Photographing protests allows you to capture people, sometimes at their best and sometimes at their worst and the Invasion Day (Australia Day) rally I recently photographed was something different. It stood out from both protests last year as both had feelings of anger and frustration, this year had the feeling of the opposite as it was filled with cultural dancing in the streets and generally, people from all walks of life getting together to protest against something they believe needs to be changed and doing it with a smile.
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2020 has influenced the way many of us photograph our chosen subjects, with COVID safe plans in place to being watched, and some, fined by the police to being locked down and not leaving the house to pursue our passion for photography. To that end, I have been forced to take a ‘what’s happening in my city?’ and a ‘am I allowed out?’ approach to photography.
The came these bombshell comment from a colleague, ‘Your photos are very political!’ only to be further echoed by other colleagues leaving me scrambling to justify my choice of subjects. I noted as they scrolled through my Instagram feed none of them mentioned or commented on composition, cropping or even the editing technique etc. but rather commented on the theme behind each image.
I like to think that I’m the same as everyone else who enjoys photography, we are all, in our own way trying to tell a story with each and every single photograph and politics or a political theme is something I have gone out of my way to avoid by putting my efforts into capturing the emotions of people attending and the emotion around the event.
These comments stuck with me for quite sometime only to realise that you may inadvertently capture the politics surrounding the event whilst trying to capture peoples emotions.
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WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this blog post/website may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.
Australia day is celebrated on the 26th of January with a National public holiday, many Australians go to the beach, cook barbecues, play backyard cricket, watch fireworks and generally enjoy themselves, but there are also protests by Australia’s First Nations people who call the day ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’. These protests occur every Australia day, in every Australian Capital city and are growing in not only numbers, but also growing louder every year.
Trying to tell this story with words was not only difficult due to the amount of emotion and politics surrounding the day forcing me to procrastinate over what I had written. After several days I came to the conclusion that a story can be told through the power of a single photo, and there are thousands of powerful photos out there. One photo that immediately comes to mind is ‘Tank Man‘ (Jeff Widener, 1986) who attempted to stop tanks leaving Tiananmen Square by standing in their path. That single photo told a story to the world of a lone man standing up against something bigger than him and believing in it enough to risk his life. With that in mind, (and no more procrastinating) I’ll let the photos do the storytelling and leave the emotional and political charged comments to others.
A proud Indigenous woman stares down the barrel of a TV camera
I am interested to hear your thoughts on how you photograph difficult situations including those that may have emotions attached to them and how you overcame those challenges.
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Firstly, your safety is paramount. If any protest or protesters become violent towards you or others, including the police interacting with protesters, leave. Your safety is more important and must have a higher value than any photo you take and your safety always come first. No photo is worth you being injured or hurt.
Travelling, mainly for work, I had decided that the photos taken during my trip would be to show my family the famous sights of London with no intention of sharing, so I was surprised to stumble across a what looked like a protest, a peaceful protest, on a bridge, a famous bridge (Westminister Bridge) in London. What an opportunity!
Pushing through the crowds trying to get a feel of what the protest was about I found that there were plenty of photographic opportunities with good light and everyone seemed pretty happy, might be the whacky weed that was in the air, to have their photos taken.
Some people will struggle with my next comment, I selected Auto on my camera and started shooting. Why not? Camera companies spend millions of dollars developing incredibly small computers and sensors to work everything out so why not select auto.
Documentary and street photography are genres that I have always been attracted to, I find them to be challenging as you have little to no control of what is about to happen and how you capture those moments can be a challenge in itself. Ultimately you want people to feel connected to your images and to possibly inspire them in some small way.
Please remember, if you do decide to photograph a protest, remember your safety must come first over any photo opportunities.