Solidarity With The Egyptian People

Photographing the crowd of people who turned up on Saturday for an Amnesty International rally in Trafalgar Square to support the Egyptian people and those in other countries in North Africa and the Middle East currently demonstrating for their freedom was really rather easy. Perhaps too easy to produce my best results – you sometimes need more of a challenge.

One of the advantages of a press card is that it gets you in to the area in front of the crowd at events such as this. Which does have the advantage of letting you photograph the speakers should you wish from a reasonably close distance. But  undoubtedly worthy though the speakers were, none were particularly well-known or particularly photogenic.  But as usual I stood there watching them, looking for signs of life and characteristic gestures, and made sure I got at least one recognisable photograph of most of them with their eyes open.

More interesting is the view that you get of the front row of the crowd, many of whom have come there deliberately to be in the pictures, and glimpses of those behind them.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

This was probably my favourite image, shown full frame, though it might benefit from a tiny bit of cropping to remove the hand an part of the face of a photographer at the right of the image who would have been rather less visible in the viewfinder when I took it.

In passing, I’ve always found it interesting that the photographers who work with cameras with the least accurate viewfinders tend to be those most dogmatic about not cropping their work.  The D700 does just add a thin strip of pixels around each edge of what you see in the viewfinder. So when I took the picture that guy at the right would have only had one eye, and the green strip of the edge of the poster at left would have been virtually invisible.

In work like this, where everything is changing, you can never quite frame with millimetric precision in any case. Occasionally I’ll trim just a little here or there that obviously needs it from the images. And just sometimes I’ll be more radical, because sometimes you get caught with the wrong lens on the camera, perhaps the 16-35mm when you really needed a 50mm, but the was clearly no time to even pick up the other body around your neck with a longer lens, and certainly not to change lenses.  Even Henri Cartier-Bresson cropped on occasion (notably that famous leaping man in the Place d’Europe.)

One think that does annoy me slightly about the image above is that the man at the centre of the spider-like group has his eyes closed. In the next frame I took they are open, but the eye-contact between the woman and child has gone, and with it the moment.  It does irritate me, but I’m not sure it makes it a worse picture, possibly even strengthens it.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Working the front of a crowd like this does have its limitations. You take photograph after photograph of the same few people, as you can see if you look at the pictures from the  Global Day For Egypt on My London Diary.

You are also working with a crowd of other photographers, which may sometimes make the job more pleasantly social, but does mean you are all likely to take very similar pictures and can lead to disagreements. On Saturday we had to intercede physically after one photographer, who had been standing back and chatting with a friend rather than taking photographs, violently objected when another photographer walked in front of him to take a photograph.

His was completely irrational  behaviour, and I think reflected more the fact that the attacker realised he had missed an opportunity than anything else. To work together we all try to avoid getting in each other’s way when people are actually taking pictures, but if you are not actually using your camera, you just aren’t there so far as other photographers are concerned.

But it’s always a good thing to try and get away from the pack, at least for some of the time, so I had a good wander around the square, looking for different people to photograph and different ways to approach the event.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

When I saw this on the computer, I thought immediately I should have taken a frame with a longer lens, waiting for the man behind to walk out of the way and concentrating on the woman and the two children. But of course it could not have been the same with the girl peeping over from behind by the time I had waited.  But it does look quite good cropped into landscape format…

3 Responses to “Solidarity With The Egyptian People”

  1. tdar says:

    I have been waiting for your post on this rally; I was there taking photos for Amnesty, heard someone shout “no fighting, no fighting”, looked at the crowd, surprised as the mood was happy, and then around to the photographers, one guy red faced was putting his cameras on the ground in preparation for going to thump the other – disgraceful.
    There was no excuse for this what so ever especially as there was a spacious enclosure for photographers and the photographic tempo at the time of the fracas was pretty sedate.
    Photography wise that event was OK for me, I was using an old Nikon FM with a 200mm:

  2. Hi,

    Yes I agree absolutely. I didn’t recognise the guy who was aggressive, not I think someone who often covers protests as I know most of those people. It was really quite uncalled for. I hope he wasn’t a member of my union.

    I was standing next to David Hoffman, photographing the same young woman who was giving a victory sign (it’s one of the pictures on the last page of my set) and is not quite as sharp as I would like, probably because the fracas broke out while I was taking it. I’d been talking with David and walked into the empty space in front of her with him and had I been on the other side of David would probably have been attacked by the guy instead of him.

    It really was a quite uncalled for response, and David was quite right to laugh at him, though it didn’t help to calm things down.

    Surprised the link you give is to a b/w picture. Very few publications seem to want b/w these days and I think your picture would have been better in colour. And although I took a few images with long lenses (even a few with a 400mm equiv) nearly all my stuff from the event is wide-angle.


  3. tdar says:

    I know its a bit contrarian to shoot black and white film – to be honest I just I fancied a change from digital; and I knew other people from Amnesty would be taking photos; and I have the luxury of not having to sell sell the pictures: I work in the Amnesty photo archive.
    I think that the black and white made the people stand out of the crowd especially versus the ever present branding.
    The turn around wasn’t that slow: I had the photos scanned the same day.

    The thinking behind the long lens was for shots over the crowd – I climbed up on the lions paw – and for close shots of people.

    Best wishes, Tim

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