Flares at King’s

Photographing people holding flares is something of a hit or miss thing, with rather a lot of unpredictable behaviour. There are the people holding the flares, and protesters movements are often fairly unpredictable, but smoke is also peculiarly so. And if you actually get in the smoke, camera exposure metering gets pretty unhinged too and it can also be difficult to focus.

Though I usually like to get as close as possible for most of my pictures (though I know it often pays to stand back a little for a wider view) it seldom works to get too close to people holding smoke flares – and can be quite uncomfortable too. The smoke isn’t good for the lungs or the eyes and has an unpleasant smell, and very close contract can result in burns and stains on clothing that are hard to remove.

It isn’t I think illegal to set off smoke flares, although police and government web sites state it is. The relevant law is clear that it is only an offence “if in consequence a user of the highway is injured, interrupted or endangered” and I think that would be hard to show in this case. But of course, I’m not a lawyer.

Another case where laws are often invoked against protesters is for the use of chalk and other easily removed markings on roadways, pavements and walls. Police during this protest talked with and asked for names and addresses of some of those who painted with chalk on the wall of King’s College. It’s had to prove ‘criminal damage’ when a simple wipe of a damp sponge – or even the rain – will remove it, though at least one protester was convicted for this a year or two back at the University of London Senate House – and a specialist cleaning company apparently got paid hundreds of pounds for a few seconds wielding a damp rag.
The organiser of this protest, PhD student Roger Hallam had been suspended for writing “Divest From Oil and Gas Now. Out of Time!” in spray chalk at an earlier protest, and in response at this event there was a great deal of displaying messages by other non-permanent methods, as well as a few who chose to deliberately paint washable coloured dots.

There is so far as I’m aware no law relating to the use of balloons on the public highway, and the protesters took full advantage of this. It was just a little difficult to photograph the long line, and space was limited between the wall and he protesters as they moved to tape them onto it.

The aim of the protest was to persuade King’s College to end its investments in fossil fuels and switch to investments in renewable energy,  part of a London-wide divestment  campaign.

More at King’s College Divest Oil & Gas Now!


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