Red Card and Rain

I met the  ‘Red Card Israeli Racism Campaign‘ last year when they were protesting against the detention in Israel of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, who was then on hunger strike against his detention without charge since 2009, when he was arrested while moving from Gaza to a new club on the West Bank.  Their protests and those of other groups around the world led to his case being taken up by footballers and football associations around the world, and he was was finally released in July 2012 after appeals from the international professional footballers association FIFPro, Eric Cantona, Frédéric Kanouté and the presidents of EUFA and FIFA, as well as others from outside football.

Their protest on May 24 was to take the message to the UEFA meeting taking place in a hotel on Park Lane that they should not be holding June’s under-21 men’s football tournament in Israel, because of that country’s continuing record of human rights abuses and the breaking of UEFA’s rules in their treatment of Palestinian footballers, two of whom are still in prison in Israel.

There were two parts to the protest. Opposite the hotel in the wide central reservation of Park Lane they were holding a rally all day, and a march was going to the rally from St Pancras International station, where around 40 protesters were arriving by train from France and Belgium.

My plan was to start with the marchers at St Pancras, walk with them part of the way and then take a bus so I could be at the rally well before them to take pictures of the rally and their arrival. On my way to the start of the march, I’d noticed that the police were preparing for a large protest outside the Indian High Commission, and had decided that rather than take a direct bus, I could take a bus there, spend a short time taking pictures there and then get on another bus to go on to the ‘Red Card’ rally.

It more or less worked. The only real problem was the rain, moderate but steady before the march started, it soon began to come down heavily, and I, the protesters and my cameras were all getting rather wet.  Not just wet, despite it being May, I was also getting rather cold, as I was working with my jacket open halfway down so I could tuck my cameras under it out of the rain when I wasn’t using either of them. I was glad I’d thought to put on a vest under my shirt and a jumper on top, but I was still chilly.

I was pleased to be able to leave the march after around half a mile, when it still had another couple of miles to do, and head for the bus stop. It wasn’t too long before a bus came, but again the weather was a little problem. London’s traffic is slow at most times during the day, but when it rains, more people use their cars as well as the buses. The bus was full and I had to stand for a couple of stop, and going down to Holborn it was stuck in a slow-moving stream, slower than walking, but finally we arrived close the the High Commission.

Both police and protesters were obviously expecting a much larger protest than the group of around twenty Sikhs I found there – and again I expect many were put off by the weather. It was a part of a protest that has been going on since the middle of April opposite Downing Street, against the hanging of Professor Bhullar, a Sikh who has been held on death row for 19 years after his conviction on the basis of a confession forced out of him under torture; the final barriers to his execution were removed in April and he could now be hanged at any time.

Here all the protesters were at least under umbrellas, while I was working in the rain. It is just possible to hold an umbrella while taking photographs, but it isn’t easy, and it makes it difficult to get the camera in exactly the right position – those little movements that can make all the difference to a picture.  And when working with very wide lenses – like the 16mm end of the 16-35mm – it is rather easy to let the umbrella drift into the picture, and it also cuts down the light. So although I didn’t stay long taking pictures, the rain was by now heavy, and I got rather wet by the time I rushed to the bus stop for the bus to Mayfair.

I’d hoped the cameras might dry off a bit on the bus journey, but the bus was steamed up, and by now I was running out of dry cloths to wipe the gear with, but I removed as much of the surface moisture as I could. Again it was a slow journey, thanks to the rain and traffic, at the end of which I had around half an hour’s walk in the rain to the rally. But at least I could zip up my coat and pull up my hood as I walked (it gets in the way too much when I’m taking pictures.)

At the rally there was a little shelter from the large trees, but by now the rain was also dripping from them, and again I got wet taking pictures. By now the viewfinder of both Nikons was misted up and it was hard to see exactly what I was taking, but at least to start with the lenses were still clear, and the dim lighting meant I could see the images fairly clearly on the back of the camera, and they seemed reasonably sharp.

You can clearly see some streaks of rain in the top left of this picture

It wasn’t too long before the march arrived, though I didn’t make any very good pictures – the weather was against me, and the marchers rather bedraggled. I was ready to leave, but hung on for a few minutes as Mahmoud Sarsak was present and going to speak. It was tricky keeping him in the frame at the telephoto end of the 18-105mm when he was on the makeshift platform, needing to keep wiping the front element of the lens (and cursing the fact that I’d lost the lens hood a few days earlier and was waiting for a replacement to arrive – it really does help to keep the rain off. By now I was only getting a very dim image in the viewfinder, and even on the camera back it wasn’t too clear, but there was only a little condensation actually inside the lens and the images were still more or less ok  I kept at it for a few minutes until I was sure I had a couple of decent frames, and then hurried away to catch the bus to the station.

Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak
I was quite pleased with the pictures I took given the conditions, and even more pleased when the cameras and lenses all seemed to dry out without problems, though neither the Nikon 16-35mm or the 18-105mm are made for working in the rain, and are likely soon to need expensive repairs or replacement.

You can see the rest of the pictures and more about the protests at UEFA gets a Red Card for Israel and Don’t hang Prof Bhullar!


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.

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