Out Of Touch

I don’t have a smartphone and I live 20 miles out from the centre of London. I only heard that things were kicking off in Tottenham when there was a short (and it turned out later rather misleading) item on the radio news as I was thinking of bed. By that time my quickest way to get there would have been a couple of hours on my old bike and apart from the fact that it would have exhausted me to ride around 25 miles in the middle of the night, I thought everything would be over even if I did make it.  I was tired,  had drunk a few glasses of wine and bed was the only option.

I’d been sorry to miss the vigil at the police station earlier in the day, but again I’d only found out about it at the last minute. I’ve photographed community demonstrations against the police at Tottenham before. But if I had gone doubtless I would have taken my pictures and gone home after an hour or so, several hours before that peaceful event ended and well before the trouble flared.

Sunday morning the news was all over the Internet, with even some decent coverage on Sky, though it took the BBC a while to really catch up with what had happened.  Friends of mine had posted on Facebook in the early morning that they had got home safe (if some were rather bruised) after a busy night, and I saw some of their pictures.

Everyone was expecting further trouble and I wondered vaguely about going to see what was happening. Earlier in the week I’d asked a friend if he’d like to come with me to photograph a couple of events that day, one not far from Tottenham, but he was busy with other things and I’d decided not to go on my own but to do other things. I thought briefly about changing my mind, looked at the weather forecast and decided there were things I could more usefully do at home.

It was almost certainly a sensible decision. When things get a little tricky on the streets you need to be in touch and to be with other photographers.  A smartphone really becomes as essential as a camera, and at times if it can take a halfway decent picture you would be better off using a phone than a camera. Possibly it won’t be too long before DSLRs are relegated to history and the standard kit for photojournalists and press will be a videophone.  And I did get some essential work I’d been putting off for a while completed.

Of course I knew that many of my colleagues – particularly those in the London Photographers Branch of the NUJ would be out there on the streets covering the events which were rightly a matter of great media interest. I’ve always seen my own particular niche on My London Diary as covering the events that don’t make the news, and to try and make them into news, or if not news to write them into our history. One of my pictures from an earlier demonstration against police in that area, when I was one of the few (if not the only) photographers present on a bleak winter’s day became part of a national museum display.

The best set of pictures I’ve yet seen from the events were by the Chair of the NUJ London Photographers’ Branch, Jess Hurd, working for Report Digital, remarkable both for their drama and their clarity.  Apart from everything else they do show the remarkable capability of current DSLRs in low light; phones still have a long way to go.

These pictures came as no surprise, as so often her work does stand out from the crowd (and there are plenty of other good photographers in the crowd.) Until 28 August you can see her show of “10 years of intrepid work”… involved in people’s struggles for dignity and freedom around the world”,   ‘Taking the Streets – Global Protest‘ at the Usurp Art Gallery in Harrow (close to West Harrow Underground, open Thursday to Sunday 2-7 Free admission.)

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