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.
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.