Cleaners Occupy

Occasionally I’m invited to cover protests which have not been advertised on the web, with the details kept secret so that the organisation the protest is against  doesn’t have the chance to put extra security in place. Cleaners Surprise Senate House Invasion was like this, and I didn’t know in advance exactly what was intended (and I prefer to keep it that way)  but trusted the organisers to keep things peaceful and legal.  The only information I had was to be a meeting point at 1pm.

When I arrived there was nobody there, but I waited and after a while someone I recognised as one of the protesters arrived. He’d had the same information as me. We waited. He made a phone call and found that most of the protesters were waiting inside the building we were standing outside, but would come out shortly. We waited.  And waited more, when some eventually emerged in the foyer and I went in to meet them. We were still waiting, though it wasn’t clear to me what we were waiting for. But eventually the protest started, with around 30 people moving quietly around the side of a building until we got to the main courtyard on the west of Senate House, when everyone broke into a run.  I paused to take a couple of pictures of the few at the front, then ran to catch up with them as they arrived at the door.

I had no worries in following the protesters into the Senate House, but had I been asked by someone with the relevant authority to leave, I would of course have considered doing so, unless I felt (which I might well have) something was happening that there was an over-riding public interest in recording.  Fortunately it didn’t happen, and I was left to get on with my job without having to come to a decision.

I’d deliberately chosen not to use flash, partly because I didn’t want to draw particular attention to myself, but mainly because I knew that most of the time the areas involved were too large to light with my flash and I was likely to have colour balance problems with the flash and the indoor lighting.

It was a dull day outside, and I’d already turned the ISO up to 2500 for the picture of the leading protesters running towards the building, partly to make sure that I got everything sharp (1/400 f8) but also because I thought things might begin to happen as soon as we got inside and I didn’t want to miss things fiddling with the camera before taking pictures – or get everything blurred  at a low ISO. It’s always good to think ahead.

We were not challenged at all as we entered the building and made our way through the reception area into the main ‘Crush Hall’ where conference delegates were standing around finishing their lunch break. I had time to increase the ISO to 3200 before taking more pictures, as the lighting was fairly dim inside. Most of the pictures inside were taken on the D700 with the 16-35mm at around 1/80 f4. There were quite a few less than sharp images, some of which had some nice subject movement.

Lighting and exposure got a bit trickier as the protesters made their way up the stairs, with some large windows on the upper floor adding daylight to the scene, and rather confusing the auto-exposure.  Fortunately I was able to get one of the IWGB red flags  to double as a lighting ‘flag’, though the material they use is perhaps a little thinner than I would have liked.  I like the effect of the closer people and flag being blurred – both depth of field and subject movement perhaps helping here. The focus was on the people at the centre, but with the 16mm at f5 there is considerable depth of field. At 1/100th the close figures are blurred by movement, but those at the top of the stairs  are out of focus.

At the top of the stairs the protesters went along a short and rather dim corridor leading to some doors into the Vice-Chancellors offices, which they made no attempt to go through, but made a lot of noise outside.  Most of the lighting here was from a window on one side of the corridor just before the doors, and the exposures here were still around 1/100 f5 at ISO 3200. In the darker corridor  it was down to 1/30 f4.

We were inside Senate House altogether for 20 minutes, and you can see the pictures at Cleaners Surprise Senate House Invasion.  The protesters were pleased at having been able to protest inside without any trouble, and I was reasonably satisfied with the pictures, although I knew that there would be little interest in them from the media as it had been a peaceful protest.

Had it happened in Spain or Egypt it might just have made the BBC news (as a small protest in Spain did today, but not the larger march and rally I covered in London), but there seems to be an agreement to avoid anything that might suggest we might have some kind of social unrest arising from inequalities and extremes of wealth,  government policies against the poor, and other  serious issues lots of middle-class protesters are arrested or buildings are burnt down and things erupt on a scale that simply cannot be ignored.


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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