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Revisiting the Photographs From the L.A. Uprising

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By Grace Yuan Gao, Rachel Kisela and Hannu Kivimaki

Welcome to Los Angeles in the last few days of April 1992.

Four photographers — some freelancers, others staff photographers at institutions like the Los Angeles Times — recall the moments leading up to and surrounding some of their most iconic photos of the L.A. uprising.

Ted Soqui was a photographer for LA Weekly during the 1992 uprising, one of the only professional photographers to capture the burning palm trees of L.A.

“I saw someone burning a palm tree, and they were using a long pole with a flag on it, and I didn’t really realize it was an American flag,” Soqui recalled, “until I printed the image.”

“The subject kind of intrigued me. Not only was he holding a flag, he was masked. Back 30 years ago, not many people wore masks during demonstrations.”

After spending daylight hours shooting photos, Soqui would process and develop the film overnight in his garage. Constrained by the closure of photography stores in Los Angeles, he shot mostly in black and white film, which was faster and easier to develop on his own.

Masked Rioter Burning US Flag
A masked protestor lights a palm tree on fire with a U.S. flag along the 101 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles on April 29, 1992. | Ted Soqui

David Butow witnessed many historical events through the lens of his camera as a freelance photojournalist, including the 1992 uprisings in L.A., the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the 2019 protests in Hong Kong. Most recently, he was in Ukraine shooting photographs of the war.

Hyungwon Kang focused his photography on the experiences and emotions of Korean-Americans during the L.A. uprising. With his Korean, Kang was able to put subjects of his photography at ease, becoming a fly on the wall during the events of April 1992. Kang is currently a freelance photojournalist and won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the 1992 uprising for the Los Angeles Times.

Kirk McKoy, also a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times, immersed himself fully in the 1992 protests just before the intersection of Florence and Normandie became the primary subject of police attention. He recalls witnessing one protest on the evening of April 29, 1992, at the corner of Crenshaw and West Adams.

“When I arrived on the scene, there were already people out on the streets, banging pots and pans, already holding homemade signs,” McKoy said. “Right after that, I turned around, looked up and saw a bunch of helicopters circling an intersection, which happened to be Florence and Normandie, and figured, ‘That’s the place to be.’”

McKoy Photos
Protestors bang on pots and pans and hold homemade signs at the intersection of Florence Avenue and Normandie Avenue in Los Angeles. | Kirk McKoy

View these historical images overlaid on present-day 360º video in this immersive piece, and hear from the photographers themselves. Scan the QR codes using Snapchat on your smartphone to walk through an augmented reality doorway to examine the space around you.


Step Into the Past with Augmented Reality

Using the Snapchat app, load our augmented reality lens to step into a portal to the past and hear the photographers discuss their iconic images.

David Butow recalls taking photos of burning rubble just a couple blocks from his L.A. apartment in 1992.

Hyungwon Kang discusses how he used his Korean fluency to blend in among activists in Koreatown.

Kirk McKoy talks about how he moved from protest to protest the night of April 29, 1992.

Ted Soqui remembers spotting burning palm trees next to the freeway in downtown L.A.


JOVRNALISM is a production course created by Prof. Robert Hernandez and USC students who use emerging technologies to produce award-winning immersive, journalism experiences often in collaboration with under-resourced and underrepresented communities. To see more of their projects about the L.A. uprising go to la-uprising.jovrnalism.io

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