Will Smith features WIU student’s BLM protest photo on Instagram

By DYLAN SMITH, Reporter

MACOMB, Illinois (News 3) — The year 2020 has been filled with a multitude of unprecedented issues. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the devastating wildfires, racial injustice has persisted. 

The death of George Floyd in late May sparked a nationwide movement that would demand change of racial injustice among African-Americans. Several other instances in which African-American deaths occurred by way of the police would add fuel to the fire. 

Western Illinois University student and photographer Joshua Purnell is a Chicago native, and found himself at the front of the largest Chicago march and tried to capture the emotion through his camera lens. Of the many things Purnell saw that day, the diversity of protesters stood out the most. 

“You saw black people, white people, hispanics, Asians, Indians,” Purnell said. “It was very diverse, and honestly that was the very first time I thought that there were people out there who cared.” 

Purnell’s pictures from the march showed the raw emotion of the massive crowd. One of Purnell’s pictures caught the attention of actor, Will Smith, and was featured in one of Smith’s instagram posts. Excitement is an understatement of Purnell’s reaction. 

“I’m really watching (the video) just to see it,” Purnell said. “Before you know it, one of my photos went by. I had to rewind it and watch it again. I think I watched it five or six times, and I started screaming.” 

Although Purnell has found true passion and success in photography, it was not always the plan. Before photography, Purnell’s interests were in physical education and English. After discovering a love for camera work, Purnell made the transition into broadcasting and journalism to focus more on photography. 

Purnell has shot pictures of WIU athletics, but 2020 has provided him with new experiences and a way to express himself. 

“I try to create stories with my camera,” he said. “I think with the protests, and getting shots at the protests was one of the moments where you can see through the imagery how I felt.”  

Purnell continues to focus, primarily, on photographing sports, but has found a new liking for street photography. Despite the many challenges 2020 has presented, Purnell continues to make the most of it.