Monday, 6 April 2009

Actions Speak Louder Than Words And The Camera Never Lies.

So, the G20 is all over and photographers seem to be the overall winners. Endless pictures of politicians, politicians wives, police, protesters and photographers, an awful lot of them. I've got nothing against photographers, I like to count one or two of them as friends and I've been known to take the odd photo myself, a quick glance at the bookshelf reminds me that over the years I seem to have acquired quite a few books on the subject. But last week all the images I saw on TV and the Internet of the events surrounding the G20 in London were dominated by the number of photographers present to record events for posterity. Which led me on to wondering if the event would have been different had fewer people been there to record what was happening? Would the RBS have been ventilated so thoroughly had there been fewer camera's homing in on the event? I wasn't there so I cannot in all honesty make a comment, but something about the voyeurism of it makes me a little uncomfortable.

The first protest march I attended was an awful long time ago, and seems down the years to have become a notorious one. Grovesner square 1968. If my memory serves, we were in Trafalgar Square, then moved on to the American embassy, and I remember a lot on sitting down in the road and singing and chanting. Ho Ho Ho Chi Min has been stuck in my mind ever since. I was 17 and incandescent with rage about the bomb and the Vietnam war. We were pushed around a bit, chased by policemen in silly helmets and truncheons and chased by policemen on very big horses. I could run quite fast if I wanted to in those days! But somehow, I never saw a picture of the events on 17th March 1968 until long after the event. I didn't own a TV, I didn't buy newspapers and more importantly I was probably more interested with the notion that I didn't have to stay in one place and the world was out there waiting to be seen, all the news I needed came out of the underground publications of the time, IT and OZ.

I've done my fair share of protesting and marching since, I never stayed at Greenham Common, but I was there and supported the women who needed to stay. But through all this I have no recollection of armies of photographers and camera men and women to the extent that they appear now.

All through the 70's I was too busy doing other things other things to worry about the rest of the world, but come the 80's things started to make me angry again, and a change in lifestyle meant it was possible to demonstrate once more. Lots of news coverage for Greenham mostly negative, and of course an amazing subject for photographers, there is loads of it and we've probably all seen it. The miner strike. Not involved personally but involved emotionally and that was covered handsomely by the media, and anyone who lives in an old NCB mining area will have no difficulty bring an image of 1984 to mind. Photographic images of that time adorn the walls of countless local museums and galleries. As an aside, there is a lady well into her eighties living near us who is to this day looking forward to "Dancing on Maggie's grave." Needles to say , we all hope she will make it.

I think what worries me is the images that are made of protests, demonstrations, marches or whatever name you put to an event, although authentic historical documents, don't tell the whole story by themselves and the place where you see that image adds its own agenda, glorifying or vilifying according to it's politics. Of course, if you seek out the images you have your own agenda, but what about the people who just see these images in passing, say on the TV news, the front page of the newspapers in the supermarket. these people will only get part of the picture, and inevitably the most dramatic part, leading to exaggerations and misunderstanding and definitely not the full story.

Anyway, all this comes about because I was reminded of my own glory days of protest and demonstration back 1968 and the fact that I could not remember seeing anyone taking pictures of any sort. It never really occurred to me until last year when people were looking back at '68 as a pivotal time in history that there were photographs and news footage of the events in and around Grovesner Square. Most of the stuff I saw was new to me, and I could not reconcile the memory of what I had experienced to the images I was seeing. Last week, following events at the G20, I had the same feeling that what I was being shown was not necessarily what was happening. A feeling that something had somehow got lost between the subject and the lens.
Actions speak louder than words and the camera never lies, but when you put the two together it can all become a little too subjective and then the truth can be skewed to suit the need.

On a positive note and disregarding truth and politics, there was a lot of very good camera work done last week, and I mean a lot! And what better subject for a photographer than a good old fashioned stand off between the power and the people. And I hope there will be people who attended last week, looking back in a few years time at photographs of the day and thinking "I'm glad I can say I was there!"

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