"The Drowning," by Cornell Watson: The B&H Photography Podcast


In September 2017, we dedicated an episode to a conversation about one photograph—an image made by photographer Richard Drew, on September 11, 2001, in New York, which has come to be called “The Falling Man.”  It was an insightful recollection and analysis of an incredibly painful image, and on today’s episode of the B&H Photography Podcast, we will again discuss one photograph to try to understand it better.

The photograph is titled, “The Drowning”, and it was taken in the summer of 2020 during another national crisis, albeit a very different one. Photographer Cornell Watson created the series “Behind the Mask”, “… for the times we pretend to be strong when we are dying from the weight of racism.”

Each image in the series is a carefully created and powerful allegory, but “The Drowning,” for reasons we will discuss in the episode, has a quiet power that has not waned since we first saw it. To learn more about this photograph, we are fortunate to have Cornell Watson join us, as well as photographer, author, and educator Tara Pixley. With Watson we chat about his motivations, inspiration, and his collaborative process, camera, and lenses, and workflow on the day of the shoot. We consider the reception of the image and discuss the life of the entire series.

In addition to her work as a visual journalist, college professor, and curator, Tara Pixley is also a board member of the National Press Photographers Association, a member of the WPPI Advisory Board, and a co-founder of Authority Collective. Pixley is the ideal voice to provide us with aesthetic insight into the strength and significance of “The Drowning,” as well as the cultural and chronological contexts of why this image is an important artistic contribution from 2020 that echoes years of injustice and calls us to be more understanding and compassionate.

We’d also like to thank Cara Finnegan and Michael Shaw of “Reading the Pictures” for their contribution to this episode.

Guests: Cornell Watson and Tara Pixley

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the individual guests and do not necessarily represent the views of B&H Photo.

Above photograph © Cornell Watson

“The Drowning” from the series “Behind the Mask”, 2020. Photograph ©…
“Righteous Rage” from the series “Behind the Mask”, 2020. Photograph ©…
From the series “The Pain and Joy of Black Fatherhood”, 2021…
“Egg Shells” from the series “Behind the Mask”, 2020. Photograph ©…
From the series “Tarred Healing”, 2022. Photograph © Cornell Watson
Los Angeles-based dance company Contra Tiempo performs for asylum…
Residents of migrant shelter Casa de Luz carried two frames down to the…
Protests in Hollywood, California, June, 2020. Photograph © Tara Pixley
Juneteenth Celebration in Leimert Park, which is historically the space…
LIFT Dance promotional photo, 2012. Photograph © Tara Pixley


Host: Allan Weitz

Senior Creative Producer: John Harris

Senior Producer: Jason Tables

Executive Producer: Shawn C Steiner