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.
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.
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.
1st April, 2009: Thousands of protesters gathered in London today to demand real results from this week’s G20 summit. Organisations including Stop The War, Climate Camp, CND and several Anarchist groups were joined by a huge number of non-affiliated UK citizens in protests across The City, London’s financial centre.
27th Feb, 2009: Over a thousand students gathered in London this week to protest against the UK government’s controversial ‘top-up fees’.
Since 2006, students at universities in England and Wales have had to pay over £3,000 a year for their courses, while international students pay around £9,000 a year. The government is now considering raising the maximum price for top-up fees to £6,000 a year for domestic students.
The demonstration brought students from around the country together to demand that the government scrap the fees altogether and reinstate free education for all. Delegations from universities as far and wide as Essex, Manchester, and Sussex travelled to the capital armed with banners, slogans, and high spirits. The march ended outside the London School of Economics, recently home to one of the thirty student sit-in occupations taking place across the country.
The march brought parts of London to a standstill, but the biggest effect that I perceived was on the protesters themselves. While police lines prevented the march from protesting outside Parliament, the sense of unity and common purpose among those present served to strengthen the resolve of the movement. It seems this was only the start of what is set to be a long and determined campaign.
25th Jan, 2009: After five days of occupation, the students at Sussex University have entered negotiations with management. Meanwhile, other occupations across the country are sending their support and swapping advice and information.
23rd Jan, 2009: Students of Sussex University, UK, have made a symbolic occupation of lecture hall Arts A2 to show their support for the sufferers in Gaza and to call upon the University to take positive action.
The occupation started on Tuesday evening and has continued to hold a peaceful presence, allowing lectures to continue with minimal disruption. The demands that the occupiers have agreed on can be read on the facebook page or the blog.
It comes at a time when similar occupations are being held at Universities across the UK, including Warwick, Essex, Oxford, Manchester Metropolitan and others.