Ian Tuttle Photographs Critical Mass Bike Protest

Aug 11, 2020
Photographer Spotlight

On June 5, bicyclists took to the streets of San Francisco by the hundreds for a George Floyd Solidarity Ride. Among these cyclists was San Francisco-based photographer Ian Tuttle, who photographed the event for a pitch to Bicycling magazine.

I’d been attending many of the protests in San Francisco, and they’d all been very peaceful and constructive, but still so much of the headline news focused on destruction and chaos. I wanted to explore the personal, positive side of these gatherings.

Ian Tuttle Critical Mass Bicycling online tear

The bike ride was organized by Critical Mass, a group of cyclists who protest social issues by blocking traffic in prominent areas of cities. Though the group began as a way to get the city of San Francisco to provide bike lanes and other safety measures for cyclists, Critical Mass has turned out to supporting other social issues, like the Black Lives Matter movement.

Once a month they’d gather by the hundreds and slowly ride a random and meandering route through the city, jamming up rush hour and infuriating commuters. I rode in my first and only other Critical Mass ride sometime around 2002, and it was crazy.

Ian Tuttle Critical Mass Bicycling family time

Though the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic still loomed, Ian weighed the risks against the importance of attending the protests. The photographer felt the stabilizing infection rates and the availability of free testing in San Francisco minimized the risks in attending the demonstration.

It was very rare to see people without masks on. In fact, there were volunteers handing out masks to anyone who didn’t have one, along with hand sanitizer.

Ian Tuttle Critical Mass Bicycling recumbent bike

Ian set out with the intention of photographing the protest. He brought with him all of his gear, as though he were going out on an assignment. Once he was out on his bike, the photographer navigated through three different protests all happening on the same day in the same general area.

I didn’t know exactly what the angle would be until I got there. I went to City Hall, but the gathering felt unfocused and not so energetic. So, I biked down to the Ferry Building and could tell it was going to be huge.

Ian Tuttle Critical Mass Bicycling screenshot

After taking a few broad shots of the protestors, Ian decided to change his angle. The photographer started approaching people at the protest and asking them a few questions about their bikes and why they were there.

It’s a format that I’ve always loved producing, because it gives a sense of the collective while also being very specific and personal.

Ian Tuttle Critical Mass Bicycling girls at protest

Over the course of the day, the photographer spoke with 15 different people about their reasons for attending the protest. He found that they all had a common purpose – to condemn police brutality and racial injustice.

Standing amidst thousands of people straddling bikes under an enormous rainbow flag all cheering a drag queen giving an eloquent speech through a megaphone calling for an end to racial injustice was a good reminder that we still have some soul here.

Ian’s photos and accompanying words can be found on Bicycling.com.

Check out more of Ian's work at ituttle.com.

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