As small groups of demonstrators gathered in cities nationwide to protest the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns, one set of images in particular have been widely shared online. Taken by Colorado-based photographer Alyson McClaran in Denver on April 19, they show what she believes to be healthcare workers blocking the path of the demonstrators, who want the state and country reopened despite public health officials’ warnings that doing so would invite more cases and more death.
TIME reached out to McClaran to learn more about the photographs and her experience at the Denver protest. Her answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
TIME: How did your day start out, were you on assignment?
McClaran: Because of the coronavirus, I hadn’t picked up my camera in over a month, which is unheard of for me. I’m typically shooting five to six days a week. Yesterday I decided to go out and document the protest. I wasn’t on assignment for anyone.
What precautions did you take?
I started out at the state Capitol in downtown Denver. It was very crowded. I had my mask on and did my best to social distance from people, but didn’t feel safe, so I decided to leave and walk around the neighborhood. I saw two nurses in the middle of the street. I took off running towards them and started firing away my camera, because they were blocking the road at a green light and everyone was screaming and honking at them, and those are the images that you see.
I was at the right place at the right time. One thing I remember is the lady in the truck was yelling at the health worker to “go back to China.”
How do you weigh the risk of covering a gathering in a time like this?
My gut was telling me this is history, and I wanted to document what is happening in my city right now and show what was going on. I had tears in my eyes half the day because I was in shock at how many people were out, and how much anger there was, so I had to protect myself by leaving. I didn’t feel safe health-wise, and that’s when I stumbled upon the nurses.
Are we sure the people in your photographs are health care workers, or could they have been counter-protesters dressed as healthcare workers?
I don’t have any information on that unfortunately, but I never got the feeling that they weren’t. I believe they were health care workers.
What’s it like for your work to spread far and wide online, often without credit? What do you want people to know before sharing your work online without credit?
I appreciate how many people have given me photo credit. For those who have not, what happened yesterday took years of experience and I have worked my way to this moment, I was able to get everything I needed quickly, it wasn’t just me grabbing a camera and shooting. It would be nice as a photographer and artist that people acknowledge that.
How was this different from other protests you’ve covered?
I understand people are stressed, and they want to get back to work, but it just showed how much anger there was. Unlike other protests I’d covered, like gun violence, Black Lives Matter, this is a global issue. Everywhere is experiencing this right now at the same time, that’s why it felt different.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I hope that everyone can come together. I understand that people are stressed and scared and sad and angry. But I just hope we can all come together and get through this so we can get back to normal.
Alyson McClaran is a freelance photojournalist based in Denver, CO.
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