Temple alumnus’ photobook captures Philly protests

Matthew Barber published his photography of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Matthew Barber, a 2020 strategic advertising and marketing alumnus, stands outside his house at Iseminger Street near Morris on Feb. 11. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

On May 30, 2020, Matthew Barber attended what began as a peaceful protest in memory of George Floyd at City Hall that proceeded to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Hundreds of demonstrators, protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, kneeled at the steps of City Hall at 2 p.m., before marching down Broad and Vine streets, Penn Live reported.

As police and protestors clashed, Barber pulled out his camera to document what he felt was history in the making. 

Barber, a 2020 strategic advertising and marketing alumnus and photographer, compiled photos from the week of protests in Philadelphia and published a photobook “PHL Black Lives Matter” in December 2020. All of the book’s proceeds are donated to Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, a nonprofit that provides free legal advice and representation to Philadelphians trying to expunge their criminal records. 

The book includes black-and-white photos of people marching to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and groups of people lying peacefully outside of City Hall in protest during the summer. 

After the first day of protests, Barber took a week off of work as a brand partnerships and experiential marketing manager at Subaru of America to document protests in the city. He photographed everything from speakers at marches addressing crowds to the defaced mural of former mayor Frank Rizzo in the Italian Market. 

Approximately 15 to 26 million Americans participated in peaceful protests in support of Black Lives Matter during summer 2020, making it the largest protest in United States history, the New York Times reported.   

Barber sold out of his initial 200 books, which cost $20 each, and plans to publish another 100 books in the near future. 

Barber chose to donate to Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity because he wanted to help people who may have criminal records due to unjust charges, he said. 

With the proceeds, he donated nearly $3,500 to Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, enough to provide legal assistance to 10 people, he said. 

“Our goal is social equity, we are seeking racial justice, so of course we would be in support of these protests,” said Sarah Coyle, a staff attorney for the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity. “We are seeking criminal justice reform as part of our larger mission, so we definitely wanted to support the folks who are supporting us by going out into the streets and making their voices heard.” 

In 2010, 33 percent of Black men had a felony conviction, while only 8 percent of all adults had convictions, according to a 2018 study by the Sentencing Project, an organization that researches the criminal justice system.

Philadelphia artist Halimah Smith, whose digital illustration art focuses on celebrating the Black community, created digital illustrations of Barber’s photos for the front and back covers of the book. 

The front cover shows a person kneeling outside of City Hall with a sign that reads, “Justice for George,” and the back cover is a woman raising her fist in the air during a protest, capturing the emotion of the protest, Smith said. 

“Some of these minor decisions don’t get to determine your life,” Smith said. “Black people are some of the major people that are affected by these types of racism, bias and systems put in place that can prevent them from moving forward because of a bad decision.”

The conversations his books fostered are what he’s most proud of, Barber said. 

“People found out in my hometown in upstate New York which I think is really cool because I’m hoping that might change some people’s perspectives,” Barber said. “I want to keep printing them until no one buys them anymore.” 

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