Pope Protest

I was surprised that over 10,000 people turned out in London on 18 September to protest against the state visit by Pope Benedict. It was obviously a pleasant surprise for the organisers too, and too much for the police to take in. They were reported as saying at a briefing before the event that they expected 2,000 and quite a few people published that as the actual turnout.  Too many reports and comments in the press come from people who aren’t actually present at the events they are reporting on.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Photographers have to be there to take pictures. Even when newspapers use stills taken from film or TV coverage, the guys who made those have to be there. To photograph events you have to be in the thick of it, while it’s not unknown for writers to work from a nearby cafe or hotel room.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But many of the events I photograph are good places to be, where people are enjoying themselves, having some fun together while also making a serious point. Quite a few times there were placards that made me laugh, and some were a reminder that humour can be a powerful weapon.

Several of the speakers at the rally had everyone laughing too, though others were starkly serious. And at times I remembered that the women who were speaking about being abused as children were the ones who had managed to survive and flourish despite what they had suffered, and that there were others whose lives are still in a mess many years afterwards.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Most of the speakers were impressive. Richard Dawkins, who so often seems to comes over as a simplistic and blinkered atheist in radio interviews seemed far more impressive when allowed to develop his thoughts without constant questioning an interruption.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Barbara Blaine spoke powerfully in front of a placard with a picture  of her as a young girl in her white first communion dress with the message ‘Raped at Age 8’.

You can read my account of the march and also see my set of pictures on My London Diary as always.

As often, when I was photographing the protesters before the march,the light was against me, as they were lining up with the sun behind them, though it was usually possible either to keep it out of frame by choice of angle, or to hide it behind a person or placard, but it made fill flash more or less essential. I’d probably have been using it anyway, usually a stop or more down so it has only a slight effect, but does ensure that people notice me. The first frame I take may often catch them unaware (and sometimes I turn the flash off to take several that way) but generally the flash catches their attention.

I was photographing a group of demonstrators protesting against child abuse by Catholic priests, among them a young woman with a placard ‘Where is the Love’ high above her head. I took several frames of the group, then one of another woman in the group with a placard ‘Your Taxes Paying For His Bigotry’ and then moved towards her, trying to work out if I could make a picture with her head and her placard a couple of feet above. Instead I got this picture:

© 2010, Peter Marshall

She pulled down her top more or less immediately but a had time to take a couple of frames before we both more or less collapsed in giggles. I had no time to adjust the camera settings, so although she was very much exposed, the picture was a little underexposed thanks to the light pouring in from the bright sky.

What was that about?” her friend asked and she wasn’t entirely sure, but she had intended it as a gesture of liberation against the sexual repression of the Pope and the Catholic Church.

I took a few more pictures of the group, and it was one of those later images that I actually used with my story that evening on Demotix, because I felt its message was clearer. Someone said to me later in the day when I told them the story, it would have been great had I been working for ‘The Sun’. But the bare flesh involved here wasn’t the kind of  empty and gratuitous nudity which they and the Daily Star parade, but a political gesture.

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