Jamie Lee Curtis Taete on how and why he ventured among LA’s quarantine protests

The photographer, whose portrait of a lockdown defier outside Baskin Robbins has gone viral, tells the stories behind his impactful portraits.

7 May 2020

Jamie Lee Curtis Taete (the photographer not the actor from Freaky Friday) first got into photography by accident. The UK-born, now LA-based creative originally wanted to work in film, and when he was 19, applied for a job teaching film to kids. He quickly realised in the interview that the job was actually to teach photography, “which I was most definitely not qualified for”, he tells us, but managed to “bullshit” his way into the position anyway. Long story short, it became a formative move for Jamie. He went on to write and edit for Vice but quit last year to focus on photography full time. “Just in time for a global recession,” he quick-wittedly adds.

In his practice, Jamie documents places or events where he thinks people will be interacting with capitalism in “funny, sad or bizarre ways.” He tells It’s Nice That, “I think the thing that attracts me most as a photographic subject are the weird and funny little juxtapositions created by our hyper-capitalist moment.” It’s a theme seen throughout Jamie’s previous archive, from a Halloween part at the Church of Scientology, to a Trump-themed drag show, or even a goth meet-up in Disneyland. I know, right? These are all fantastic settings for some stellar photography.

This contrasting hyper-capitalist culture can also be seen in Jamie’s series documenting the quarantine protests in LA. For Jamie, “it’s particularly fascinating that no matter how fringe or weird or extreme your beliefs are, you still express yourself by buying and doing the same crap as everyone else.” He uses the apt example of Redbubble.com, a website where you can buy a lot of random stuff. For example, a hoodie with “Is Prosecco a carb?” across its chest is sold alongside the exact same hoodie emblazoned with slogans denying climate change.

At first, Jamie was interested in photographing from a visual point of view. But as he delved deeper into the Facebook groups dedicated to the cause, he realised it wasn’t just about opposing the measures of lockdown. “There were people in there who were pushing an anti-vaccination agenda, or believed in the Qanon conspiracy theory, or that the virus is a hoax designed to rob the public of their civil liberties,” explains the photographer. And on another level, “like a lot of media,” adds Jamie, he was attracted to the protests because there isn’t much else going on right now.


Jamie Lee Curtis Taete: LA quarantine protests

Jamie figured the protest would consist of around 20 people, but to his surprise, it was more like a few hundred. Inherently anxious as he tried to stay as safe as possible while capturing the scenes before him – mask and disinfectant close to hand and face – on the whole, Jamie tried to keep his distance at all times, which was a pretty tough thing to do given the fact that no else at the protest cared. He’s been to six rallies in total now, each one as strange as the next. He’s seen signs of the illuminati, Mark of the Beast, not to mention the second Civil War.

At one of the rallies, Jame experienced particular hostility when a group called him a communist, and doxxed and waved a sign at him which read “practice media distancing.” There, he decided to try and engage with one of them. “I think it was because I’ve been socially isolated for so long, I briefly convinced myself that I could form a human; connect with her and find common ground. I thought I could talk her into seeing sense and going home to quarantine.” Instead however, he found himself being lectured on how Bill Gates wants to implant tracking microchips into people and how the media lies about how Trump, and how Covid-19 in fact does not exist, and how it's also a Chinese bioweapon.

Jamie says he is empathetic on some level with the protestors in the fact that he also hates lockdown and he has essentially been made unemployed. However the photographer, like most people, believes “lockdown is the right thing to do” given the situation. But he does see how one might question the narrative “when the president, Fox News and other powerful sources” are saying otherwise. It’s a narrative clearly believed by the subject of one of Jamie’s most impactful photographs, where a woman is yelling outside Baskin Robbins holding a sign stating: “GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH.”

This photo is arguably the best known in Jamie’s repertoire so far. He’s seen countless memes using the image; it’s been on TV, publications, and even on the front page of Reddit. “I was excited when I took the photo because I think it perfectly encapsulated how I felt about a lot of people at the protest,” Jamie goes on to say. “There’s so much anger in her face, and the sign is so serious. She’s asking to reopen society in the middle of a deadly pandemic, but she’s standing outside Baskin Robbins, which is surely one of the least essential businesses in history.”

GalleryJamie Lee Curtis Taete: LA quarantine protests

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Jamie Lee Curtis Taete: LA quarantine protests

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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