Week 3 Refections

Extinction Rebellion Whitehall October 2019

Monday 7th October was the big day. The start of Extinction Rebellion’s October action. Acts of rebellion against an exploitative business culture and a supine government would be happening over the next two weeks. I planned to be part of it in a dual role:
As a photographer volunteering for Extinction Rebellion (XR), photographing events and contributing to the XR public image bank.
As part of my MA project addressing the effects of the climate emergency.

I was prepared. For my XR role, I had attended media training, knew where to deposit my pictures, was part of the messaging group that broadcast the location of actions and the police responses. I knew how to respond to police requests and how to avoid arrest.

As advised, I did not wear any XR insignia, I acted as a freelance photographer covering a major event. In interactions with rebels, I identified myself as being with XR media from Brighton.

Due to the fact that I had no annual leave left at work, I travelled into London in the late afternoon. I encountered the first action on Westminster Bridge. A group of rebels were sitting down in the road, stopping the traffic in both directions. They had no intention of moving, they were surrounded by police officers. For a photographer, the conditions were difficult. Light levels were low, it was raining. Rebels were sitting on the ground in tight huddles. The police were standing. Everyone was in very close proximity. Isolating a scene or an interesting grouping was very difficult to do.

Conditions were very similar in Whitehall with very heavy rain at times. I was glad that I hadn’t brought the portable studio set-up which I had recently bought. Given the conditions and the edginess of the rebels (police action was expected at any moment), I doubt I could have got the sort of portraits I was hoping for. So I fell back on the reportage approach.

As it started to get dark, I moved to Trafalgar Square where there were hordes of people and a samba band playing.

No traffic was passing around the square. All roads were blocked, often by structures made of people and materials.

This was a surreal, unfamiliar London, cars banished and replaced by excited rebels and bewildered police officers. In these uncertain conditions, I needed to keep my visual sense alive whilst navigating rapidly moving groups of people and mobile police cordons. I was also very conscious of the fact that I would have limited time to capture images during this rebellion. It was scheduled to last two weeks but police tactics had already been more aggressive than April. The kitchens and toilets that were set up previously to support the encampments had already been confiscated by the police on day 1. How long could the camps last?

After Trafalgar Square, I walked back down Whitehall towards Waterloo Station. On Westminster Bridge, I spotted an XR flag backlit by a streetlight. It seemed a suitably defiant image to finish with.

I took the train home and immediately started editing my images, finally uploading them to the XR media website at around 2 am. Whilst I was working I found out that the police had cleared Westminster Bridge at midnight.