On 15 February 2003 I joined the Peace March in London, protesting against war in Iraq. The number marching that day has never been agreed. Organisers said 3 million, the police estimated 750,000. Undoubtedly though, the London march was part of the biggest group protest ever held. It didn’t stop the war, but it surprised and shook up the politicians. Only time will tell what the long-term effects will be.
Expecting to be pushed and buffeted (which I wasn’t) I took my oldest, strongest camera with me. Documenting the event I tried, as far as possible, to answer the five Ws : Where? What? Why? Who? (and) When?
- Where? Starting from Victoria Embankment, Big Ben and the London Eye set the scene.
- What? Banners and placards made it clear what the marchers were doing.
- Why? It seems reasonable to assume that they were there to voice protest against war in Iraq. But if you’re going to explore motives, the written word is more suitable than a photo.
- Who? For my purpose, it wasn’t important who the protesters were as individuals. I wanted to show them as a group – and emphasise how many were there.
- When? Shooting on black and white film, I can’t prove that I took my pictures that day. But believe me, I didn’t set them up.
When you’re shooting a street demonstration, in many ways the biggest challenge is maintaining viewers’ interest. Once you’ve seen one banner or placard, you’ve seen them all. I didn’t help myself either. Wanting to keep things simple, I used one prime lens (50 mm), which made it harder to vary composition. In the main picture, the banner showing Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ was a gift that I gratefully accepted. And Horatio Nelson, perched on his column in the background, has given the image some depth. We know what Picasso thought about war, but I sometimes wonder about Nelson. Did I hear him turning in his grave as we marched past Trafalgar Square that day?