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.
A new report by The Guardian discloses what campaigners and peaceful protesters have known for decades: that the UK police are keeping details of thousands of peaceful protesters, whether or not they have been involved in illegal activity. It also shows the deliberate targeting of journalists and photographers by police surveillance teams.
6th Mar, 2009: A new law has been passed which allows UK police to arrest individuals for photographing police officers, and confiscate their equipment. Section 76, introduced this year, makes it illegal for anyone to take or distribute photographs of Police or armed forces ‘which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.
This comes as alarming news in the context of the UK police force’s abuse of anti-terror laws every year since 2001. In Brighton, Sussex police enacted a widespread suppression of a peaceful protest, using anti-terrorism laws to make arrests.
The laws also allow police to further suppress democratic journalism. Last year, Somerset & Avon police had to apologise for the the violent arrest of a plumber who photographed a police van going the wrong way up a one way street. Now, such an apology would not be necessary, and the onus would be on the plumber to prove that he was not going to use the image for terrorist purposes.
Weeks of intensive research have culminated in the launch of an online, interactive multimedia map. It documents events surrounding the Smash EDO demonstration in Brighton on October 15th. Clicking on markers brings up raw evidence, such as photography, eyewitness reports, and video footage.
The map makes for harrowing reading. It shows how police invoked anti-terror laws against suspected protesters. It also describes how one disabled observer was arrested and denied access to a doctor, and how peaceful protesters were attacked by police dogs.
Dorothea Lange made her reputation photographing the victims of the Great Depression in the US, and the exploitation of US farmers that followed. Her most famous photograph, MigrantMother, shows the strength and torment of a migrant worker, surrounded by her three children.
Migrant Mother February/March 1936
I am reminded of the raw devotion to family and humanity that is expressed in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. When times are hard, it seems, the best side of people can emerge; their stoicism, their determination to stick to their values against all the odds. Such times also expose the darkest side of capitalism, that two-headed beast that feeds us when times are good, and consumes us when they are bad.
Felice Beato is credited as being one of the founders of photojournalism, yet his approaches are as much a warning as an inspiration. He travelled much of Asia from his late twenties until near his death, and although he left Europe far behind, he took many imperialistic ideals with him.
While reporting on the Second Opium War, he took care to only photograph the Chinese war dead, and not British or French casualties. Meanwhile, in his photographs of the so-called Indian Mutiny, the desolation of the surroundings and still-present skeletons empasise the might of the British forces.
Felice Beato Interior of Angle of North Fort Immediately after Its Capture
21st August, 1860
Dmitri Baltermants was a Polish man who taught himself photography while working part-time. His reportage of WWII was largely censored by his Soviet employers – presumably because his photography presented the side of war that leaders would rather their people did not know about. Rather than portray the supposed glory of war, he sought to represent the suffering of battle – the soldiers’ ignoble end, the suffering of survival and widowhood. His most famous image,Grief,showswomen of the village of Kerch searching for the bodies of their loved ones after a massacre.