“Hands up, don’t shoot“ reads the sign as protestors walk through the streets of downtown Calgary, demanding an end to police brutality as similar demonstrations take place across the country. PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN

Tandia Feagan has been a photographer since she was in junior high, taking pictures of everyday experiences and abstract structures.

She was strongly affected by the Black Lives Matter movement, using her lens and her experiences as a mixed race individual to get up close and personal with the anguish of racism.

Feagan started taking pictures when she was 13 years old, eventually graduating to learning how to use professional cameras.

“I was an emo-scene kid back in the day, so it was mostly like selfies and stuff.”

During her high school years, she learned about the technical side of photography and made the Internet part of her studies.

“I’m very happy to be one of the many people going out there and capturing the moments that are currently happening in our society.”

Tandia FeAgan

“The Internet is definitely an amazing source to have when you’re starting out as a new photographer and you don’t necessarily have any educational training for it other than high school.”

Feagan took shots with a Polaroid camera, having fun with instant prints she would take of herself and friends where no editing was needed.

As Feagan developed her photography skills, she began exploring the world outside.

She started composing photos of doorways of nearby homes that stood out to her. She describes her fascination with buildings in general as “imaginative,” focusing on structures that are “cool” to look at.

Protestors wearing face covering amidst crowds carrying signs. “No justice, no peace” reads one poster with the symbol of a fist drawn onto it. The fist is a universal symbol of solidarity and support. PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN

Through a process of snapping random scenes she came across, Feagan quickly appreciated the beauty she would find in normal, everyday places.

“It’s just amazing how creative everything around you can be if taken in the right angle and edited the right way. It can still look beautiful and be just as creative as taking a picture of the mountains.”

Feagan says she has “found art in absolutely everything” – eventually expanding her work to include portraits showing deeper parts of her identity, as well shots of her friends, roommates and family members.

But the shots she was taking started to change on May 25. That day, George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, was caught on tape. He could be heard gasping, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests denouncing the officers involved and calling for an end to ongoing police brutality.

Those American protests were enough to spark similar demonstrations against racism in Canada, seeking justice for names such as Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) people whose deaths continue to shock society.

Power and connection to the global Black Lives Matter Movement brings out the activist in local photographer. PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN

Calgary had its own rally and call to justice on May 31. Supporters came out in masks to show there was a reason the city needed to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Feagan attended several such protests over the summer, capturing the angst and civil unrest. Those events included Silence is Violence and the Black Lives Matter Vigil at city hall which brought out hundreds of supporters.

“They’re all fighting for the same thing and all being very emotional and feeling inspired and wanting change,” said Feagan. “And I’m very happy to be one of the many people going out there and capturing the moments that are currently happening in our society.”

Feagan immediately uploaded and shared her photos to her Instagram page, adding her own thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and making sure her voice was being heard as well.

Her black and white photos show women screaming in the streets, men standing with fists in the air and children without smiles holding signs printed with George Floyd’s last words. 

Feagan had a personal stake in those protests, coming from a mixed race background. Her dad is white and her mom is Black. Her parents are also part Indigenous and Asian.

“Being mixed definitely means that I am a little bit more privileged than certain people. But I myself have dealt with some racism growing up in the sense that I have been told to go home or I have been called the monkey for just walking down the street. Someone yelled at me saying, ‘Hey, Pocahontas’ or something like that.”

Feagan grew up in St. Albert and experienced racism as the only student in class with a dark complexion, an upbringing she associates with feeling “stuck in the middle.”

Her past links her with the demonstrators in her photos. 

Black Lives Matter protesters in Calgary are representative of an international movement demand equality and racial justice.
PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN

“It’s just a beautiful thing throughout the entire protests,” says Feagan. “Just a constant feeling of power and connection.”

Feagan’s photographs from the protests are free to share and publish as she wants to share her work for the people who need to know that “It’s ok to fight and stand up for what you believe.”

This story appears in our November/December print issue. You can find the Calgary Journal at newsstands across the city or you can check out the digital version here.