Universal Credit at the Tate

Sometimes space in photographs can be very important, and this picture of protesters in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London is I think a good example. But it isn’t without its problems, and as this small reproduction shows one of them is that we really can’t read the message on the t-shirts unless the image is used on a rather larger scale.

The picture is one of around a dozen taken of the group of protesters, and actually one of them is missing. In this picture it reads STOPUNIVERSALCREDIT and there should have been a ‘#’ at the left. But the ‘#’ was talking to and delaying the security man who was trying to stop the protest, and a later picture shows running to join the protest with security runinng after him.

I was standing on the bridge across the hall, I think at the same level as the horizontal beam along the wall at the right, and hoping that there were going to be no security officers trying to stop me taking pictures – and fortunately there wasn’t. And I was able to take a series of pictures before the security officer rather got in the way of the message, some of which were more legible in small reproduction.

As well as making the message more legible, the larger scale also makes the reflection on the rear wall stand out more, helped by a little massaging in post-production. I’ve also done a little tweaking to make the inside walls of the building more or less vertical as intended, which is a lot easier on the computer than when we had to tilt the easel holding the paper under the enlarger.

I’d started taking pictures of the group earlier, at the riverside outside Tate Modern, and we had to start with the protesters with their back to us as they didn’t have quite enough people to wear the full set. Then they managed to persuade a person (or was it two) walking by to make up the numbers for a full frontal image by the river and then on the Millenium bridge before a couple of late-comers made it. It needed the 16mm fisheye to get in the whole group on the bridge with the former power stationi behind them.

But I think the pictures I like most from the riverside are those where you can’t read the message at all, or only the odd bit of it – and the tape which says ‘Beware Hostile Environment’.

And there was even a role for that over-zealous security officer when the protesters went to pose on the tarmac outside the building and he came to insist that they go completely off the property. But the logo on his jacket enabled me to take a photograph showing clearly where the protest was taking place. I’ve put the image on the web without cropping, but should really have cropped the group tighter, taking out the woman in blue at the left and a little of the foreground.

Universal Credit is now pretty universally admitted to be a disaster, but the government is refusing to halt its roll-out, creating greater hardship to so many, leading to evictions and suicides as well as a huge degree of deprivation and misery. If we lived in a society that was truly just, Iain Duncan Smith would be in jail and the whole programme scrapped.

The action at Tate modern was a prelude to other protests in London and elsewhere on a day of action against Universal Credit, of which more later. But its also a set of pictures, a little over 30 in all, which show very clearly how I was working that day, about the closest I like to get to studio photography.

Universal Credit protest at Tate Modern


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