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Local photojournalist Shedrick Pelt captured the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021 vividly. Like most D.C. residents, along with the country and world, he was glued to the coverage of far right Trump supporters and 2020 election deniers violently breaking into the Capitol building, wrecking havoc, and, in his words, attempting a hostile government takeover. Aware of the risk, Pelt decided he had to capture the events that would “change the landscape of the American experience.”
“Everything about my work begins and ends with community and culture,” Pelt tells City Paper. He spent the day on Capitol grounds, wearing goggles and a respirator, capturing the horrific events with retreating police officers and broken windows. As a Black, visibly COVID-cautious, man, Pelt felt unsafe.
“I told myself I need to keep moving as to not let them zero in on me. As I’m moving around the grounds people are eyeing me up, purposely stepping in my path.” Others, he says, intentionally coughed on him. Despite the fear, Pelt says capturing the riots is the type of story he’s committed to telling as a photojournalist and community member—one that involves being where the stories that need to be told are happening. “As a photographer, it reminded me that this is my duty,” he says.
Today, on the one year anniversary of the insurrection, Pelt posted two of his images from that day along the brick wall in the alley of Adams Morgan Plaza at 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. His mini pop-up gallery offers insight into his upcoming exhibition, Attacks on Democracy: Through the Lens of a Black Photojournalist, at Gallery O on H. The exhibit opens on in late February, but today Pelt wanted to be sure his voice and visuals were included in the retelling of recent history. On Instagram he wrote, “I’m amplifying the thoughts and emotions of being there on the Capitol in such a pivotal, violent moment.”
He chose the plaza to post his 70”x42” wheat pasted images due to its connection to local activism. To City Paper, he elaborated on the need to post the images publicly, outside of and away from an art gallery. “We are in an age of misinformation, but the sheer nature of documentary photography allows the truth to be told front and center,” Pelt says. “I wanted people to see these real-life images on their way to work or the bar. Nowhere to run or hide when the truth is staring you in the face.”
At 39, Pelt has been a freelance photographer for over ten years. His work was recently featured in the Phillips Collection’s juried invitational, Inside Outside, Upside Down, and he curated the exhibition currently on display at Metrobar DC. With Attacks on Democracy, Pelt says it’s an “opportunity to show my community that Black photojournalists are here covering history’s most important moments even if we are underrepresented in major media outlets.”
In total, Pelt’s exhibit will re-examine the insurrection, and subsequent shutdown of the city, through the lens of Black photojournalists. “I pride myself on ‘being there’ as a storyteller,” he says of his work in general.
Pelt will sit down with Tatiana Rice of Blk Arthouse to discuss his work and his experience at the insurrection, as well as what it’s like to work on a gate-keeping industry. The talk will take place on Blk Arthouse’s Instagram Live at 6 p.m. Attacks on Democracy opens Feb. 25 and will be on display to March 6, at Gallery O on H, 1354 H St NE.