The Los Angeles Riots was one of the most dangerous race related riots that ever took place in U.S. history. Twenty-seven years ago to date, individuals from my hometown rioted from a place of pain and injustice.
On April 29, 1992, the Los Angeles Riots took place after the final verdict of the Rodney King trial was announced. On March 3, 1991 Rodney King was beaten by the Los Angeles Police Department over a high speed chase. Over 20 police officers were present on the scene. King suffered eleven fractures and numerous injuries due to the assault. The Rodney King trial was the first police brutality case to ever go viral due to the fact that there was actual footage of the event. People felt as though the justice system failed when the officers who beat King were found not guilty.
The L.A. Riots lasted over five days, hundreds of businesses were looted and destroyed, 50 people were pronounced dead and thousands were injured.
One year prior to the riots, Korean-American Soon Ja Du shot and killed Latasha Harlins. Harlins was a 15-year old black girl from South Central Los Angeles who lost her life at the hands of the wife of the owner of Empire Liquor Market over a bottle of orange juice. For the final verdict of this case, Du was fined $500 and was sentenced to five years of probation and 400 hours of community service.
Due to the racial tension that was birthed from the verdict of trials for Rodney King and Latasha Harlins communities were outraged. Many of the businesses that were destroyed during the riots were Korean-American owned which leads many to believe that the rioting was a lot more intentional than many believe.
"The Los Angeles Riots was the worst rioting and looting done in the history of the United States. Never before and never since has there been that many buildings destroyed, that many people killed, that much arsenal..." said the award-winning photographer Bart Bartholomew.
Bartholomew received much praise for his coverage of the L.A. Riots. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and received the distinguished Publisher’s Award from Arthur O. Sulzberger at The New York Times.
Bartholomew risked his life by being a white male in a predominantly African-American space during hyper-sensitive time. Bartholomew was aware that his identity made him a target being present at the riots.
"Staying alive was the most memorable part of the riots for me. I was a walking dead man. I was the only white guy there." said Bartholomew as he reflects on his experience during the riots.
"I gave away both of my cameras but I kept the film. Every time I would give someone something that person would leave so, that removed a threat. That gave me time to get back to my car and get away." said Bartholomew.
What set Bartholomew a part from other photographers was his story. He risked his life to document the moment.
Bartholomew captured five presidents during his career and he used his interpersonal skills to get them to open up. Bartholomew reflects on one of his greatest moments of creating a relationships was when he captured President Gerald Forde.
"We were all shooting pictures from way in the back with long lenses and he was standing at a podium. It wasn't much of a picture at all but, after it was over I made my way around to the front and I got very close to President Gerald Forde. I knew that he had gone to school at the University of Michigan and he was a football player. So I got the fight song from the football team on a tape recorder and I got right next to the president and I turned on the tape recorder and he heard the football fight song and he says 'Who's from Michigan'...immediately he was no longer the president, he was a football player on the field...I had him in the palm of my hand. That got me the picture that no other photographer had." recalls Bartholomew.
"Five percent of taking a picture is mechanics and understanding how the camera works, and how to actually get the picture. Ninety-five percent of it is putting your subject at ease. Most of my pictures are of people." said Bartholomew.
Bartholomew believes that being his desire to connect with his subject is what brings his work to life. "I do very well with people. I always study my subject before I go to see them, I always have something to talk about. I always find some common ground so I can relate to that person and that person can relate to me." said Bartholomew.
The photographer credits his creative approach to forming relationships and having a true interest or concern for the subject.