Dissent at a distance: How we captured the June cover image

HCN’s photo editor discusses making the photo and the significance of photojournalism during protests.


On April 10, 2020, activists converged on the Eloy and La Palma immigrant detention centers in Eloy, Arizona, for a “COVID-safe” car protest to call attention to the threat of contracting the coronavirus facing detainees inside the facilities.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
Amid the COVID-19 epidemic, many protesters have found ways to demonstrate while social distancing. In April, more than 200 protestors gathered for a car-only rally, driving in loops past the Eloy Detention and La Palma Correctional centers in Pinal County, Arizona. They joined to demonstrate against immigrant detention during a pandemic. High Country News Photo Editor Roberto (Bear) Guerra, who is based in Tucson, Arizona, took the photograph that became our June cover, an image that resonated with readers and the newsroom alike.

High Country News: Can you tell us how you captured this photo?

Bear Guerra: The protest was about 100 cars or so full of people who were driving in a loop, and there was a moment where the traffic stopped. I was able to step out in front of the car, and we were able to just have a moment where they’re very much collaborating with me as I’m making the image.

HCN: What did you see in this moment that you wanted to capture? 

BG: I saw a lot of people willing to risk their own safety and help to draw attention to these conditions inside the detention center. They’ve been calling attention to the problems with our immigration system for a long time, but COVID forced another kind of moment, when they really had to turn up the pressure.

HCN: What does the black-and-white format do for this shot?

BG: To me, it’s more of a direct route to people being able to make an emotional connection to whatever I’m photographing. I find color to be distracting at times. Color adds a whole other layer of information that we need to process. By reducing an image to black-and-white, I think it allows us to have this unfiltered connection to a person or to whatever is happening.

HCN: What response are you hoping readers have to the photograph? 

BG: I hope it will get people to read that story. I hope it will get people to think beyond just the three individuals who were in the more privileged position to be able to protest. I hope that it gets people to think about the folks who are stuck inside the detention center.

HCN: What do you think about photographing protests now, especially in light of the last week, where journalists have been targeted by police while documenting?

BG: We still have to do it. It is incredibly important that journalists are out there documenting these things, because if you’re not, then who will? But it is scary. It’s very hard to comprehend that we have a president who is openly suggesting that people attack the press. It’s just kind of mind-boggling. Every time I interact with a photographer, I have to make sure they’re being careful out there, but it’s just, it’s no less important for us to do it.

Gretchen King is the digital editor of High Country News. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

Note: This story has been updated to correct the month of the protest, which took place in April, not May.

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