The march led by Vivienne Westwood with her ‘Climate Revolution’ met up with other anti-fracking protesters at Knightsbridge for the Fracked Future Carnival, an event intended to let the government and the energy companies trying to develop fracking in the UK of the growing opposition to their plans. The depth of that opposition has been made clear at Balcombe and now at Barton Moss, and there were a number who had been at both places at the protest.
The protest carnival had been planned to take place outside the hotel where the ‘Shale Gas Forum’ of government and industry was to take place, but shortly before the event, the forum had been moved to a ‘secret location’ to avoid the protest. Of course it wasn’t possible to keep that location secret, as among those attending the forum were some who realise the power of the arguments against fracking and were sympathetic to the protesters.
Increasingly informed opinion is that to avoid disastrous global warming we need to move away from using coal, oil and gas as fuels, either leaving them in the ground or using them only for chemical feedstock or some increasingly niche energy uses. Highly carbon intensive hydrocarbon sources such as tar sands and shale might result in profits for the companies who exploit them (and even governments who tax them) but only lead to catastrophe for the planet.
As the organisers of the Fracked Future Carnival say, “We know fracking won’t lower our bills and it won’t bring significant jobs. It has the potential to ruin our land, our water, our soil and will keep us dependent on fossil fuels.”
What we need is a determined shift towards renewable energy, as well as an increased investment in reducing energy use. Both will provide jobs. Energy saving will start to reduce bills immediately, and renewable energy will also do so in the longer term. Solar panels have already reduced dramatically in cost and increased in efficiency, although on-shore wind still currently has the greatest potential in the UK. But the coalition government seem keen to support opposition to it.
Photographically, the largest problem outside the hotel where protesters held a rally as previously planned before moving on to the new location was simply the crowd of people with cameras around the speakers and Vivienne Westwood in particular. Away from this fairly small area it was relatively easy to work, although there were still too many photographers for us to keep out of each other’s way.
But while I was occasionally frustrated by photographers moving into my frame, there were also occasional gains. It was a photographer standing next to me who asked two girls with the message ‘Frack Off’ on their cheeks to kiss, but I was able to take advantage of the moment – and I think was at a slightly better angle than him. I didn’t set it up, but it happened and I photographed it – and I think my caption made clear that the two girls were posing for a photograph.
It was a neat solution to the problem of trying to see the message clearly when photographing a single person with a message across both cheeks – the curvature of the face generally makes it hard to read in its entirety. There was a great deal of posing going on, with many of those taking part in the event taking ‘selfies’ while waiting until it was time to move off.
I’d hoped to take some pictures of people travelling across London to the military location where the event had been rescheduled, but the protesters got very dispersed and when I did get on the underground with a small group it was too crowded – the train was fuller than normal with a large school party of young children spread across several carriages. The lighting in the carriages isn’t too kind for photographers or to their subjects, with a fairly discontinuous spectrum and also with the actual light sources in the picture. Although I managed one or two pictures they were just a little disappointing and have a slightly odd colour, though perhaps that improves them.
I lost touch with that group when we had to change trains at Kings Cross, and although I’d hung around for quite a while waiting to take pictures in Knightsbridge station, I still managed to be one of the first to arrive at Old Street. The underground can still be rather confusing for those who aren’t familiar with it.
There was a lot of building work on the corner of Old Street, making the space for meeting there very restricted, and photography rather difficult. Things were much easier once the protesters marched off and rallied outside the two gates to the Territorial Army centre where the forum was taking place. As intended, the protest was peaceful though at times very noisy, with the Rhythms of Resistance samba band making their presence felt, and the event did have something of a carnival nature, as well as some very serious speeches by people concerned with the future of our country and the planet. The frackers inside will certainly have been aware of the opposition.
I rather liked this image of Tina Louise from Residents Action on Fylde Fracking facing a line of police, as much as anything as a little homage towards a far stronger and deservedly famous image, where Marc Riboud photographed a young woman holding up a flower to a row of soldiers with bayonets fixed outside the Pentagon in 1967. Riboud’s Flower Child image had a power which this lacks, and it flashed into my mind as I made this image – and was a reminder of how powerful still images shape the way we see the world.