Inquirer photographer shows the sound of silence

Every Monday, we present a gallery of pictures of the week that just passed, taken by our staff photojournalists — and tell you the story behind one of them. This week staff photographer Michael Bryant talks about how a silent photo can speak loudly.

With yellow crime scene tape over her own mouth, Carmen Pagan, whose brother was killed three-and-a-half-years ago, helps her daughter, Elisha Sharpe, 7, tie a piece of the tape over her face as part of a silent protest against unsolved murders on 7th Street in front of the Philadelphia Police Department headquarters in Center City on Tuesday, September 24, 2019.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
With yellow crime scene tape over her own mouth, Carmen Pagan, whose brother was killed three-and-a-half-years ago, helps her daughter, Elisha Sharpe, 7, tie a piece of the tape over her face as part of a silent protest against unsolved murders on 7th Street in front of the Philadelphia Police Department headquarters in Center City on Tuesday, September 24, 2019.

Protests are a staple of a photojournalist’s workload, and Inquirer staff photographer Michael Bryant has covered too many to count in his three-decade-plus career in Philadelphia. Demonstrations tend to be animated and vocal. Usually, “somebody wants to lead a chant,” he said. “Either they stand there and chant or they walk around and chant.”

But when Bryant was assigned to cover a silent protest against unsolved homicides last week outside the Philadelphia Police Department headquarters, there was no chanting, no shouting, no bullhorns. Instead, there were a handful of women who’d had family members murdered who brought signs for a silent protest.

One woman, whose brother was killed three-and-a-half years ago, took the silence even further. To make a statement, Carmen Pagan tied crime scene tape around her mouth and that of her seven-year-old daughter, Elisha Sharpe. When the yellow tape slipped off her face, Bryant photographed Pagan helping her daughter tie it more securely over her mouth.

Even in silence Pagan’s act shouted the symbolism of the stifling grief and pain felt by some victims’ families. “You look for the emotional connection that protesters are trying to make with the regular passerby,” Bryant said, “to try to make them understand why they’re upset.”

» SEE MORE: Last week’s staff photo gallery and the staff photography page

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