Nolan Septer’s photos of Denver’s BLM protests are a stark, gritty look at the movement and the madness

Nolan Septer’s photos of Denver’s BLM protests are a stark, gritty look at the movement and the madness

“I'd never experienced anything like that before."

ArtNovember 19, 2020 By Will Brendza

When civil unrest was reaching its peak following the murder of George Floyd, protests all over the country were turning into riots. People started tagging buildings, smashing windows, starting fires, throwing things. The police responded with force: shooting people with rubber bullets, pepper balls, casting tear gas canisters and swinging their batons menacingly.

Suddenly the streets of American cities were starting to look like a scene out of Joker or V for Vendetta — and in Denver the situation was no different

It was a wild thing to behold. It was strange and unsettling to see happening all over the US. The protests and mass activism were hopeful, inspirational, beautiful even. But when things turned violent, it revealed another side of the police and of the protesters. A darker side.

Nolan Septer managed to capture both of those sides when he ventured into Denver’s BLM protests back in June: the beautiful light and the frightening dark. His black and white photo album titled simply, “Protests” is a stark view of the protests from the inside, from the ground, on the front lines: where rubber bullets were flying through the air, where blood and milk were spilt in the streets, where people were getting hurt and arrested.

“It was intense, for sure,” Septer says. “I'd never experienced anything like that before, like actually being around a dangerous situation with all the rubber bullets and whatnot. It was crazy.”

Septer started photography in 2014, after he took a class at CMC Breckenridge and fell in love with it. He studied photography for two years at the CMC Glenwood campus, before moving to the Front Range. Most of his work in the years since has revolved around nature: he’s a talented landscape photographer and has some really cool abstract work, as well.

This album of Denver’s BLM protests was different for Septer, though. This was his first foray into photo journalism, which he has a clear knack for it. Six of these photos are being featured at the Firehouse Art Center in Longmont, he tells me; and his personal favorite, a closeup shot of a girl having milk sprayed in her eyes after being tear gassed (below), was selected for an exhibit at New York’s International Center of Photography.

Clearly, Septer has a keen photographer’s eye. Which comes through in the symmetry and perfect timing of his shots.

“I just try to be in the moment and follow my instincts and try to capture what's interesting and compelling,” he says. “I try to get as close as possible, I guess. That’s the big thing.”

Here are a few of our favorite shots from his coverage of the protests — you can view the full album on Septer’s Behance page or on his personal website.