When talking to photojournalist Alex Garland about his experience at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, it’s clear he’s deeply affected by the experience. In September, he spent three days there documenting protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
“Definitely the most unique experience I’ve had. It felt like a community. It didn’t feel like a disjointed effort,” Garland said. “Anybody that you wanted to talk to you could just talk to. People were open and honest and forthright about their intention.”
The Dakota Access oil pipeline is a $3.7 billion project to move crude oil from North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. Prostesters are against the project because of water safety concerns and potential damage to sacred sites. Activists also say environmental racism is at play because the path of the pipeline was moved to tribal lands after the original plan was rejected.
Garland took hundreds of photographs, many of which ran in Real Change (Sept. 28, “Mixing oil and water”). They show teepees and tents in a remote open space, Native American prostesters mounted on horses and motorcycles, as well as a wall of law enforcement keeping “order.” An upside-down American flag on a pole flaps in the wind at the camp, a signal of distress.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a very spiritual person but there’s definitely an air of spirituality that surrounds that camp,” Garland said. “You can feel it when you walk in there.”
Garland’s photographs, along with those shot by photojournalist Kelly O’Neil, will be on display at a fundraising photography show beginning Nov. 10 at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar. The proceeds will go to the Red Warrior Camp legal fund. Garland said it’s crucial for journalists, particularly those who are indigenous, to tell their story.
“We know that it’s going to be an expensive long journey for a lot of those people. A lot of these bails have been set at ridiculous amounts. These people are facing ridiculous felony charges for praying outside in a field,” he said. “Whatever we can do to support we’re going to contribute.”
The initial catalyst for Garland and O’Neil to travel together to Standing Rock was a video circulating on social media showing dogs attacking peaceful unarmed prostesters. Since then tensions have only escalated. According to reports, police have pepper-sprayed prostesters, shot them with rubber bullets and held them in dog kennels after mass arrests. Garland is returning to North Dakota later this month.
“After seeing some of the videos recently of so many people being arrested and harassed by the police, I just felt a calling to go back and do the thing that I do best,” Garland said.
“People seem to appreciate the emotion that I’m able to capture and the stories I’m able to tell with my photos. It’s been really helpful in keeping my spirits up.”
WHAT: Three Days in Standing Rock - A Fundraising Photography Show
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 10 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. (show runs through Dec. 3)
WHERE: Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave, Seattle