Observers and Events

Photographing last Saturday’s demonstration about Gaza in Trafalgar Square on Saturday I was very aware how the presence of photographers and the way that they react to events can actually very much influence what is happening.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

At times speakers had to stop and wait because of the noise, which was prompted by the activities of a smallish group of men at one side of front of the crowd facing the speakers. As well as chanting noisily they also burnt Israeli flags and posters, and of course when they did so a crowd of photographers formed in front of them.

Obviously they felt deeply about what was happening in Gaza and wanted to show it, but this and other similar displays at the demonstrations are very much designed to catch the attention of the press, and very much encouraged by the press reaction.

As photographers we need visual symbols, and the more powerful these are the easier our job becomes. So of course, with all the others I went and photographed what was happening.

But once I’d got some pictures of a burning flag and images that I thought showed their anger I walked away and photographed other things, leaving them alone. Not that it made any difference as there were plenty of other photographers encouraging them. But I wanted to hear the speeches and photograph the speakers and the audience, and this was an event that was very much about women and children, so I tried to concentrate on them.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The police often accuse photographers of provoking demonstrators to violence, but in general I don’t think we do, at least not to any measurable extent. Demonstrators are far more often provoked by the police – and being pushed around or hit by a baton is considerably more effective effective provocation than a camera. Even the way the police use cameras is often considerably more provocative than the way that journalists usually work.

Most of the time we are doing our best to record what is happening rather than to be a part of it, but there are times when our presence as observers can very much change the events we observe, and we need to be aware of it.

You can see my photographs from the rally in Trafalgar Square and the women and children’s march along Whitehall on My London Diary as usual.

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