Wang Fuchun creates intimate portraits of Chinese people crossing massive distances by train. He started photography whilst working on the trains, and the unique position his role gave him – walking back and forth through crowded long-haul journeys – gave him a chance to capture the atmosphere of hundreds of strangers temporarily living in close quarters.
He chooses his subjects with a wide eye: young and old, male and female, of a variety of colours and religions, they reflect the remarkable diversity of the Chinese populace.
Intimate and often revealing, the images are nonetheless respectful to their subjects and show them in a tender light. Even when shaving or helping a young child pee, the people he captures are confident, calm, relaxed. The alert but unselfconscious attitude of most of his subjects reveals a warm and respectful personality behind the camera.
Wan Fuchan’s images are an inspirational starting point, as they show how a relatively unglamorous job has its own unique perspective that can be shared through the medium of photography. I am inclined to wonder how differently we might view our local area if we were to see it photographed, for example, by our street-cleaner or postal worker.
These remarkable images created by children of a primary school in London show how much young people can achieve when their creativity is supported. Photographer Karina Walton worked with an all-girl group to create these instructional posters for the school – instructional for boys.
The project came about when some of the girls came to Walton. Their proposal was to produce some work in response to verbal and physical harassment they experienced in school – harassment that Walton notes amounted to sexism and racism. In the workshops that followed, the girls had free reign to choose the subject matter, poses, lettering and design.
The resulting images owe their power to the participatory process which Walton facilitated. I’m particularly intrigued by three factors that contributed to their success:
The participants worked in a safe space protected from the oppression they were trying to challenge. The children felt that as the issue was with boys, no boys should be involved in the creation process. On reflection, the children felt this gave them increased confidence in the workshop as they were not worried about the boys taking control of the equipment or laughing at their activities.
The facilitator brought in examples of other relevant work that the participants could draw upon for inspiration. In this case, one of the children was particularly interested in the use of lettering in Barbara Kruger’s work. She remarked on how the words “jumped out at you”, and Kruger’s work subsequently informed the bold text in the final posters.
The participants could influence all elements of the photographic process, including medium, location, and the layout and content of each photo. For example, the children chose black and white film as they felt it was more suited to serious content, whereas colour film was suitable for “happier photos”.
Produced in 1989 with pupils from Snowsfields Primary, the posters have a direct intensity that still rings true today. By focusing on their own experiences and creating a personal response, the girls created images whose meaning echoes far beyond the environment they were created for.
Rajhad is looking out of the fence that protects her small school in central Hebron. The building is now built like a fortress following severe assaults by Zionist settlers in 2006, 2008 and 2009. In one instance, settlers set fire to the building while classes were taking place.
Like most children in the school, Rajhad has suffered heavy injuries from settler violence. The assailants are usually the children of nearby Zionist settlers, who throw stones at Palestinian children on their way to and from school. This usually happens under the watchful eye of Israeli soldiers, who are ready to arrest Palestinian children but allow the settlers to operate with impunity.
With bitter irony, Rajhad says: ‘I want to beat a settler, so that they can be arrested like we are when settlers beat us.’
Photographing a demonstration is not an impartial process. It is creative, personal, and inherently political. You will expand your skills by creating photos that give the viewer a glimpse into events. While you cannot tell the whole story, it is precisely that limitation that can give your images power. With preparation, skill and a little luck, you can create images that reach beyond the moment and tell a much larger story.
What follows is a short collection of creative ideas that are based on my own experiences at major protests. They should help you to think critically about the images you take, and help you to produce an informative and exciting set of photographs. They conclude my series on taking photographs at protests.
Feel the mood
Feel the protest, right from the first boring minutes at the meeting point. Feel the mood of the crowd. Are most people quiet, or chanting? Does the group feel relaxed or agitated? If there are police or other forces present, what is their approach from the start? In the crowd, are there organisers, or agitators; do they seem officially appointed, or do they come into play spontaneously? Continue reading “How to photograph a protest, part 3: Take great photos”
This is the second part of a short series about photographing protests and demonstrations. While the protest is happening, you could find yourself (and others) are put into all kinds of uncomfortable situations. Here are some tips based on my personal experiences that should help you avoid misfortune but still take powerful photographs.
All the advice here is for your own reflection only. Nothing written here should encourage you to stand in front of a tank or bulldozer or otherwise put yourself at risk. End disclaimer.
1. Have an attitude solution
You are not invisible, nor are you impartial. By being at the protest and photographing events, you are an active participant. The photos you take – and more importantly, the ones you choose to share – will have an impact on how people will view the protest across the world. And while at the protest, your very presence as a photographer can alter the course of events, by changing how people choose to behave.
Make this an asset, and not a hindrance. Be friendly and fearless towards protesters, the police, and passers-by. You will never do yourself a favour by being rude, and you will rarely take a better shot for being meek. Meanwhile, being friendly and confident can get you out of a lot of trouble.
Reporting on protests and other political events in your area is one of the most exciting and rewarding ways to raise public awareness and improve your abilities. You don’t need to be an expert in any field, nor do you need mountains of expensive equipment. But you will find the process easier and more productive with some helpful advice to hand.
This three-part series on How to photograph a protest begins with Part 1: Be prepared. Here, we’ll run through some of the things to prepare in advance of a protest that you’re interested in covering. It’s written for anyone who wants to photograph protests, whether they consider themselves ‘a photographer’ or not.
1. Know your motives
You’re reporting on the protest because it matters to you for some reason. Perhaps it’s for a cause you support; perhaps you are concerned by the protest; perhaps you’re hoping to make money from the images you create. Hold on to this motivation – it is important. It’s what will give you the impetus to hang around in the cold or heat when you could be doing something else. Later, it’s going to keep you editing and posting photos online when you could be sleeping. Even if your motivation changes from day-to-day, keep it in your mind and re-evaluate it if you feel your momentum slipping.
‘In the beginning, the kids who came here were violent’, says Mohammad Abu Sbitan, director of the social centre, ‘they used bad language, were rude and restless. But now we’re beginning to see results.’ His eyes light up a little over his study office desk. ‘The children are polite and at ease with themselves. Before, they could not sit and listen to a story for more than 10 minutes. Now they will sit quietly and enjoy a story all the way through.’
Tear gas fills our eyes, as a barrage of stones bounces off the soldier’s shields. It’s the weekly protest at Bil’in, a village where the Israeli Wall has taken large sections of land from Palestinian locals, and the event has just turned violent.
6th March, 2010: Workers, students and young people of Brighton gathered today to March for Jobs. The aptly named protest opposed public sector cuts and job losses. The demonstration marched Brighton city centre for one hour, with chants such as ‘Students, and workers, unite and fight.’
The protest comes in the wake of two student occupations at Sussex University, proposed public sector job cuts in Brighton, and promises by both the major political parties to make nationwide cut-backs in public services.
Monday 18th January, 2010: Hundreds gathered in Brighton today to protest the presence of EDO, an arms firm that develops weapons parts used in the assault on Gaza last year. Police responded with force, and scuffles outside the EDO/ITT weapons factory on Home Farm Road led to several injuries. In Brighton city centre, protestors were kettled by police for up to an hour, and several arrests were made, including one medic.
The Smash EDO campaign has been calling for the closure of the Brighton-based arms manufacturer for six years, and claims EDO/ITT corp. is complicit in war crimes.
Nov 11th, 2009: Students at the University of Sussex have received messages of support from Palestinian grassroots organisations and Israeli and Jewish academics, following a decision by ballot to boycott Israeli goods.
The boycott referendum was in one of the best attended and closest contested in Sussex Student Union’s history, and the final result mandates the Union to remove all Israeli food produce from its stores.
The decision has received support from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, the grassroots Palestinian committee formed out of the campaign to boycott Israel in 2007. Speaking on behalf of its 23 member organisations, a spokesperson said that Sussex’s decision was significant as part of the international movement:
‘The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) salutes Sussex University students for their decision to boycott Israeli goods.
‘Student movements played a key role in ending Apartheid in South Africa. Today, we call on students across the globe to boycott Israeli products and divest from Israel until it complies with fundamental human rights principles and international law.’
Oct 30th, 2009: Following a landmark referendum, students at Sussex University have voted to boycott Israeli goods. The decision follows the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, which calls upon the Israeli state to respect international law and end the occupation of Palestine.
The referendum result mandates the Students’ Union to remove all Israeli produce from its stores, and review its sources for food outlets. This makes Sussex Students’ Union the first in the UK to implement a full boycott of Israeli goods through referendum. The vote was one of the largest and closest contested in the Union’s history, with 562 votes for and 450 against the boycott.
24th Oct, 2009: ‘Bring the Troops Home’ was the demand of tens of thousands of anti-war protesters in London today. The demonstration was called by Stop the War, CND and the British Muslim Institute. Trafalgar Square heard speeches against against the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with speakers as diverse as refusing soldier Lance Cpl Joe Glenton and Guantanamo survivor Omar Deghayes.
27th Sep, 2009: While Labour began its Party conference, Brighton seafront hosted thousands of people calling for ‘Jobs, Education and Peace’. The national protest, supported by major trade unions and left-wing parties, also ran under the banner ‘Rage Against New Labour’. The protest passed without interference from police, and caused minimal disruption to the city.
15th Aug, 2009: Thousands of British citizens came together today to disrupt the BNP’s annual ‘Red, White and Blue’ festival. The opening day of the British National Party’s propaganda event in Derbyshire was widely disrupted as protesters blocked roads, physically stopping BNP members and potential recruits from reaching the festival. The day passed with minimal violence, and nine reported arrests.
The Lewes Road Community Garden in Brighton, featured in my previous blog, is at risk of total closure. This week, a private security firm locked the gates and declared the site closed to the public. The land is privately owned, but has been unused for over four years, and the Community Garden project has transformed the empty lot into a green space for local residents.
If you feel the garden should remain open, please sign the petition, or send a message of support to firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 2009: Residents in the Lewes Road area of Brighton have reclaimed a derelict plot and are turning it into a community garden. The project is entirely run by volunteers and supported by donations of soil, plants, and turfing. The plot, formerly a petrol station, is privately owned but has been derelict for over four years.
26th May, 2009: Students at Sussex University have set up camp outside management offices to show their dissatisfaction with controversial new tactics, this week. ‘Camp Against Cuts’, which pitched its first tent last Thursday, now comprises half a dozen well-kept tents festooned with banners. It comes as Sussex management continue to pursue their plans of dropping Linguistics as a course, a decision which raised the anger of thousands of students and staff as well as famous linguists such as Noam Chomsky.
Hundreds of people from all over the country met in Brighton today to protest against the war, capitalism, and the arms trade. Organised by the Smash EDO movement, which for years has been campaigning against the EDO/ITT weapons factory based in Brighton, the protest started off very peacefully and remained generally positive throughout the day.
May Day, 4th May 2009: Hundreds of people from all over the country met in Brighton today to protest against the war, capitalism, and the arms trade. Organised by the Smash EDO movement, which for years has been campaigning against the EDO/ITT weapons factory based in Brighton, the protest started off very peacefully and remained generally positive throughout the day.