Strong Women

I’m not sure how much it reflects on me and the entirely sexist world I was brought up in back in the days of the fifties. Even in the sixties when I became politically involved, many still regarded the role of women to be to darn the socks of the revolutionary man. Though I hope I didn’t share that view, but I’m sure there are still traces of that prehistoric past in my make-up. And it still surprises me a little how many of those that I photograph and admire as political activists are women. I’ve not made any accurate census, but so many of those who first come to mind are women, and many of my favourite images are of women.

But perhaps I just like women. They often seen far more sensible than men. Photographing people isn’t just a technical thing, and it works better at least for me when there is a certain rapport or at least empathy. But perhaps I’m straying into sensitive territory and will find gender police of various sympathies swooping down on me talons outstretched (surely a sexist metaphor but what metaphors aren’t.)

On Saturday 24th September last I photographed three protests which were or seemed to be dominated by women (and the fourth, Release the Craigavon Two would perhaps also at least seem that way from my pictures.) Focus E15 started as a group of unmarried mothers in a council funded hostel under threat of eviction who got together and decided to fight to be rehoused in London, and were celebrating three years working together on a campaign which has widened into one fighting for proper housing for all and an end to social cleansing, particularly in their own entirely Labour borough of Newham, but also more widely.

The celebration took place on the wide pavement at Stratford Broadway where they hold a weekly street stall, and there was music and dancing and it was one of the few protests at which I’ve been handed champagne, which still tasted pretty good from a plastic cup. Almost all of the speakers at the rally were women, and so were most of those taking part.

From Stratford I made my way to Brixton, where Ritzy Cinema workers, men and women, were striking for a living wage. There were rather more women than men visible, and rather more of the men seemed to be hiding behind some large masks.  The picture above was a slight disappointment and would have been better, but as I was carefully framing it, another photographer walked into the frame at the right hand side, spoiling the composition. I’ve cropped him out but had to lose a little more too, and though I still like the picture, I can’t look at it without thinking of the one that I just missed.

Of course I did photograph the men too, and there are one or two decent pictures starring them, but in general it is those with women in the lead that are most interesting. Judge for yourself at The Ritzy’s Back for a Living Wage.

My final protest of the day was at the Polish Embassy, called by Polish Feminists against the introduction of new laws outlawing abortion  proposed for Poland  in solidarity with the 5th annual March for Choice in Ireland against the strict anti-abortion laws there condemned by the UN as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’.

The colours of the head dress of this woman speaking are of course those of the Polish flag, and I carefully positioned myself to get the Polish eagle on the Embassy frontage  to her right. It wasn’t possible to get enough depth of field for this to be sharp, but I stopped down as much as I could under the lighting conditions.

This was a ‘black protest’ with many of those taking part dressed in black, and the black doors of the embassy made a good background, though careful exposure and a little help in post-processing made the figures stand out better. I wasn’t ‘directing’ the woman holding up this octagonal placard, and it took a little patience and luck to get the framing I wanted.  And although the verticals were quite close to vertical as I took them, a little massaging in Lightroom was needed for the final image. Some agencies would not approve, but this was what I saw and tried to achieve when I was taking the picture and I’ve no qualms about using a little electronic help in this way.

Of course I took other pictures, but given the nature of the protest they too were mainly of women. You can see some of them at Polish Women’s ‘Black Protest for Choice’.


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