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Hunger Strikes, Prayer Dances and Protests: A Photographer in Community

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Photos by activist and photographer Denis Ivan Perez Bravo. (Denis Ivan Perez Bravo.)

Denis Ivan Perez Bravo is an East Bay-based photographer and organizer who isn’t shy about  jumping into the action.

The images he captures on the front lines of protests in Northern California show the intense struggle of today’s social movements.

Denis Ivan Perez Bravo
Denis Ivan Perez Bravo (Courtesy of Denis Ivan Perez Bravo)

The risk of bodily harm can come from both sides of a scrimmage. While covering the news, Dennis has been hit by projectiles fired from police weapons and risks being trampled by crowds of protestors.

On top of that, Denis is undocumented, so he’s literally risking his freedom. But he says that his photos are worth it.

Beyond capturing images from the front lines in battles for justice and liberation, Denis also fills his camera rolls with shots of community sporting events and cultural affairs from his neighborhood in Richmond, CA.

This week on Rightnowish, we talk to Denis about what it means to be on the front line, and why he sometimes crosses that line.

A man stands with his arms outstretched, one towards the camera as a smiling woman gently holds burning sage in front of his chest. They stand in the middle of the street with a cab and many protestors in the background.
A protest in Sacramento, where the black community rose up for Stephon Clark. (Denis Ivan Perez Bravo)

Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with Denis Ivan Perez Bravo.

Pen: What caught me initially was shots of football games… then Snoop and Mike Curry for the Warriors. And this is probably the first time I saw you work this shot right here. There’s an African-American woman, clearly pregnant, double dutching. It’s at the barbecuing while black in Oakland. And what jumps out to me are the people in the background, all the expressions. There’s people with like camera phones, holding them up, just everybody is smiling, everybody having a joyous time.

Denis: I grew up in Oakland and so to capture a moment like this, I love Black culture because I grew up around Black culture. And, it’s parallel to Mexican/Guatemaltecan culture that I have. And so, when I think of Oakland, this is what I think of. Like, I double dutched when I was young and everything. It is Oakland and I’m glad that I was able to capture it.

Photographer Denis Ivan Perez Bravo took this photo of a pregnant woman double dutching during the Barbecuing While Black festival.
Photographer Denis Ivan Perez Bravo took this photo of a pregnant woman double dutching during the Barbecuing While Black festival. (Denis Ivan Perez)

Pen: Are you still nice at double dutching though?

Denis: [laughs] I think I got better.

Pen: I could never get it. [laughs] My timing was always off. Alright. Here’s another one for you. This one jumps out at me because you had taken some photos related to a hunger strike happening out in Antioch. What’s happening there?

Denis: An officer that works at Antioch. He killed an unarmed Indigenous man in San Francisco in the Mission district. He got taken out of the San Francisco Police Department and he was looking for a job. He had worked in Antioch before and they hired him back. There were six young people that don’t want what they call “a killer cop” in their streets. And they took a stand.  The organization they have is called 6forced2strike. They occupied the space for around two to three weeks. Protest, marches, community awareness.

PEN: Was there a turning point when you realized that you need to be involved [in protests]?

Denis: One thing that got me started thinking was when I was in Sacramento, when Stephan Clark was killed by police. There was a funeral and there was protests. And most of the other people that were taking pictures were white photographers. [Protestors] asked them directly, why are you not chanting with us? And that got me thinking of, like, if I’m in a protest, I’m not going to lead the chant. I’m not going to go and get the bullhorn but I will open my mouth and I will say Black Lives Matter. And I’ll say it unapologetically.

Denis: Now, I don’t really cover protests in Richmond because I am part of the protests in Richmond. I can’t be the one that writes about it all the time, because sometimes I wanna be the one that does it.

PEN: Do you ever feel like you’re in jeopardy?

Denis: I always feel like I’m in jeopardy because I’m undocumented, but when I’m in a protest it doesn’t matter if it’s police shooting rubber bullets or they’re tear gassing people, I’ll run towards that action. And most fear or concerns or anything, just they don’t exist in that moment.

Denis: My work isn’t for just today’s generation. I’m working towards somebody else’s knowledge, [so] that they can understand how Oakland rose up, how Richmond rose up, how Vacaville, Fairfield, Antioch, all those people rose up together. And I’m grateful that I can be there. And somebody will know… If people don’t listen today, people will listen tomorrow.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.


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