I got onto the mall, I could see that the press risers set up ahead of the inauguration had been taken over and the protesters had made it all the way onto the steps. You could see a thin line of police further up watching them but not doing anything.

Since I arrived late, my colleagues got much better photos of the riots with the tear gas being used. My one picture that for me captured the day was the noose someone had set up on the National Mall. It was a large structure. They wrote on the side of it “this is art.” There were a lot of people who just loved it.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather on the West side of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. Rioters breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynold/AFP via Getty Images.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather at the US Capitol. Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynold/AFP via Getty Images.

I have had a lot of people saying on social media that it was fake, that it never happened, that I Photoshopped it, that nobody would do that. They want evidence; they’re like “send me more angles.” People didn’t want to believe that’s what was out there and that people were responding to it positively.

There was a lot of aggression toward the police, a lot of cussing them, telling them to go “f” themselves, saying that the police are turncoats and traitors.

In the evening, when things were quieting down, there was a Trump supporter yelling at the cops. He said “This isn’t over. We’re going to be back, and next time we’re going to bring our guns. I’m gonna see you from 60 yards away, but you’re not gonna see me”—in the sense of a scope and a rifle. He kept repeating that to the police: “You betrayed us. I’m coming for you.”

Members of the DC National Guard. Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images.

Members of the DC National Guard. Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images.

The people who were trying to take over the Capitol, they really believed in what they were doing and they were ready for a fight. My general sense was that they felt justified in their reaction.

On a macro scale, it was very similar to protests I’ve been to in the past and the experience of being in an aggressive crowd. But when was the last time that the Capitol was invaded? It was in the 1800s. The significance of what we were witnessing stood out more than anything I’ve ever covered in my career.

 

Tayfun Coskun, Anadolu Agency

Security forces respond to rioters storming the US Capitol. Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Security forces respond to rioters storming the US Capitol. Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

I have been covering protests and rallies for many years. 2020 was so busy for me with COVID-19, protests and riots. The most memorable images that I captured the were of the Kyle Rittenhouse shooting in Kenosha.

After what I saw happen in the Kenosha riots, I think I was already expecting what was coming. They seemed so angry and frustrated. But as a Turkish American, I was kind of surprised.

I started my day at 5 a.m. at President Trump’s “Save America March” event. After filing the photos from my office, I heard about lockdown of the Capitol. I ran almost 1.5 miles to get there. I saw the massive crowd was heading to the US Capitol building. I wasn’t expecting the crowd would break into the building.

The photo that I took from the scaffolding in the center shows all the crowds with a wide angle, and tells [the story of the day]. I climbed up a tiny ladder [to get up there]. I held on every step very tight.

US President Donald Trumps supporters invade the Capitol building in Washington, DC, on January 06, 2021. Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Donald Trump’s supporters invade the Capitol building. Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

As a journalist, I did not feel any animosity. They were mostly angry about the network TVs like CNN, AP, FOX—whoever they think is on Biden’s side. But they also attacked some journalists who were wearing all black and looked like Antifa—which they were not. My friend took a video of the crowd attacking and throwing a New York photojournalist who was dressed up all black and with a gas mask.

When I see they were breaking the media’s equipment, I felt really sad for those journalists. It could have happened to me too. You can cover the expense of the equipment, but you cannot get back your exertion, work, labor etc. I feel really sorry to them. Hope they got their SD and CF cards from the cameras…

 

"Supporters

I was planning to shoot a rally at 5 p.m., but when I heard that the Capitol had been breached, I grabbed my stuff to go.

I saw throngs and throngs of people all over the lawn and scaling the walls. There were just flags everywhere. It was so dense and thick. Everything was trampled and everyone was swarming. It was very overwhelming and a little bit frightening.

My first reaction, my eyes just welled up with tears. Congress is the center of our legislative process. It’s hallowed; it’s historic. Our elected officials work there to make laws and protect our constitution. They work for the American people, for all sides. It represents the values that are sacred to the United States. Our systems may be imperfect, but that is the place that we try to make this country the best that it can be. Seeing this mob scene and people trying to break in and wreak havoc on the foundation of our American democracy, I was very distraught.

I was listening to the people in the crowd, and they thought they were going to show the world that the election was rigged. I don’t know what they thought they were going to do inside the halls of Congress, but for them, this breach was somehow a great patriotic act to preserve fairness and election integrity in this country.

Tear gas is fired at supporters of President Trump who stormed the United States Capitol building. Photo by Evelyn Hockstein for the Washington Post.

Tear gas is fired at supporters of President Trump who stormed the United States Capitol building. Photo by Evelyn Hockstein for the Washington Post.

I knew I wasn’t going to get inside the Capitol, so I felt like should aim for a wider shot. [As I went through the crowd,] I got these guys with neo-Nazi flags firing off colored smoke from atop the walls, and photos of people scaling the walls.

After I had been shooting for awhile, my inclination was that I should move soon and try to get something different. But it was very hard to work through that crowd, so I knew I wasn’t necessarily going to get somewhere else that was better. And I could see the police were making a move to get people off the Capitol grounds.

It was getting dark, and they started firing tear gas. There was one shot where the tear gas went off and I thought “oh my gosh.”

Here’s the United States Capitol and this guy with his arms up and a Trump flag, and other people are fleeing… I knew that image was going to resonate. It captured the drama of the day, even though it was not the people storming in. It showed the scope and size and scale of the events that had happened.

 

Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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