In light of the tragedy that took place to George Floyd in Minneapolis, 25 May 2020, several places across the globe has stood up and continuously rallies to show their solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement — a cause that strives to eradicate white supremacy and violence against Black communities. Lomographer Stéphane Heinz, a.k.a. vicuna, known for his impeccable storytelling through film photographs, took the opportunity to support the cause and immortalize the moments in his own city, Zurich.
Stéphane himself acknowledged that him being white has him benefit from white privilege. While he himself has never experienced racial discrimination, he reiterated that simply because he hasn’t hasn’t mean that prejudice doesn’t exist for non-whites:
“BUT that doesn't mean that this problem doesn't exist at all in Switzerland. The strong mobilisation for the BLM demonstrations in Switzerland (besides Zurich, there were also big crowds for the BLM demonstrations in Geneva, Bern and Lausanne) made it clear that the problem of racism is present here too.”
Stepháne brought up that Switzerland’s own systemic racism is rather different in the sense that it seems less violent, but is clearly present in his own society. He mentioned that there are around two million out of eight million foreigners living in Switzerland — and while the foreign community’s largely made up of Germans, French and Italians, a good portion is also being made up by people from East-Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia), the Balkan region (former Yugoslavia, Albania), the Middle East (Syria, Afghanistan) resulting from the big political crises and wars that occurred in these countries several years ago.
“The neighborhood I live in is very multicultural in this matter and I really appreciate it because it's very alive, diverse and open to everyone, whereas other parts of the city are more a kind of ‘very rich and very white’ ghettos where ‘different’ people are not always welcome...”
Thus, the BLM movement was a great opportunity to be in solidarity and support Black lives in his vicinity. According to Stepháne, there were two demonstrations in Zurich for BLM, the first one being on 6 June, and the second one on the 13th. The first one was spontaneous, with Stepháne coincidentally stumbling upon a Facebook calling for a BLM demonstration in the city center. The police at first had a problem of the demonstration, the “dialog team” (according to Stepháne, these are the only enforcements that are present during demonstrations in the country, heavily-armed policemen are nowhere to be found) approaching them to tell them the demonstration was not allowed as it wasn’t official and registered, plus reinforcing the restriction on mass gatherings due to the pandemic. But this quickly became harmonious between the protesters and the police.
“But as more and more people came to join, the police finally decided to let us do the demonstration, telling us that if everything was going fine, with no aggressivity or any condemnable attitude, it would be fine, they could tolerate the demonstration. It's nice to have such a tolerant and comprehensive police administration.”
The first gathering amassed around a thousand of protesters, the city decorated with meaningful, impactful and witty slogans that fight racism and colorism.
The second demonstration took place on the Saturday after, and it was much more massive than the last time as more than 10,000 people gathered. For Stéphane, it was a day where he could see Zurich’s diversity, and how they were all gathered to stand up for such an important cause. Everyone wore black clothes in solidarity. Zurich, for Stéphane, has often been described as apolitical when it came to such matters — but this broke the image.
“I was really impressed to see so many people of every age and every skin color you can find. There was a very good spirit between everyone, even if the protest itself was very strong and determined, kneeling down very often, screaming the various slogans as loud as possible all along this two-hour walk in the streets of the city.”
Stéphane thought documenting the demonstrations in black and white will show the gravity and power of the events. He used some classic Kodak Tri-X 400 and P3200 for the first demonstration. He rated the P3200 film at 800 ISO and processed at 1600, which Stéphane found was the best combination for the film to get smoother grains and fine grey tones. ”and it was totally adequate in my opinion for this, as the weather wasn't so sunny and I love to shoot on the streets with this film. I tested on the same occasion my newly acquired Minolta Alpha 7 with a 28mm lens,” Stepháne said.
Then he wanted to spice things up more for the second demonstration: ”So I chose my XPan and loaded it with this very special film called Santa RAE 1000... I also thought that it was a perfect match to this situation to shoot with a very contrasted B&W film.” The film is known for its strong contrast — the rich black tones and shiny whites especially under sunny conditions (which was the case during the 11th).
When it comes to street documentary shooting, Stéphane often preferred a wide angle lens where he’s able to capture several details of a scene:
“You can catch a whole scene, focus on some people and have the city’s background in the composition. It's also easier and quicker to focus (or pre-focus using the depth of field markings on your lens) to catch the action as nothing lasts long enough to have time to focus and frame precisely. Even if I'm less a telephoto shooter (I like it wide...)”.
However, he does think everyone has their own style — so just go and test different combinations of cameras, lenses and films to find what suits you!
With the pandemic limiting travels domestically and globally, it has frustrated the passionate analogue shooter within Stéphane as he resorted to scanning and uploading his previous stocks from Japan and Madeira. He also started an album called Emptiness to vent his feelings through art.
Thankfully, the situation of the pandemic in Switzerland and specifically Zurich was much better, and almost everyone wore face masks — around 90-95% of the crowd according to Stéphane. Social distancing was also observed. ”Now almost 2 weeks after the event, there's no massive outbreak again, even if some new cases are still recorded each day, but nothing compared to the peak of the pandemic during April.” he said.
The lockdown is finally over from where Stepháne resides, and as he enjoys the coming of summer and back to normalcy — documenting life after the lockdown — he hopes there won’t be a second wave of the virus.
Though he canceled a trip to Japan this summer, he’s found an alternative in Brittany, France: ”I'm going to explore Brittany, as I never went there and always heard from a lot of people how beautiful this region is: nature, mountains, wild coastlines, beaches and small fisher villages... that's perfect to make a lot of photos this summer! You'll see the results in September! :)”
Change starts within. Stand up against racial discrimination and support the Black Lives Matter movement by visiting their website.