JD Barnes is a renowned fashion photographer whose work has been featured in outlets like Essence, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar (and spotlighted in Cassius’ Young Icons feature). But in the spring and summer of 2020, with the rising tide of unrest spawned by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, he turned his lens on Black Lives Matter protests throughout the nation.
Initially capturing imagery in his home base of New York City, he eventually took to the road to document protests in cities like Washington, Louisville, and Portland. As verdicts were handed down, rubber bullets were flying, and Black and brown faces were seeking justice, JD Barnes wasn’t on the sidelines, he was there.
“It was necessary, it was needed,” says Barnes of his decision to switch from fashion to documentary photography. “Things were happening in the world that needed to be seen and I had the ability to showcase it.”
While the world can get a searing glimpse of the raw emotions Barnes is able to capture in his photos, he admits it’s tough for him to look at his own images. They serve as painful reminders of the injustice he witnessed.
“It’s hard to even look at my images a lot of times because it takes you back to those places,” says Barnes. “It takes you back to the sounds and the people—it takes a toll on your relationships with other people. It is difficult to talk about it because while I’m talking about it I’m reliving honestly some of the things that happened.”
He added, “I think it’s important to use my platform to showcase these images because they need to be seen. The old adage [is] a picture is worth a thousand words. Every image leads to questions, leads to emotional responses, hopefully. It leads to people wanting to know how they can help. Wanting to know what was going on. It creates dialogue. Ultimately, these things need to be talked about and to be spoken about.”
Barnes added that he has been working through the challenging emotions of the last year through therapy and finds inspiration from the community and organizations that are doing the work to amplify the need for social change.
“I’m grateful that a brand like Ciroc would work alongside Cassius to put this out,” Barnes said. “Not just for me but for the other artists, the other ‘Young Icons’ as Cassius calls us. It’s something that was needed. They didn’t have to do it. So hats off to #CirocStands. I have a lot of gratitude.”
Watch more of his candid and insightful musings on his necessary work in the full clip above. Read our Young Icons interview with JD Barnes right here, too.