More On May Day

Between the official London May Day march and photographing some of the Occupy London protesters at last managing to occupy their original target, the London Stock Exchange (although only on a token basis – and there are now more pictures on My London Diary) I photographed two very different protests.

I knew that the protests against workfare – unpaid labour that unemployed people are pressured to carry out at least sometimes under threat of losing their benefits – which had begun earlier in the day and had been continued by some of the marchers supporting UK Uncut and the autonomous bloc during the May Day march were expected to continue after then end of the march. I’d been given a hint that one group might target the company who run the scheme whose offices are in deepest Soho, around 15 minutes walk from Trafalgar Square. I left the rally in Trafalgar Square to check, but nothing was happening in the area – and I suspect the protesters were unable to find the place and turned elsewhere, or had simply changed their mind. It isn’t unusual for protests not to happen, sometimes even when they have been quite widely advertised, though I was sure that workfare protests were going to happen elsewhere later.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Placards, coffin and Merlin Emmanuel who was one of the organisers

From checking on this I caught a bus to Holborn, where I knew that there was going to be a protest against the so-called ‘Independent Police Complaints Commission’ or IPCC.  Set up in 2004 to replace a discredited body that was widely seen as simply there to deflect public anger without and prevent any real investigation or redress against the police, this replacement body has turned out to be equally lacking in independence or powers. Recently even its boss has admitted it needs reform, when it was not even able to question the 38 officers involved in the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, whose killing by police sparked off last Summer’s disturbances.

Although in general the British police forces are among the best in the world, they have problems, and have unfortunately failed to deal with them. We can all name high-profile cases where the police have failed, have been shown to be racist, have used inappropriate levels of force, often with fatal consequences, have issued statements known to be false to the press, have lied in court evidence and more and of course there are many more cases that have not received attention in the media. We know that in general police look after their own, and there are few effective investigations of police corruption or abuses, and that prosecutions of police are extremely rare. Cases tend too be neglected, drawn out to excessive length and pushed under legal carpets on into the long grass. And the IPCC, staffed with a high proportion of former police has turned out to be some of the longer grass.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The Scots also have a system to not investigate complaints such as
those involving the abuse of Hollie Greig in Aberdeen

Photographically the main difficulty in covering the event was that little interesting was happening. There were a few posters, placards and banners, and a black coffin with the message RIP IPCC, but it didn’t add up to a great deal to make pictures with. It was just a very static event with people, including a number who were videoing the event well back from the speakers , making it difficult to take pictures without getting in their way.

What interest there was came mainly from the speakers, and some of these were rather undemonstrative, even while some of what they had to say was a powerful indictment of the police and the IPCC. It wasn’t easy to find different angles, and this wasn’t helped by a strong low sun. Things got a little more interesting for me later because of some of the people involved.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Marcia and Samantha, sisters of Sean Rigg, killed in Brixton Police Station in August 2008
© 2012, Peter Marshall

I’ve photographed Marcia and Samantha Rigg on various occasions over the years since their brother Sean was killed shortly after being taken in to Brixton Police station  in August 2008. As well as campaigning for a proper investigation of his death they have also become leading campaigners for the proper investigation of all deaths in custody and for effective control of police behaviour. Although they were limited in what they could say because of the forthcoming inquest, they gave damning testimony on the total failure and inadequacy of the IPCC.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Although occasionally the sun went behind a cloud, using flash fill helped improve the lighting in the other images I took of them.  But working from the side the lighting with the sun shining almost directly into my lens was considerably more dramatic.  The kind of result shown here needed considerable work in Lightroom to burn down the sunlit areas as well as adding brightness and contrast to the shadows.

From here I got a bus back to Oxford St with a colleague. Getting on buses on days where extensive protests are taking place is often a mistake, as the traffic can get very badly held up, partly by protesters but often mainly by police blocking off much larger areas than the protest. We got stuck in Oxford St and could tell that something was happening when the police helicopter that we had seen from our seat at the front of the top deck was hovering was more or less directly above us. I spotted a crowd and police a couple of hundred yards away and we rushed downstairs. The traffic was completely at a standstill but the bus was between stops and at first the driver refused to open the doors to let us off, but my colleague and the other passengers persuaded him and we rushed to join the protesters running along Oxford St.

The light was tricky here too, shining low directly behind the protesters.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

That’s my hand at top left – without using it to supplement the ineffectual lens hood the image would have been a mass of flare – you can see a nice ‘rainbow’ effect at bottom right. I could crop it out, but that would lose some of the figure in blue below, which I think would be a shame. Most people don’t realise it is my hand, which after all was there anyway, so why should I remove it?

© 2012, Peter Marshall

A little later, in the Charing Cross Rd there was some nice rim lighting – and again fill flash was essential. One big advantage of modern flashes and cameras is that flash can be used at fast shutter speeds – 1/320th in this case.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

By the time we got to McDonalds on The Strand there was more strong side-lighting which made my picture of a man with a megaphone outside the store more effective – and this time I managed without flash fill, but with quite a lot of work in Lightroom.

You can now see my work from the whole of May Day on My London Diary:

London May Day March
Abolish The Corrupt IPCC
May Day Workfare Protest
Stock Exchange Occupied


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


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