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Well in advance of January 6, Donald Trump was actively promoting protests in Washington, DC, to undermine  what he and his supporters believe to be the result of a rigged election. Photographer Chris Suspect knew just how fierce and impassioned Trump supporters can be, and had an inkling that this Wednesday might mark a heated and historic event. He also knew that he would simply have to go and photograph this story.

LFI: How would you describe the atmosphere outside the Capitol?
Chris Suspect: The atmosphere was a bit surreal to say the least. Never have I seen anyone storm the Capitol in such a fashion. Some of the things I overheard Trump's supporters say were very telling, and sum up their feelings quite well I think. Many were claiming that this is the start of the next US civil war. A few supporters were in tears over how the Capitol Police treated them that day, and called them traitors to America. At the bitter end of the day, when the police were finally able to disperse the crowd, many were wondering out loud what there is to do now, like they have lost their purpose all of a sudden.

What what is like to be on site as a photographer, working in such a tension-filled situation?
It was hectic. You want to get the shot, but you also want to stay safe. My main concern was COVID-19 so I actually wore a double mask all day. I caught a gust of tear gas on many occasions, and had to wash out my eyes a few times. Tear gas and masks are problematic because once you get tear gas on your mask material, it stays there. I’m glad I brought a lot of extra masks. I also got hit by some flash-bang grenade shrapnel that stung quite a bit.
Another concern I had was being identified as media. As you may have heard during the day, Trump started out his speech by declaring the media as the enemy of the people, and that they were complicit in the stolen election. I saw a few journalists dragged from the scene at the Capitol and assaulted by the supporters. 

What were your greatest challenges in terms of taking photographs?
I think it's the same challenge for any photographer in any situation, except this time it happened under extraordinary pressure. How do you get a compelling image that conveys more than what is depicted in the frame, while producing a composition that is aesthetically pleasing or impactful? It's tough on a regular day, and in this type of situation, the problem is compounded by the quick pace of the action and general safety concerns. You need to weigh the risks that you are comfortable with, and think and act fast. (Interview: Danilo Rößger)

Equipment: Leica M-P (Typ 240) with Zeiss Biogon 35 f/2.8
All images on this page: © Chris Suspect
© Charles Steck

Chris Suspect

Chris Suspect was born in the Philippines in 1968. He is a documentary and street photographer based in the Washington, DC, area. His work has been recognised internationally, and has been exhibited in Miami, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Romania, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.  His documentary project on the underground music scene in Washington, DC, culminated in the photo book Suspect Device, released by Empty Stretch in 2014.

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