6th October 2019
Protesting is in my blood. I was raised by Socialists and activists and I spent my formative years learning about left wing politics. My parents were Labour councillors, my step father was a Morning Star reading demonstrator.
In 1984, when I was 16, my parents went on strike. It was a volatile period and the strike dragged on. Both ended up on half pay and we were broke. It was at the time that many industries were striking and I came to understand only too well how it felt to have little food in the fridge and difficulty paying the bills. What I also remember was the atmosphere on the picket line.
I desperately wish I had some memories of those times but I didn’t take a camera with me, even though I liked to take photographs.
I continued to protest and demonstrate and because this has been a major part of my life, I decided to base my exhibition and project on it. I aim to research the area focusing on the history of protest photography, the art of story telling and ethical issues.
Photography in particular has always been important to capturing the immediacy of the act of dissent. For reporters it is quickly reproducable and has become widely accessible to everyone with a phone or a camera. Whether its a video posted to youtube or facebook, or a photograph such as Stuart Franklins “Tank Man” taken at Tiananmen Square (Aperture.protest-photographs). The visual language of dissent has never been louder, from the 60’s through to the present.
An article in Aperture magazine focuses on fifty years of dissent featuring photographers such as Sharon Hayes, whose work features women challenging gender norms with public acts. Hayes’s series In the Near Future (2009), features a series of self portraits of her carrying placards from historical protests. One reads “I AM A MAN,” from the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, while another demands “Ratify E.R.A. NOW!,” from the failed struggle to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s. The photographs depict Hayes’s as a lone picketer adopting a pastiche of historical issues, “bringing up discomfiting issues of artistic agency and political efficacy, as the collective and performative nature of protest becomes a gesture of remembrance.” https://aperture.org/blog/protest-photographs/
10th October 2019
The walls the divide us; a brief history
Art has always been as a tool of protest or social commentary, whether it’s through performance, painting, of photography. In a series of posts I intend to examine the traditions of protest photography and capturing dissent.
According to an article which examines the history of protest art (https://www.ruyamaps.org/journal-features/2019/11/8/upagainstthewall) much of our societal division is related to walls. In ancient history “walls that fill our imagined accounts of the besieged city of Troy, the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, and the Walls of Babylon, are structures that verge on the mythical – so much so that we forget they were real, tangible barriers. Ancient walls were constructed out of a need for security. They protected their inhabitants, and led societies to move away from a reliance on rituals of sacrifice and desensitization. The emergence of these walled cities, argues the historian David Frye, was the biggest factor in the development of civilization. It is significant then that current movements to improve society – in Lebanon, Iraq, Hong Kong, and Chile to name just a few – regularly feature walls”.
I find it interesting that walls were the basis of the beginning of society while now they are the basis of division. It seems that for many the desire to separate and build walls is almost genetically ingrained. However these walls have also now become a site of protest.
Walls may be physical or metaphorical, made of bricks or people. They are a rich battleground, occupying public space, provide a canvas with which to assert a message and encourage a collective response.
“By its very nature protest art operates at the grassroots level. It is spontaneous, cost-effective and accessible; all criteria that walls fulfill, not least in protest art’s move from our street walls to our social media walls, and back again”.
The post WWII period for example saw the Berlin Wall erected separating East from West. In 1991 there structure crumbled seeing the reunification of Germany. The remnants of the wall represent ‘the world’s largest open air gallery’ with murals by 105 artists painted onto its concrete slabs – famous examples include Keith Haring’s now lost 1986 mural, Kani Alavi’s ‘Es Geschah im November’ (1990) and Dmitri Vrubel’s ‘My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love’, commonly known as ‘Fraternal Kiss’ (1990).
Another example of a prominent artist using walls to make a political statement is Banksy. Working as a graffiti artist in and around Bristol in the early 90’s he later moved to London. His work makes social and political statements using stencils. He is probably one of the most famous protest / street artists in the UK
16th October 2019
Activestills collective is a group of photographers who create work around the area of Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea highlighting attacks on human rights and freedoms within these borders. They share a strong conviction that photography is a vehicle for social and political change.
Established in 2005 the photographers began making work from the point of view of the active participant. In choosing to stand with the demonstartors rather than behind the police and military they were placing themselves at the centre of the action. The collective is self-organised and each photographer has freedom of expression but they create work that expresses a shared statement. They also exhibit their work within the communities in which they work. They believe that their work belongs to those whose struggles have been documented and therefore the work is often exhibited in the public sphere; on the street, in independent publications and community events, conferences, court hearings and conferences. Their work is also used by human rights, development and advocacy agencies.
In solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle for their inalienable rights, Activestills calls for: The end of Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian and Syrian territory; the removal of the Israeli separation wall; the end of institutionalized discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of Israel; freedom for all political prisoners; respect for the human rights of all, regardless of ethnicity; recognition and implementation of the rights of Palestinian refugees, including the right of return; and the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes.
Members: Ahmad al-Bazz, Faiz Abu Rmeleh, Shiraz Grinbaum, Keren Manor, Haidi Motola, Anne Paq, Ryan Rodrick Beiler, Yotam Ronen, Tess Scheflan, Basel Yazouri, Mohammed Zaanoun, Oren Ziv, Maria Zreik. Contributers: Hamde Abu Rahma, Mareike Lauken, Tali Mayer, Omar Sameer, Shahaf Polakow, Ezz Zaanoun.
Miki Kratsman began teaching photojournalism at the Geographic Photography College in Tel Aviv in 1997. Part of his role as he saw it to was to help his students come to terms with the hard truth that photojournalism was a dwindling market. In 2005 he discovered that a new photographic practise had entered the classroom. Third year students began to bring in pictures that they had made at the Friday protests against the Israeli separation wall which were staged in the West Bank village of Bi’lin. The students naturally travelled together, but the work they were producing highlighted something new; a relationship between the protestors and photographers. The photographers became part of the protest. Over the year the group coalesced into Activestills
3rd January 2020
Magnum and Protest
A Magnum exhibition, ‘Protest!’ at Milk Gallery in New York, explored the relationship of photography to protest, featuring many images that became widely recognised in popular culture.
The exhibition focuses on the different ways in which protests manifest; images of people on the streets exercising their objection, such as Ian Berry’s anti-apartheid images in South Africa, which amplified the voice of the movement globally, to portraits of individuals, both famous and unknown, whose acts of resistance, however small or epic, were immortalized in a photograph, and adopted by millions as representative of something meaningful to their cause
Some of the photojournalistic images on display became famous because of the dramatic, world-altering moments that they depict, where the photographers themselves were caught up in the action, such as Bruno Barbey’s documentation of the Paris riots (as above, May 1968) or David Hurn’s shots of a anti-Vietnam protest that took a violent turn outside the London flat he was living in.
Portraits of leaders were also presented highlighting the importance of figureheads to protest movements. And while the decades-spanning exhibition presented a history of protest photography, it also brought it up to date with photographs taken as recently as 2017 such as Christopher Anderson’s pictures of the Women’s March on Washington a testament to the ongoing work Magnum photographers are doing to document the current history movements of resistance.
8th January 2020
Whose Streets, Our Streets
A group of photographers born between 1950 and 1970 committed themselves to documenting the struggles of social change which were unfolding on the streets of New York. Their pictures captured the changing history of the city from 1980-2000, including the marches of the 80’s and 90’s when residents “marched, demonstrated, and rioted in response to social changes in their city as well as national and international developments.”
As with many cities around the world, New York during the 1980’s was feeling the effects of a immensely unequal economic recovery. The recovery was highly dependent upon investment banking and high-end real estate development and it led to bitter challenges over space and city services. Housing activists were opposed gentrification raising concerns about the plight of thousands of homeless New Yorkers. Immigration made New York City much more diverse, but a significant proportion of white New Yorkers opposed civil rights and acted to maintain racial segregation.
Attempts to combat high crime rates during the 1970s and early 1980s heightened concerns about police brutality, as many innocent black and Latino New Yorkers died at the hands of the police. The culture wars wracking the nation had particular resonance in New York, a center of avant-garde art as well as of gay and lesbian and feminist activism, on the one hand, and home of the Vatican’s spokesman in the U.S., Cardinal John O’Connor, and a significant culturally conservative Roman Catholic population on the other.
MEG HANDLER IRAQ WAR PHOTO 1991
“A picture of someone holding a sign, at that time, felt very cliché and easy. But when looking at 25-year-old pictures the signage becomes much more important.”
This quote resonated as a lot of the pictures I have taken focus on the message or the banner. For me the signage is also an important document of what people are feeling.
Many of the photographers making work were both progressive and independent, publishing work in alternative press such as The Village Voice or through the cooperative photo agency Impact Visuals, dedicated to social documentary photography. Their photographs had never been shown as a collection until 2017 when an exhibition was staged at the Bronx Documentary centre
A website ‘Whose Streets’ showing the work, exhibition dates and information about the photographers can be found here
19th January 2020
Max Dondyuk: Culture of the Confrontation
Maxim Dondyuk is a documentary photographer who captured a range of images of the Euromaidan protests; 3 months of demonstration against the government in Ukraine, which was characterised as “an event of major political symbolism for the European Union”.
Hundreds of people crowded into the city of Ukraine, wearing helmets and holding flags. Dondyuk’s photographs show fires breaking out, a person wearing white gloves wiping the blood off the face of a young man, police lining up with their bulletproof shields: one stands on the bonnet of a van preparing to fire his rifle.
“At the very beginning, this project was a real challenge for me,” says Dondyuk. “I was surrounded by hundreds of photographers, and I knew I needed to find a unique way to document the revolution”
His photographs were then inspired by battle paintings rather than historical themes within photojournalism. He examined the visual language and images resulting in a series of images that captures abstract themes such as light and shadow, black and white, good and evil – although it is never clear which side is which. This is due to the fact that Dondyuk, wanted to show that both sides were important. “I was totally on the protestors’ side, of course, but it was also necessary to understand what was going on from the other side of the barricades,” he says. “I didn’t try to show a good side and a bad side; I tried to show the confrontation of two different world views.”
Dondyuk witnessed riot police beating the press and confiscating their cameras, so he avoided telling people he was a journalist, unless it was a matter of access or safety. The Ukrainian native recalls that he was hit several times with rubber bullets during the revolution – once in the head and once in the leg with a grenade – which resulted in a fragmentation wound. Despite his injuries, he went back with his camera the following day, with protestors helping him climb the barricades. “I had no idea how to stop documenting this event – I couldn’t,” he says. “The camera is my weapon and my mouthpiece.