Behind the Best Pictures From Ferguson, With Getty Photographer Scott Olson

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Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson, a Getty staff photographer, has been in Ferguson, Missouri, for more than a week straight, covering the daily Michael Brown demonstrations and the protesters’ nightly clashes with police (when they aren’t arresting him for doing his job). “I was in Ukraine earlier this year. The protests there were a little crazy — they would get out of hand fast,” he says. “This isn’t that bad, but this is bad. This is bad for the States.”

Generally, Olson prefers to stay away from protests altogether. “I usually don’t like them. I think they draw out too many people — every college journalist thinks they’re somehow going to win a Pulitzer Prize at a protest,” he says. “Oftentimes they aren’t really that important. But this is an important one.”

Olson, during his arrest. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The quality of his work has reflected that, as night after night he turns out some of the most captivating, powerful images to come out of the conflict. “I do a lot of observing and a little bit of picture taking,” he explains. “It’s like Groundhog Day here — you’re just looking at the same thing every day. But I try to find something that makes this one different than the day before. I hope it’s working.”

Even after his arrest on Monday, for “failure to comply” when an officer asked him to leave a public sidewalk and go back to the media pen, Olson says he could not consider leaving. “Not at all. Not. At. All,” he says. “When I got released from jail I asked my lawyer what happens if I get arrested again. They said, ‘We’ll pick you up again.’ I just wanted to keep working like I had been working all week.”

During a break in the action on Wednesday, Olson took Intelligencer through a selection of his most instantly iconic shots.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“It was fairly early in the evening, so I thought it was a good time to go look at the memorial site where Michael Brown was killed, about two blocks from the main drag. I heard some explosions and people started running up the street toward us. All of a sudden, the police started firing [the rubber bullets] and tear gas into the crowd. I was running backwards and looking for pictures at the same time. I made the frame, but after that you just keep running.”

“When I took that picture, I didn’t realize how heavily armed those police were. You don’t look at the details of it; you just shoot and move. When I was editing I said to myself, ‘Holy shit.’”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“In Ukraine, the police are not as well armed. In Ferguson, they’re way overarmed. Way, way overarmed. They’ve just done such a poor job from what I’ve seen in the past in other places. I thought it would change or get better. Sometimes when I would think they’re starting to get a clue, they would do something even more crazy.”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“Sunday, boy, that was the biggest day for tear gas. I usually don’t like working with a mask because it’s harder to shoot through. I like to travel light. That day I was carrying a mask because I thought it might get heavy. [The police] just started launching tear gas after tear gas after tear gas. The McDonald's employees started bringing out water so people could rinse their eyes.”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“That’s when I was happy I had the gas mask. That gas was really thick, and I was able to walk into it. She had nothing on. She was hurting. If I didn’t have a mask on, my eyes would have been burning too much to ever take that picture. She stayed there for a while and then she started to be overcome from the effects of gas. Someone came and helped her and got her out of there. An amazing person to put up with what she did.”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“These are the ones you just shoot on the fly and hope. It’s so dark out there; you’re pushing your camera to the limit. You see activity going on, but the chances of you actually capturing it aren’t that great. But you try, and sometimes it works.”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“There were three kids there, brothers and a sister. She was just going along with her family. It’s interesting, because it’s either the kid has no clue what she’s doing and just mimicking, or the parents are explaining to them and saying ‘This is important. This is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.’”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“They were firing tear gas into the designated media pen. I heard some woman yelling, ‘There’s women and children in here!’ This was a ways away from the center of the action — they were firing the tear gas at quite a distance. No sooner than she said that, they lobbed more gas into that area.”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“That was [Captain Ron Johnson’s] initial policing policy, to go out and let everybody know he’s one of them. I think that’s changed a little bit. I did see him gain some respect for doing that. People treated him like a minor celebrity. A little bit.”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“I’ve covered a lot of protests. This is the one I’ve seen that has the most heavy artillery. The most arms, the most rifles, APCs. Having these rifles out here is just crazy.”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“It’s an interesting juxtaposition. There’s the militant police trying to control the town, but it’s also a place where people live.”

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“Initially, when they weren’t doing a lot of policing, people would just drive up and down Florissant Street. This kid — it just catches me.”