Four years ago, when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a unit still photographer, Warrick Page figured his days of shooting riots and conflict were largely behind him. But current events had other plans. With the recent murder of George Floyd sparking nationwide outrage and calls for reform, Page picked up his two Sony A9s, his Kevlar helmet, a pair of safety glasses and some knee pads, and hit the streets of Los Angeles.
“I hadn’t done any photojournalism in a long time,” said Page, who had lived in Southeast Asia and the Middle East for more than a dozen years. But this was “history happening on our doorstep. For 13 years, that was the kind of thing I used to do, so it was something I felt compelled to go and do now.”
Page, a Local 600 member since 2018, had planned originally to go to Minneapolis to document the civil unrest following Floyd’s death. When that was not possible, a colleague advised him to stay local, predicting the protests would go national.
“A buddy who I worked with in Pakistan, and who now works for NPR, said, ‘Don’t worry. This is going to spread like wildfire,’ and he was dead right,” Page said.
Starting on May 30, Page spent the next seven days, five to six hours a day, shooting protests, riots and rallies in Santa Monica, Hollywood, downtown and Compton. Los Angeles was still experiencing high incidents of COVID-19 at the time, and Page knew he was risking his health. But nearly all protestors wore masks, he noted – and even distributed hand sanitizer – to help mitigate the risk. And while the threat of violence was always present, Page said he was never directly targeted other than some pushing and shoving by police.
“Any situation like that can always turn very quickly,” he said. “The police could be unpredictable and so you just have to move slowly and carefully and be very thoughtful about how you’re shooting. I don’t run around a lot. I try to move very slowly and thoughtfully and not attract attention. I’m very careful about how I shoot.”
In assembling images, Page looked for shots that told powerful stories. One of his favorites was an ironic photo of protestors atop a trashed police car, draped with a sign reading “Everything must Go” that had been taken from a store. Other favorites took patience, waiting for just the right moment, including a photo of a looter fleeing a Santa Monica store, his hands full of clothing; a soldier in full combat regalia in front of the iconic Cinerama Dome; and another on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All felt uniquely Los Angeles, yet also of the moment, Page noted.
“I wanted to find a good spread of images I felt touched on the different elements of what I saw and what was going on throughout those protests,” Page said. “The girl on top of the car with her arms outstretched… I love that photo, her demeanor and her posture there.”
After arriving in Los Angeles on a work visa, Page worked on several independent movies. In early 2018, HBO gave him his big break to shoot for six months on True Detective in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Since becoming a member, he has made himself available to consult with up-and-coming still photographers.
“Helping them in a mentorship capacity is super important,” Page said, “and finding ways to get more people of color in and hooking them up with professionals to help give them that access is absolutely crucial, along with providing opportunities, tools and resources to succeed once on set.”
Page says he has no immediate plans to exhibit his Los Angeles protest shots. “I often just shoot and put them somewhere and forget about them,” he said. “I should do more to actually get my stuff out there.”