Tyre D. Nichols loved photographing sunsets. In one of his artworks, now on view as part of an outdoor installation of his photography at Desert X in California, he captured the sun just an instant before it touched the horizon; in the foreground, delicate tree branches seem to reach to the sky as they fade into silhouette.
Nichols, who was murdered by police in Memphis in January, is one of twelve exhibiting artists at Desert X this year, with six of his photographs raised high above the highway on billboards.
The choice of location is significant, as Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was brutally beaten after being pulled over by police. The lead lawyer for the Nichols family, Ben Crump, has shared the family’s hope that the work will raise awareness for proposed amendments to California Senate Bill 50 that would reduce the risk of deadly police traffic stops.
Nichols’ work spans genres, revealing the architecture, hidden corners, and natural wonders of Memphis through his eyes. While living in Memphis, he made frequent visits to Shelby Farms Park to take in the vast expanse of greenery and the dazzling evening light. “I take different types of photograhy, anywhere from action sports to rural photos, to bodies of water and my favorite… landscape photography,” he wrote on his photography website.
In addition to the landscapes, Nichols created one of the artworks in this Tyre Nichols photography exhibition at the Tom Lee Memorial, a landmark honoring the Memphis hero who saved 32 lives in 1925 after a steamer capsized in the Mississippi. In that way, the show roots itself firmly within the present moment, while also acknowledging history and advocating for a better future.
Tyre Nichols was stopped and beaten by police on January 7th. He died three days later. But the photographs in Desert X capture the artist’s life in vibrant color, each moment imbued with a sense of hope and wonder. That night in January, he was driving home from an evening of photographing the setting sun when he was stopped. Later that month, members of the community gathered at Shelby Farms Park for a sunset protest in honor of his life.
The Nichols family continues to seek justice for the murder. Show your support by contributing to the Tyre Nichols Memorial Fund, set up by his mother, RowVaughn Wells. You can see this collection of Tyre Nichols photography in person as part of Desert X in Coachella Valley, running through May 7th.