Toy Photographers Respond to George Floyd Murder, Protests & U.S. in Crisis

There’s no getting around it: America is in a bad way. When the nation watched white police officers murder George Floyd as he begged for his life—all for trying to pass (or for unknowingly using) a counterfeit $20 bill—something snapped. Centuries of what civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael called institutional racism, the ongoing murders of unarmed black men and women by police, and the past few years of increasing discord stoked by a leader who chooses to divide instead of unify, boiled over. Enough was enough. We all know the result.

So how does one process all of this madness and pain? For many toy photographers in our worldwide community, the answer was to turn toward our art. The images collected in this post are as varied as the people who made them and, I should note, some of the more difficult photos were the subject of much debate among the Toy Photographers team. As the curator of this selection, the choice of what to use was mine alone, but the decisions were not made lightly. And despite concerns about violent and potentially traumatic images—which are mixed with an equally strong selection of hopeful and empowering pictures—I maintain that there’s value in confronting these things head-on. Now is not the time to pull punches.

For some perspective, look at Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s “The Third of May 1808.” An undisputed masterpiece, the painting chronicles a dark moment in Spain’s history, when the people rose up against Napolean’s occupying army and hundreds were shot down and quelled in a most brutal and bloody fashion. When Goya painted it in 1814, the haunting piece drew much criticism, but it has since been deemed an enduring statement about the grotesque horrors of war.

Processing these painful events and feelings through a creative lens forces both artist and viewer to experience them again with renewed potency. This is the power of art.

Black lives matter. George Floyd mattered. Love matters. Be kind to one another. And keep making art.

– Oliver

We Build Better Together
We build better together, Photo: @alanrappa

Alan Rappaport – Lincoln Park, NJ stands with everyone rallying against social injustices. Our team celebrates diversity, cherishes inclusion in our community and has zero tolerance for hate, racism or bigotry. [Alan is Editor in Chief of the Toy Photographers blog.]

Beboys Lav – Manila, Philippines

At first I wanted to title this picture “Different Country, the Same Police Brutality” and post it together with my previous pic about the incidents here in my country—the fake war on drugs, extrajudicial killings [illegal executions and force disappearances at the hands of the government without trial or due process] and a lot more human rights violations. But I think the message I want to convey is that I’ll understand if you’re upset by the photo, but I do hope that you’ll be more than upset with the act itself.

We’re all the same in the dark, Photo: @un1cornwarrior

Daniel Rajcic – Shanghai, China

It is hard these days to stay creative and keep creating when the world seems to be falling apart around us. I grew up in a culturally mixed environment and could never understand the racial issues some adults had. My friends could not be more different from each other, yet it never stopped us from playing and laughing together.

As an adult, the laughter came less and less, and I started to question humankind in general. God bless our children and their pure minds. I hope my son will grow up in a different world, where he never stops laughing and feeling the joy of being alive. The reason I’m so confused these days, and I feel so much pain and anger when watching the news, is because my core belief since I was a child has never changed: We are one race.

Watching the world burn, Photo: @oliversees

Oliver Peterson – Center Moriches, NY

While I’m not encouraging people to engage in violence and destroy their own cities, I cannot help but feel overwhelming rage over the death of George Floyd, over decades of police brutality and the oppression of black, brown, poor and disenfranchised people in this country. I’m furious and heartbroken that half of our citizens are essentially saying “yes” to racism, intolerance, isolationism, xenophobia and corruption. Is it so hard to understand why people want to burn it all down? So, rather than smashing windows and setting fires, this image is all about expressing my anger and frustration through art.

Photo: @toyfanatic

Mark Stephen Santos – Manila, Philippines

This photo is about our support for life and the rights of every citizen. Even though I am of Asian descent and live outside the United Sates, I feel the struggle of every African American, and any form of racism has no place in this world.

Batman appeared at the Philadelphia protests this week, Photo: @vonhoudeldolphin

Buddrick VonHoudeldölphin – Ingram, TX

It’s about the message not me. Bob Dylan’s lyrics work just fine, I think: “Come gather round people wherever you roam… Admit that the waters around you have grown…” #JusticeforGeorge

Fight fire with flower, Photo: @tomekskog

Tomasz Lasek – Gdańsk, Poland

Banksy’s iconic “Rage, the Flower Thrower” stencil is a universal symbol of love and peace as opposed to weapons and violence, but its message is also really powerful because of the rioter’s pose. It’s a perfect representation of my current feelings.

Photo: @maddlionpresents

Mizell Toliver – Savannah, GA

We have seen outrage rock America to its core since murder of George Floyd. Protests have not only sprung up from Minneapolis but all 50 states and around the world. We have been issued curfews in our cities. We have been arrested and we have been brutalized across this “Make America Great Again” country. This pic uses Marvel Comics character Rage to show my trauma, my exhaustion and my rage from yet another senseless death at the hands of the police officers. Amid all these emotions, I keep going back to this one famous quote:

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” – James Baldwin

Photo: @mcdoog86

Matt McDougall – Pittsburgh, PA

I love toy photography, and it has helped me express myself. With all the protests going on regarding the death of George Floyd, my goal was to take a photo that shows my support and solidarity with this movement. The raised fist has become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement, and I wanted to recreate this in the art form that is nearest to my heart.




  1. Thanks for this amazing post Oliver. It’s such a horrible time on many levels. I love what you wrote and it is great to see so many in our community stand up against the unyielding commitment to white supremacy and racism that erodes our country(ies) and humanity. These images are powerful. May they help make the change that is desperately needed for all of us to survive — and then thrive.

  2. Pardon for being political; but this whole post is political. I truly feel sympathy for the injustices and murders of innocent people in my country. It is abhorrent to watch a white cop kill an unarmed black man. It is sickening. I love all people. I was once told that if you will listen to anyone long enough they will surprise you in a good way. I took this to heart and I spent many hours listening to random folks on the street. I got to know and care for a man from India that was in the process of drinking himself to death. He had thick hands and feet and had a hospital band on his wrist. He told me the doctors said if he didn’t give up drinking he would die. I spoke with him while he was drinking… it was a sad experience. He had so many wonderful stories to tell if only folks would listen. I’m sure he is no longer on this plane of existence but he had a drop impact on me.

    I do not agree with the assessment that the president has sown this division. I have great faith in our President and I pray for him daily to make good decisions. He makes hard decisions. Decisions that I am grateful I never have to be faced with. I am so tired of folks blaming all the ills for our country on our President. How about folks apply the good old fashioned rule of taking responsibility for their own actions? I’m sick of the POTUS being the scapegoat. I voted for Donald Trump and I’m proud of what our country has become. Unfortunately, a small minority of violent people have hijacked much of the good and have flooded the lime light with criminal activity.

    People are having a hard time right now and that’s not because of POTUS. That’s because of a pandemic out of everyone’s control.

    My family and I have been blessed to have work through this trying year and my kids are happy and somewhat shielded from the nightmares I see on every news article. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with them spending their time playing board games and eating pizza while I go work dang hard everyday to make sure it still happens. Folks would say I have “white privilege” and to that I say yes; I do. I don’t deny it. It freaking exists in this imperfect world. Did I chose to be born white? No. Has my life been some rosy walk in the park? No freaking way. Every person on this earth has their own trials that they go through to become better people. If we can’t go through these trials and grow from them then they are a waste of time and effort.
    I sometimes feel that because my opinion is different than a lot of folks in the toy photography niche – I would be shut down if I shared it. Well. Know this. I’m a good person; I have lots of good friends who ain’t white because I could care less about the tone of someone’s skin. I have yet to see an actual “black” person and an actual “white” person. I just see people. And I love people. People are my people. Rant over.

    • Hi Joe. I found your post troubling and I honor your right to believe as you wish and see the world as you wish. To me, identity matters, color matters, words matter, and what policies we support matters. I experience your “I just see people” as unintentionally taking away people’s diversity. Our race and skin color and gender identity and and so much more are processed quickly by our brains — whether we want to let that in, or not. It also strikes me as a privilege that only white people could invoke. People of color have been denied a full seat at the table, so not seeing color risks not seeing inequity, not seeing them. And if we don’t see people of color and don’t see — or aren’t willing to face — the inequities that continue to advance white supremacy every day, then we can’t dismantle racism, it seems to me.
      It is well documented that the current POTUS has actively undermined anti-racist policies. He has also appointed and helped elect individuals who are committed to white supremacy in subtle and obvious ways. He’s also actively worked to specifically limit the freedoms of people of color as a group, Black people, Latinx people, Native Americans and other indigenous people, Asians and Asian-Americans, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, immigrants, Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, women, LGBT people, and many other groups that currently lack the power of straight white Christian-identified men in our country. He’s also betrayed Christian-Judeo-Muslim values again and again in words and actions.
      I guess, for me, a core challenge is “taking responsibility for one’s own actions” isn’t a level playing field. If I can control you with a gun or a knee on your neck or a call to 911 that already favors my complaint over yours or have laws that favor me over you, then how we each take responsibility is very different. And that difference matters. And that’s what the murder of George Floyd and the attack on Christian Cooper and countless other examples remind us. And those reminders, for me at least, are a call to examine how much we as white people, and especially white men, are willing to examine and dismantle the unearned lottery ticket we get handed every day in so many ways. Listening to each other fully, as you point out, is a critical piece of the work ahead.

        • Thanks, Julie. Several recent exchanges with people have helped me put in perspective my own urges to post “unhelpful” responses. I’m trying to temper my rage and instead try to be more thoughtful and communicative. I’ve seen some wonderful examples of people actually listening to each other. It’s hard though. There really is so much to be angry about, but I want to be careful and deliberate about what I put into the world. Like this post, which came together after a great deal of conversation with members of the team and some excellent black toy photographers, who offered some valuable insights.

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