Capturing the Moment: Photography and Protest

A few weeks ago, two things happened that got me thinking about the relationship between photography and protest. My fellow Royal Holloway Geography PhD students Noeme Santana and Bergit Arends gave a wonderful seminar called ‘Industrial Photography Performed: The Struggle for Energy from Modernism to the Cold War’, about photography and industry in the twentieth century. The second thing was a great article published by The World Post in celebration of International Women’s Day, which featured 60 photos of women protesting around the world over the last 25 years. This combination got me thinking about how photography has been used to record and document protest, and the ways in which protesters have used photography to help get their message across.

Photographers at Protest-Ecuador

Multiple photographers are a common sight at modern day protests, like this one in Ecuador (Photo: PABLO COZZAGLIO/AFP/Getty Images).

There are often large numbers of photographers at protests now, both professional and amateur. As time goes on cameras get increasingly more affordable, so a sophisticated camera is now relatively cheap. As media and communication technologies have developed, so has protest and dissent. The printing press allowed texts to be disseminated far and wide, and the practice of reading aloud meant printed material was even accessible to the illiterate. More recently, the internet has allowed activists to communicate instantly across huge distances. Whether these technologies changed protest, or merely facilitated processes that were already going on is a debate for another day, but there is no doubt they had an impact. Photography is no different; it meant that protests and activists could be seen by people who were not immediately present. It is not in itself a new technology; I have written before about Christina Broom and her work photographing the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century. But it has changed drastically since it was first invented, and as it has evolved, so have the opportunities for capturing protest.

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This image of a man standing in front of tanks in Tienanmen Square, Beijing, in 1989 is iconic. Visual imagery can be a powerful tool for protesters (Photo: AP).

Activists also use photography themselves to help communicate their ideas. Photographs are often perceived as accurate, objective, representations. Although this is not actually the case, a photo is still an effective method of persuasion. They are often used by protesters on leaflets, posters, and stickers in order to try and convince people of their point of view. A recent example of this is the London housing activist group Focus E15, who are frequently in conflict with Robin Wales, the Mayor of the London borough of Newham. They have a photo of him being held back during one confrontation in July 2014, where he lost his temper with members of the group when they tried to approach him at the Mayor’s Newham Show. His behaviour was later found to have broken the borough’s code of conduct. The image of a public official so close to violence is a powerful one.

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Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, apparently being held back after being approached by members of FocusE15 in July 2014 (Photo: Evening Standard).

Photography does carry some risks for protesters. If you are photographed doing something illegal, then it can be used to help get you convicted. Police have been known to use photography to document activists and help them identify ‘troublemakers.’ In addition, photography arguably favours the dramatic, and not every form of protest is visually engaging. The boring, but very important, elements of social movements like fundraising and network building can easily get overlooked in a world that thrives on the dynamic and exciting. Social movements have very little, if any, control over how they are represented in the mainstream media, which is reflected in the frequent use of alternative media, controlled and operated by activists themselves (Feigenbaum, Frenzel and McCurdy 2013).

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Images of violence during the 2010 tuition fee protests were commonly used by the mainstream media the protests’ aftermath (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA).

Photography is a double edged sword for protest movements. It provides a fast and effective way of capturing protests and spreading their message far beyond what would otherwise be possible. However, photography also poses a risk for protesters who act outside of the law, potentially providing evidence that could get them convicted.

Rebellious New York: A Radical Guide to NYC 2

Last week, I was lucky enough to run my Rebellious New York project on the Royal Holloway Geography Department’s second year undergraduate field trip for a second year. I really enjoyed it last year, getting to explore New York’s radical side with a group of enthusiastic students, and this trip was no different. I wrote about some of the many ways to explore New York’s turbulent past and present last year, but this time I discovered some new things, as well as revisiting some old ones.

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The Statue of Liberty, donated to America by the French people to commemorate the centenary of American Independence, is one of the most iconic symbols of New York City (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I took my group on the Occupy Walking Tour with Occupy member Michael Pellagatti, as I did last year. Michael has added some information to the tour that puts the 2008 global financial meltdown that spawned the Occupy Movement in the context of the boom and bust cycle inherent to capitalism. We also had a talk at the Interference Archive, which provided an introduction to the archive and its collections. It is always useful to know why an archive you are working in was started, as it can help you to understand what sort of material might be present in the collections. The students all found something useful for their projects, and the volunteers were very helpful in pointing out potentially relevant material- a great illustration of how beneficial it can be to have the archivist on your side!

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The Rebellious New York group with Michael Pellagati, the Occupy New York tour guide (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

 

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My group getting stuck in to the collections at the Interference Archive (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The weather was much warmer than it has been on my previous trips to New York, and it was lovely to see the open spaces of the city being used and enjoyed. Union Square Park seemed to be a particularly lively space, with people dancing, drawing, performing and protesting at the south end of the park on the Wednesday evening when we were there. Whilst walking tours and archives are excellent, protest is best experienced by actually experiencing it, and in New York there is no shortage of opportunities!

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This stall was selling posters and t-shirts with a clear anti-establishment theme (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Police violence against civilians, particularly those belonging to ethnic minorities, is a controversial topic in America at the moment (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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It takes all sorts to make up a political campaign! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I spent some time on this trip exploring the rich history of immigration that is an integral part of New York. I visited Ellis Island, which processed 12 million newly arrived immigrants between 1892 and 1924. I also went to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which has preserved 97 Orchard Street, and has restored some of the flats to resemble what they would have looked like at various points between 1863 and the 1930s. Many immigrants crammed into tenements in neighbourhoods like the Lower East Side when they first arrived in America, and the museum does a fantastic job of bringing their stories to life. Immigrant groups did not wait long to get involved in politics in New York. Some of the biggest issues for new arrivals were work related; workers faced long hours, tough conditions and low wages. American workers often saw immigrants as competition, but they eventually realised that more could be achieved if they campaigned together. In addition, more established migrant groups helped new arrivals; German radicals helped eastern Europeans set up trade unions and Yiddish language newspapers when they first arrived on the Lower East Side. Radicals were also affected by the increasingly tight laws which aimed to reduce overall immigration numbers and prevent those considered subversive or unable to provide for themselves entering America. Anarchists were banned in 1903, along with epileptics and professional beggars.

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An image from the 1913 New York City clothing workers’ strike, with placards in Italian, Yiddish, and Russian as well as English. The museum on Ellis Island deals with all aspects of migrant life, including work (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Stonewall Riots are considered by many to be the the catalyst for the LGBT civil rights movement in America. On the 28th of June 1969 the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. At this point homosexuality in public was illegal in New York, and businesses and establishments frequented by the city’s gay community were continually harassed by the police. This particular night was the final straw however, and a crowd gathered outside the Stonewall Inn and began to riot. The same happened the following night. On the first anniversary of the riots, the first Gay Pride parades took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. The original Inn closed in 1969, but a bar called Stonewall opened up in the western half of the original location (53 Christopher Street) in 1990. In 2007 the name was changed again to the Stonewall Inn, and this bar is still open today. Across the road in Christopher Park is the Gay Liberation Monument, which was constructed in 1992. Although it memorialises the gay rights movement as a whole, the location of the monument so close to the Stonewall Inn demonstrates how significant the location is considered to be.

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The Gay Liberation Monument in Christopher Park consists of 4 figures (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

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Detail of the two male figures. A plaque, which explains the context of the riots and the history of the memorial, can be seen in the background (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Christopher Park itself is small and quiet, but very close to the busy 7th Avenue, and I saw a lot of people coming in to look at memorial during the 20 minutes I was sat there (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The radical history of New York is long and diverse, and it would take far more time than I have to get to know it properly, although I would like to someday. For now, I am content with exploring the traces these turbulent events and people have left in the fabric of the city on my brief visits, not to mention helping the wonderful Royal Holloway Geography undergraduates to conduct their own research on protest in the city. If you ever find yourself in this fantastic city, why not take some time to investigate the city’s rebellious side?

Book Review: ‘London- A Social History’

The 2000 edition of 'London- A Social History' by Roy Porter.

The 2000 edition of ‘London- A Social History’ by Roy Porter.

Porter, Roy. London- A Social History. London: Penguin, 2000 [1994]

“the physical fabric [of London] engages in endless dialogue with the inhabitants; the townscape shapes them, while they reconstruct it. Factories and flats, railways and roads outlive individuals. People make their own cities, but never under conditions of their own choosing.”

(Porter, 2000; p. xvi)

When he set out to write London- A Social History, Roy Porter (2000; p. xvi) aimed to write “a substantial account and analysis of the making of the metropolis in terms of its people, economy and buildings.” He has achieved this, frequently going beyond descriptions to consider why London is the way that it is. The book is arranged chronologically, but the Georgian, Victorian, and post-War London periods (from chapter 5 onwards) receive significantly more attention than others; each has multiple chapters devoted to them, divided thematically. This can be little confusing; you finish chapter 8 in 1890, then chapter 9 begins back in 1820.

For Porter, London is a city past its prime. The metropolis is “aged and ailing” (Porter, 2000; p. 445), deprived of the empire which Porter argues was the driving force behind its success. In the preface, he looks back on his childhood in 1950s New Cross with nostalgia, and he is quietly critical of Thatcherite policies and a lack of public investment. Porter passed away in 2002, but I do wonder what he would make of London in 2015- somehow, I can’t imagine he would be very impressed. His criticisms feel informed and considered, unlike A.N. Wilson in London- A Short History, Porter explains what he doesn’t like about modern London without making me strongly dislike him.

One of the things that London- A Social History does really well is highlight the continuities of London. Sometimes London at different periods of history can feel so diverse that it calls into question the wisdom of treating it as the same city, but Porter connects Tudor, Georgian and modern London together into a narrative that make sense. For example, the book’s descriptions of housing demonstrate that good quality, affordable housing for the city’s working class has been a constant problem since the Georgians. Porter also does an excellent job of explaining the reasons behind London’s particularly ad-hoc structures of local government. The rivalry between the national government in Westminster and the City goes back centuries, and Westminster has long feared the potential power of a comprehensive pan-London authority.

The book does have some weaknesses. Some chapters, particularly those that describe the massive growth of London during various periods of the last few centuries feel a bit list-y, and are tedious to read. He gives disproportionate space to London since Georgian times, with much less about the preceding history. This is not uncommon in histories of London, perhaps just because the further back you go, the harder it is to find reliable sources. Finally, the book was written 20 years ago, and his assessment of London feels out of date (for example, Porter complains about the lack of ruling authority in London- the Greater London Authority was established in 1999, after the book was written). However, all books age, some better than others, and the past 20 years have not detracted from the rest of Porter’s thoughtful analysis of London history.

The subtitle of Roy Porter’s 541-page epic does not do it justice. This is not just a social history, but also an economic, political, demographic, and cultural history. Despite minor weaknesses, it is a good introduction for those who know little about the city, or a useful addition to the bookshelf of any London connoisseur.

Turbulent London on Film: Save Our Heritage

Winstan Whitter. Save Our Heritage, uploaded 2011, available at  https://vimeo.com/32541973

Winstan Whitter was a film-maker in the right place at the right time. A local boy, he filmed throughout the campaign to save the historic Four Aces Club and surrounding buildings in Dalston, Hackney from demolition and redevelopment. Save Our Heritage tells the story from start to finish, from when the the demolition signs first appeared, to the end of the campaign. The documentary is a compelling example of a single-issue social movement, and showcases a mixture of resistance tactics, some official, others less so. The film is particularly pertinent now, as people feel increasingly marginalised in London, thanks to gentrification and rising house prices. Save Our Heritage tells a story that feels very familiar; it is a detailed snapshot of a process that is going on all over the capital.

The narrative is strung together by interviews with Bill Parry-Davies, a founding member of OPEN Dalston (Organisation for Promotion of Environmental Needs), a “community-based company” of local residents and businesses which started campaigning in early 2005 for the improvement of the local area. Mr Parry-Davies is perhaps not what you would expect in a prominent member of a social movement; he is a well-dressed, well-spoken solicitor, and he brings a certain degree of respectability to the film which may surprise some.

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Bill Parry-Davies, solicitor and founding member of OPEN Dalston, features prominently in Save Our Heritage (Source: Save Our Heritage).

The film focuses on the campaign to save 4-12 Dalston Lane, which at the beginning of the film is threatened with demolition, largely because it had been neglected by its owners, Hackney Borough Council. The buildings included 2 listed Georgian houses and a circus built in 1886, which has since served as a theatre, cinema, and nightclub. As the Four Aces Club, it was a became a well-known centre for black music in London. The roof was removed in the 1990s, presumably with the full knowledge of Hackney Council, and never replaced. The interiors deteriorated, but the building remained structurally sound. In 2005, the Council began their attempts to demolish the buildings.

The film documents the entire campaign to save the buildings, including a public consultation campaign, alternative proposals, high court injunctions, an occupation (which began to restore the buildings and acted as a form of community centre),  a demonstration outside a Hackney council meeting (in which 5 minutes were allocated for ALL those wishing to oppose the development plans). The council’s chosen plans did not provide any facilities which OPEN claimed the community needed, such as affordable housing, cultural facilities, and open green space. To add insult to injury, it emerged that TFL needed  income from the site to plug a £19 million funding gap from their station development on an adjacent site, which meant that Hackney taxpayers were footing the bill for even more upmarket housing.

Dalston Occupation

A sign attached to the roof of the theatre building by the occupiers (Source: Save Our Heritage).

This is a one-sided account of the story; there is no one representing Hackney Council, TFL, or the developers to tell the other side of the story. Nonetheless, I think it is a well made and informative film, that tells this David and Goliath story in an interesting way. Save Our Heritage is well worth 37 minutes of your time, particularly if you are interested in gentrification and the transformation which London has been through in recent years. It would also make an excellent teaching resource; it is a fantastic record of a diverse and enthusiastic campaign.

Protest Stickers: Newcastle Upon Tyne

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Like most cities and large towns, the urban infrastructure of Newcastle is littered with stickers of all kinds (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Like most major towns and cities, Newcastle upon Tyne in the northeast of England has a healthy tradition of protest. With a population of just under 300,000, it is not one of the largest cities in the UK, but ‘Geordies’ are famous for their good nature and friendliness. As I discovered when I visited in July, this doesn’t mean there isn’t contention and dissent in the city, which is demonstrated by the large number of protest stickers I found.

This was the first protest sticker I found in Newcastle, on Northumberland Street, in the city's main shopping area.

This was the first protest sticker I found in Newcastle, on Northumberland Street, in the city’s main shopping area (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Animal rights was one of the most common themes of stickers that I found.

Animal rights was one of the most common themes of stickers that I found (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have seen similar stickers to this one in London. They criticise the British Heart Foundation for using animals in their research.

I have seen similar stickers to this one in London. They criticise the British Heart Foundation for conducting research on animals (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker also criticises the British Heart Foundation, but is less visually striking. Stickers are made using various methods and various levels of skill.

This sticker also criticises the British Heart Foundation, but is less visually striking. It references a different webite, so I imagine it was made by somebody different to the previous one. Stickers are made using various methods and various levels of skill (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is also protesting against experimentation on animals, but not specifically in relation to the British Heart Foundation.

This sticker is also protesting against experimentation on animals, but not specifically in relation to the British Heart Foundation (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker also relates generally to animal rights, but focuses on the culling of badgers. It calls for culls to be sabotaged.

This sticker also relates generally to animal rights, but focuses on the culling of badgers. It calls for culls to be sabotaged (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker has been partially removed, but I think that the whole text probably read 'Animal Liberation- Human Liberation.' The raised, clenched fist is a fairly common symbol in protest circles. This sticker plays on that symbolism with the addition of a raised paw.

This sticker has been partially removed, but I think that the whole text probably read ‘Animal Liberation- Human Liberation.’ The raised, clenched fist is a fairly common symbol in protest circles. This sticker plays on that symbolism with the addition of a raised paw (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker has also been partially removed, but two clasped hands can be seen. This is often used as a symbol of solidarity, an important concept in protest movements.

This sticker has also been partially removed, but two clasped hands can be seen. This is often used as a symbol of solidarity, an important concept in protest movements (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The second common theme in Newcastle protest stickers is anti-fascism. Anti-fascist groups seem to produce a lot of protest stickers, and the North-East anti-fascists are no exception.

The second common theme in Newcastle protest stickers is anti-fascism. Anti-fascist groups seem to produce a lot of protest stickers, and the North-East anti-fascists are no exception (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Anti-fascists often campaign on specific issues that they consider related to fascism. This sticker is playing on the name of the English Defence League.

Anti-fascists often campaign on specific issues that they consider related to fascism. This sticker is playing on the name of the English Defence League (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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In this sticker, anti-fascism is connected to class-based activism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker focuses on the homophobic element of fascism.

This sticker focuses on the homophobic element of fascism. Around the circular anti-fascist logo is the words antihomophobe action. The words at the bottom of the sticker used to read ‘Eat Shit Nazi Scum.’ They look as if they were deliberately obscured, perhaps by a member of Newcastle’s far-right groups, or maybe just by someone who took exception to the profanity (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The North-East Anarchists also have a presence in Newcastle's sticker landscape.

The North-East Anarchists also have a presence in Newcastle’s sticker landscape (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In this sticker, the North-East Anarchists are criticising the banks, although I found this sticker a bit confusing- I had to read it a few times to figure out what it was saying.

In this sticker, the North-East Anarchists are criticising the banks, although I found this sticker a bit confusing- I had to read it a few times to figure out what it was saying (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Left-wing politics is far from simple. This sticker condemns Bolshevism

Radical politics is far from simple. This sticker is by a group called Anti-Bolshevik Action, which appears to be advocating communism, but not the communism of Stalin, Trotsky and Mao. There are a myriad of complicated divisions between groups with similar beliefs (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Not every group that puts up stickers in Newcastle is left-wing. This sticker from the North East National Front references Enoch Powell, an anti-immigrant politician to made the famous 'rivers of blood' speech in 1968.

Not every group that puts up stickers in Newcastle is left-wing. This sticker from the North East National Front references Enoch Powell, an anti-immigrant politician to made the famous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

National Action is a national socialist group that calls itself "Britain's premier Nationalist street movement." THey reject more mainstream nationalist groups like UKIP and have the ultimate aim of a "white Britain."

National Action is a national socialist group that calls itself “Britain’s premier Nationalist street movement.” They reject more mainstream nationalist groups like UKIP and have the ultimate aim of a “white Britain” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

As is often the case, stickers in Newcastle reflect a combination of local, national, and international issues. The Trade Unions and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was formed to campaign in the general election in May.

As is often the case, stickers in Newcastle reflect a combination of local, national, and international issues. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was formed to campaign in the general election in May 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is calling for a boycott of goods from Israel, specifically oranges. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement aims to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue by exerting economic pressure.

This sticker is calling for a boycott of goods from Israel, specifically oranges. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement aims to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue by exerting economic pressure (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In contrast to the previous two, this last sticker has a distinctly local flavour. 'Radge' is Geordie slang for rage or anger. It may be a criticism of the armed forces, because of the use of the RAF logo and font.

In contrast to the previous two, this last sticker has a distinctly local flavour. ‘Radge’ is Geordie slang for rage or anger. It may be a criticism of the armed forces, because of the use of the RAF logo and font. It also might not, but I liked it too much to leave out because I wasn’t sure! (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. ‘Newcastle upon Tyne.’ Wikipedia. Last modified 17th July 2015, accessed 19th July 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newcastle_upon_Tyne