An invisible force is arguably what propelled Donald Trump through this controversial, tumultuous election, landing him in the Oval Office to lead the entire nation of America as its 45th President.
The unexpected and shocking force that swept the country into a populist fervor culminated on January 20th, 2017, Inauguration Day, and I was there to capture it with the help of a unique and similarly silent force–infrared wavelengths.
When traveling to photograph an event of this magnitude, there is always one guarantee: you will be jostling with hundreds of photographers for the exact same scene. By necessity, you are forced to think outside the box.
I knew that to represent the weekend in a way I felt accurately represented 2016 as a whole, I needed to go further. I needed to visualize that invisible force and look beyond the reach of a traditional lens.
On January 20th I set out to make the invisible visible. I grabbed an older DSLR camera I had converted to be able to photograph infrared light and embarked on a journey of mental visualization.
When I arrived in Washington, there was definitely a stark difference between those there to attend the inauguration and those there to protest it. It was as if I was in two different worlds when I reached the National Mall. The park was full of supporters gathered for an inauguration, but outside the celebration area, it was a totally different atmosphere.
At one point I sat down to eat and realized that I was surrounded by people who were on dates, getting a bite to eat with their families and going about their business. Yet just around the corner, a limo was set ablaze. It reminded me that regardless of what’s happening, or who is president, the world won’t stop spinning.
Infrared light is invisible to the human eye. Infrared photos show specific wavelengths of light that are just beyond what the human eye can see and like thermal vision, infrared photography captures infrared light reflected off of objects like buildings, trees and people.
Using this technique showed Washington, D.C. in a new, surprisingly symbolic way. Suddenly, if only in a photograph, the various tones and shades of orange, yellow and green brought a sense of unity to the city, reconciling protesters and supporters — groups that quite often, especially in the context for this election, disregard each other.
Photographing protests and demonstrations in infrared was just as symbolic as photographing the supporters in infrared. The images show characteristics of the people and their environment in a way that you will never be able to see with the human eye. They camouflage clothing color and hair color, offering an opportunity to see commonality throughout all of the subjects.
At the same time, on a more introspective level, the photographs highlight the fact that while many of Donald Trump’s supporters felt invisible to the concerns of mainstream politicians, those who oppose Trump and are protesting in the streets now feel that same invisibility.
Truly capturing the forces that brought so many people together, on either side, might not be possible, but looking at the world through the filter of infrared helped me see things I might have otherwise missed.
About the Author
Johnny Milano is a photo photojournalist from Babylon, New York. Among his clients are Reuters, The New York Times, Newsday and Polaris Images. You can see more of his work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.