Telling Charleston’s Story in Photographs

2 minute read

They became known as the Emanuel 9. Their names – Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Sharonda Singleton, Susie Jackson and Daniel Simmons – united a nation and forced South Caroline to reconsider its relationship with the Confederate flag.

Five months after the June 17 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., TIME is publishing an unprecedented account of the events that led to and followed Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage. And when it came to photograph the survivors and victims’ families, the magazine turned to photographer and artist Deana Lawson.

“It’s such a powerful moment in America’s recent history,” Lawson tells TIME. Throughout her career, the artist has looked at black culture and identity in the U.S. and around the world. Lawson’s images are often extremely intimate, with the photographer utilizing her subjects’ bodies to reveal and examine their identities. “I knew that the content in my own personal work actually related to the wider narrative of the Charleston story,” she says. “It just seemed like it’d align naturally with my own method and also my concerns.”

Deana Lawson

When Lawson met her subjects, she could feel “the emotional energy” of this tragic day in American history. Each photo shoot presented its own emotional challenges, as Lawson looked to pay respect to her subjects while conveying the indescribable, yet inescapable sense of loss engulfing them – one they have been forced to share with an entire nation. “Felicia Sanders, for example, has been through so much, not only did she lose her son (Tywanza Sanders) but [there was] so much media attention after that,” Lawson says. “I had to find a way for it not to feel invasive, to have them feel like that this was a part of the narrative that needed to be told.”

Deana Lawson is an artist based in New York City.

Kira Pollack, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Follow TIME LightBox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Gracie BroomeThe Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s grandmother at her home in Mullins, S.C., with a photo of him in his school marching-band uniform. “When you hear others forgiving,” she says, “it makes you feel good.”Deana Lawson for TIME
Bethane Middleton-Brown with Gracyn, Hali, Kaylin and Czana DePayne After the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor’s death, Middleton-Brown, center, moved her nieces to live with her in Charlotte, N.C. She called her sister “the female Job.”Deana Lawson for TIME
Najee Washington, left, and Nadine CollierEthel Lance’s granddaughter and daughter at Collier’s Charleston home. Collier was the first family member to offer forgiveness at the bond hearing.Deana Lawson for TIME
Tyrone and Felicia Sanders Tywanza Sanders parents, photographed at their home in CharlestonDeana Lawson for TIME
Polly Sheppard, left, and Felicia Sanders The longtime friends, seen at Sanders’ Charleston home, both survived the massacre. The killer spared Sheppard at gunpoint so she would tell what happened
Polly Sheppard, left, and Felicia Sanders The longtime friends, seen at Sanders’ Charleston home, both survived the massacre. The killer spared Sheppard at gunpoint so she would tell what happenedDeana Lawson for TIME
Alana Simmons with her father Dan Simmons Jr. After the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. was killed, Alana, shown here outside her grandfather’s Charleston home, and her family started the movement #HateWontWin.Deana Lawson for TIME
Walter and Ellenora Jackson Susie Jackson’s only child and his wife in their home in Cleveland. Walter said his mother’s joy made her who she wasDeana Lawson for TIME
The Lord’s Prayer hangs on a wall inside Mother EmanuelDeana Lawson for TIME
The Rev. Anthony Thompson Myra Thompson’s husband in a garden at his Charleston church that is dedicated to his late wife. He found out after the tragedy that Myra had been made a minister that night and that the Bible study was her first official act.Deana Lawson for TIME
Jennifer Pinckney with (from left) Representative Joe Neal, the Rev. Chris Vaughn, the Rev. Kylon Middleton and Senator Gerald Malloy The Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s four best friends, photographed with his widow at the South Carolina State House, have guarded the family in his absenceDeana Lawson for TIME
Malcolm Graham Cynthia Hurd’s brother, seen at a park in Charleston, says forgiveness remains “miles away”Deana Lawson for TIME
An annex that leads to the room where the shooting took placeDeana Lawson for TIME
Mother Emanuel has occupied its current home in downtown Charleston since 1891Deana Lawson for TIME

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