South London Photographer: Some shots from Bank Holiday Monday

I took these images on Monday evening at the end of the bank holiday during one of my visits to the Extinction Rebellion protests (see previous blogs). There might have been a further image here; one of a policeman who was sitting, clearly exhausted in the evening sunshine, arms crossed and alone against some hoarding on Park Lane just before Marble Arch. Diane Arbus whose work you can currently see at the Hayward Gallery said taking photographs can feel ‘naughty’ – and yes, it is when we steal pictures of people in the street. The ethics of street photography seem more complex than ever as the structures of our culture emerge, perhaps in part, due to the internet which acts as a mirror and as ubiquitous smartphone-cameras make everyone a potential photographer/voyeur. Although I had asked most (but not all) the people in my images for their permission, I hoped to take an image of this lone policeman who seemed to represent authority,  exhaustion, and isolation so well. Perhaps, in the end, it would have been a clichéd shot that would never have made it passed an initial edit. However, I never got the chance to take my ‘naughty’ picture as he saw me, got up, then walked towards me to call me an idiot. I must stress this was not the behaviour of most police-people I saw, who seemed immensely patient despite what must have been a testing and exhausting week for them.

What are you doing, bloody idiots, costing a fortune, we’ve not seen our families in days, you’re all idiots …. I attempted to explain I was documenting this fantastically interesting period of change in our history … documenting what, there’s nothing to document? You’re all idiots. History is happening in front of us, I said. It’s not history; idiots the lot of you, he’d insisted. I understand he must have had his patience tested. I’d loved to have been able to explain my enthusiasm for witnessing everything I’d been reading about for the last few years emerge so vibrantly, just as the authors had predicted. To see, in front of us, the way we have internalised new ways of understanding and being – in helpful and not so helpful ways – coming to fruition, to see clear evidence of a system changing, to view power evolving. I could have bored the poor exhausted policeman to death with my childlike excitement! Next time, he ranted as he followed me, we won’t …. I never heard what he said about next time as I was too far away from him by then.

I walked on and as I reached the end of the cordoned-off area, another policeman got out of his van. Perhaps his colleague had radioed him about the idiot with the camera coming his way. Nice pictures? he asked. Maybe, I shrugged and smiled at him. It was a beautiful evening. At the bottom of Park Lane tourists stood taking pictures of a golden sun setting over London. Parked outside the Lanesborough Hotel were two super-cars and guests milling about on the steps. And around the corner, yet another sign of homelessness which we see everywhere and far, far too often nowadays.

(c)SJField2019

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South London Photographer: Protests, Easter Friday 2019

Today I wandered through the centre of London and photographed people protesting, but included here are people who are just watching, or taking advantage of the fact there are no cars on the road, and some are simply getting on with life as they explore the city.

The protesters were expressing themselves for a variety of reasons although most of the images below cover the Extinction Rebellion blockades. However, there are other groups too. There are signs in the pictures which may identify movements, but that’s not what I’m most interested in here. What matters to me is the desire to protest – to speak out, to question the status quo – regardless of what the individuals choose to affiliate themselves with. Perhaps I take my lead from Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa who is quoted in Nicholas A Christakis’s latest book Blueprint, “Seeing people only as members of groups is …’ inherently reductionist and dehumanising, a collectivist and ideological abstraction of all that is original and creative in the human being, of all that has not been imposed by inheritance, geography, or social pressure’ Real, personal identity, he argues, ‘springs from the capacity for human beings to resist these influences and counter them with free acts of their own invention.”‘ (2019)

Many people here gave me permission to take their photographs. However, there are some candid, taken in the tradition of street photography.  I am extremely grateful to everyone who acknowledged my camera or spoke to me and told me a little bit about themselves.

The world might seem a lot less stable than it’s been for a while and people are often justifiably angry and frustrated – perhaps for reasons we don’t always understand, but I try to take comfort from scientists/writers Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luis who wrote in A Systems View of Life; “…new structures, technologies, and new forms of social organisation may arise unexpectedly in situations of instability, chaos or crisis.” (2016)

All images (c)SJField2019

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References

F Capra, P Luigi Luisi, 2016, A Systems View of Life, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

NA Christakis, 2019, Blueprint, New York, Little Brown Spark

 

South London Photographer: Climate Protests in London

The following images are from today’s climate Extinction Rebellion protests, which I believe are planned to continue for some days to come. As I have been doing over the last two years, I photographed the way people are choosing to speak out about issues that matter to them. I will need to keep some images back as I read there are planned arrests this evening, but the protesters in the following images are obscured in some way or performing and so overtly present or have already been arrested.

This morning, someone I know said that the arrests had been pre-arranged but I spoke with a legal observer this evening and was told categorically the arrests had not been arranged in any way. Those being led away did not look like they were happy to be going anywhere and I saw how they tried to sit it out – but no-one was violent. I was told people were arrested as gently as possible on Waterloo Bridge this morning, which is where I heard a policeman telling one of his colleagues they were going to arrest people one by one – and then they proceeded to do so.

I was not able to stay for the evening but it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few days.

All images (c)SJField2019

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South London Photographer: Documenting today’s protest

Today I chatted with several people as I wandered through Parliament Square documenting the anti-Brexit protest. Two guys I met, Chris and Bill, asked me who or what I was taking photographs for. I told them I was doing it because I think we’re going through a really important time and that I thought it was worth documenting; in years to come we will look back at this period and children will learn about it in history. People want and are willing to speak up about the things they feel passionate about – and let’s face it, we’re British; under normal circumstances, we’d rather talk about the weather. But lots of people (although not quite everyone, it’s true), regardless of which cause they associate themselves with, are currently frustrated and choosing to be vocal about their feelings one way or another.

Here are some images from today, more than I would normally share on this blog. But I really wanted to convey a message that the people speaking up today were from all walks of life, and not, as some in the media would have you believe, easily categorised into a little envelope. We must do our best to avoid that kind of simplistic thinking as it helps no-one. I also want to point out that there are a few images here of people who feel passionately that we do not need another referendum, and as you will see, they were having perfectly reasonable conversations with people who hold different views to them.

Finally, if anyone finds themselves on my little corner of the internet and would rather they weren’t, please get in touch and chat with me about it.

(c)SJField 2019

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South London Photographer: With Just Shelter in Dunkirk & Calais

There seems to be so much upheaval and chaos surrounding us all today, it is very difficult to know how to write about Just Shelter’s trips to France. The team continue to gather donations which people kindly deliver when requested. As always Just Shelter takes everything over to Calais, where they transfer carefully packed boxes and bags filled with the simplest and most basic articles to a warehouse populated by volunteers who give up their time, often for weeks and months on end, in an attempt to help a situation which is seemingly helpless.

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Volunteers in the warehouse mending donations which can still be used

Thereafter the London based group travel to a field where people are living in the most appalling conditions, and try in as orderly a fashion as is possible to hand out much needed and appreciated packs of clothing, perhaps some fruit, whatever token of support they can offer.

**

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I thought the wood had been taken for firewood but I was told the police had deliberately destroyed the bridge

Each time, I aim to engage with people and I hear the same story. “The police slash our tents. They treat us like animals. The scream at us, push us, they don’t give us even five minutes to get our stuff. Then they take us somewhere. Do they think we would choose to leave our country, our homes to live like this if there was not a good reason? We don’t come here to live like this because we want to. We come because we cannot be free. But here we are treated worse than animals. If we can stay in the sports hall [an indoor space where limited numbers of people can shelter during the coldest months], we are like prisoners with so many rules, lining up, being told when we can come or go.” Another came up to me as I listened to the man and asked me if I knew who I was talking to. “Gengis Khan!!” he laughed. We all laughed. Even though it was bitterly cold, even though people are clearly bored, frustrated, desperate, there is time for irony and humour.

 

“Take my picture!” some young men invite me towards the fire they are burning. There is little wood and they are using inappropriate donations of women’s nylon underwear from another group visiting which can be worn by no-one here. I take their photos and then get them to message me so I can send them copies. A pair perform and pose with the female undergarments as I photograph them. We all enjoy the playfulness. A guy selling cigarettes stands nearby and asks me if I want to buy any. I don’t smoke, I tell him. We stand quietly and he lets me photograph his bag filled with well-known brands. “A good man. Cheap!” says one of the other guys who had been photographed earlier as he points to the seller. He then indicates to the barber, “A good man also, cheap haircuts.”

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The barber did not want to be photographed but was happy to speak to me. He made a living giving people affordable haircuts, which sometimes means free.

“I was a manager in a hotel back in my country. I had a good job. A car. A good home. But no freedom. You criticise the government. And within 24 hours you’re dead.”

When I first arrived at the car park where Just Shelter began the process of handing out backpacks, I noticed a boy who might have been in his late teens or early twenties. He sat on the wooden pole and listlessly watched people queuing patiently for the nominal packs we had gathered from people in London. “Don’t you want one, I asked?” He shrugged. He looked liked he could have done with something warmer to wear. They all did.

At the end of the day, Just Shelter travelled to a more disparate camp where there are many more groups of people. We visited the same camp during our previous visit. I had taken some photographs of boys and young men there before and they recognised me. We greeted each other warmly. Despite their smiles and friendliness, this camp feels darker, less safe. I try to engage with others but it is clear they are not willing. I don’t blame them. I head to the site where the old Jungle used to be and take some photographs to of it now so I can compare with the images I took before.

Afterwards, the group head back to get our ferry. I know we will see some of the same faces again next time.

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The area that was the Jungle

 

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The same view as an image taken at the bottom of the page in 2016

 

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When I first visited here in 2015 a man had covered the graffiti up and had become its gatekeeper. This was the first place I arrived and it was packed with tents. Two young women immediately offered me hot tea. The camp held 10 000  at its height. Now the smaller camp nearby is populated by about 300 men.  Variously sized groups are scattered all over the region and beyond making it hard for volunteers to distribute tents, sleeping bags, clothes and food.

 

 

**

While our group were there, another team of teachers had been working with children in a local building where families have been able to shelter for the worst of the winter months. The children were grateful for real lessons and their parents equally so. Please follow Just Shelter if you haven’t already so you can read about the work the teachers were able to do while they visited, and to find out how you can get involved.

(c)SJField 2019

 

South London Photographer: People’s Vote March, October​ 2018

I recall taking photographs at the first anti-Brexit March in 2016, shortly after the vote took place. Although, of course, there were laughing and smiling people to photograph this time around, the mood I picked up on and see on my screen as I scroll through the images I took is very different from the earlier demonstration. I wasn’t able to stay for long, but long enough to capture these, a visual document of expressions which say a great deal about this dramatic moment in the history of the UK.

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All images (c)SJField 2018

South London Photographer: Images and video from Dunkirk

Last week I travelled to Dunkirk with Just Shelter as they delivered donations to various charities based in Northern France. One of the things Just Shelter aims to do is bring some light relief to refugees, whatever their age. On this recent visit, they were joined by Wandsworth-based musician Jake Rodrigues and artist/art teacher Emily Gopaul as well as another teacher, Rosie Gowers. Children temporarily living in a sports hall during the winter months (after pressure was put on on authorities due to extremely low temperatures) had so much fun and then afterwards Jake refereed a football match as only he could. The sports hall, albeit far from ideal, at least keeps people dry and warm but is due to close very soon. As always, thanks to all the people who shared their stories with us.

Click on the 4-minute video below to get a sense of the sort of activities Just Shelter organises or view the photo-essay below. If anyone local to Just Shelter feels they have something practical and positive to offer do get in touch with them for more information or follow them on Facebook. 

Images (c)SJField 2018

 

 

 

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A warehouse in Dunkirk
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There is a field behind a large shopping complex which separates two completely different worlds; commercial on one hand and untenable living conditions on the other
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Just Shelter volunteers
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Relatively few people are able to sleep in the sports hall  – there are reminders that many people don’t get to sleep beneath a roof all around the outside of the hall
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Jake prepares to referee a football match
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I am reminded of my own children constantly

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I am shown a card by someone who had been living in the UK but was deported.
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This wood has been cleared of tents – when I first visited this site it was full of people. They have been moved on constantly and have had to find other patches of land
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There are signs everywhere of the people who used to live here. Often the police simply cut tents down and these remnants are on many trees.
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A dried out posy

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As we leave I wonder how many young people will be getting ready to risk their lives as they attempt to cross the channel in the dark.

 

 

South London Photographer: With Just Shelter in Calais and Dunkirk

Yesterday I visited what was the Jungle in Calais. It was chilling to see. Here are just a few images from our short time there. After we left the demolished camp we visited another camp, founded with a greater degree of state-empathy than was evident in The Jungle. We met an amazing school teacher who has devoted her time for the past several months to taking care of extremely traumatised children in Dunkirk. She works under truly difficult conditions fulfilling a crucial full-time voluntary role. She was an inspirational human being. Just Shelter, the organisation I accompanied, will be  aiming to raise funds in the next few weeks to support her and the charity she heads up, Dunkirk Refugee Children’s CentreAs well as documenting we also delivered food needed for the Dunkirk site and learned about plans to feed people who are now living on the streets in and around Calais as well as in Paris. The Jungle may have been bulldozed. The issues have by no means disappeared. Look out for updates from Just Shelter in the coming weeks.

I have documented the area in Calais which was known as the Jungle periodically for a year and you can see more images here.

(c)Images SJField 2016

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South London Photographer: A change of tempo

This is the first time I’ve written here for a month. That may be the longest gap between posts since setting up this site, which I originally did to increase my SEO. For anyone lucky enough not to have to devote time spreading news about services they offer, in my case photography, across the internet, that means Search Engine Optimisation. I had no idea what it stood for to begin with. I know now it’s about making sure as many people as possible notice you. For someone who occasionally feels she might prefer to walk round with a pillow-slip over her head to hide the sense of embarrassment she quite often experiences, this hasn’t always been easy. But before I started posting a couple of years ago people insisted, YOU MUST HAVE A BLOG.  So that’s what I did. I got a myself a blog. Then I couldn’t work out what to write about. I didn’t feel able to talk about photography with any authority as I was and am still learning. But I do know about my own life, and I know about the feeling of inadequacy parents often have, and since I was trying to appeal to families (as a sort of vague marketing goal) I thought I’d write about kiddie related subjects which, of course, I do have experience of, like feeling really crap, or being judged, or wondering if everything I’m doing or failing to do is in some way damaging to my precious brood.  So what you see here is a digital record of an experiment as I tried to discover, a) how to get over myself and b) who I might be talking to. If you’ve followed me you will know I began to witter on about my boys, mixed in along the way with stories of learning about images. (It has turned out, for now, most of my work is corporate although I am employed by families occasionally as well.) I have really enjoyed writing about life and my boys.  And I’ve really loved it when people have come up to me to say they found something I wrote funny, or that I made them feel better about their own parenting, or just that they look forward to my ramblings. But for the last few months I have found it very difficult to know what to write about at all. And not because I haven’t got anything to say. As anyone who knows me will agree, I could probably talk the hind leg of someone or something, as the saying sort of goes… And I certainly have plenty of opinions. But the world is so fucking confusing at the moment that blathering on about how the boys were splashing too much water on the floor as we battled for space with imaginary Greek gods in the bath just doesn’t seem right (although reading that sentence back, it does sound kind of worthwhile in that particular case).

So what do I talk about? I just can’t bring myself to ignore what’s going on in the world and I feel wittering on about family life regardless would be a failure of some sort. I will mention something about my oldest here: that recently I was accused of taking too much notice of his political views. In fact, I was told I rely on my son for political opinions. Whatever unconscious motivating factor prompted the accusation is perhaps as irrelevant as it is absurd. What is important is that I am immensely proud of my son for being politically engaged even though we don’t share opinions on many things. You might say I’m more left-wing than he currently is, just as my father had more right-wing views than I held when I was growing up. Perhaps those distincitions matter less nowadays. But back in the 80s my dad used to moan,”Oh, I can’t believe what a Trotskyite you are!” I’m not by the way but I didn’t think Thatcher was up to much good and he felt deeply betrayed by my view. Although my dad was always a Conservative voter, and felt pained by the fact I wasn’t, I know he would have been appalled by much of what is happening in the UK today. He  told us the reason for not trusting socialism or anything that sounded vaguely related was because Hitler had headed the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. Whatever the merits or lack thereof in his understanding, the point is we were able to discuss it. I was encouraged to explore ideas and think about the way the world worked. And by choosing to engage in discussions with my 12 year old son about politics, even when his views appear to be unsound or uninformed (they’re often very well-informed actually) I hope to give him room to think, question, explore and form well founded opinions of his own, which I’d say is pretty important nowadays. Talking and valuing our discussions is a really good way of doing this. And avoiding the sort of ludicrous, not to mention abusive, name calling we see on social media is absolutely imperative.

Words themselves are also crucial right now as are the ever-changing meanings they might contain, especially since much of what is being said in the press has led to extraordinary outcomes in recent months. I believe some of the press are currently bandying words around in ways that are dangerous in the extreme. And my socialist-adverse father would have been truly horrified and frightened by what is going on. As such as I am not sure how I will continue this blog for now. I feel I need to choose my words very carefully. These are political times and to ignore that seems wrong. What I do know is that I don’t really care about SEO anymore. I have a blog because I have something to say. Often saying it makes me want to hide my face, but too late for that probably. I also know we should encourage and allow our children to have political views if they’re interested, and the best way of doing that is to take their thoughts and opinions seriously. They, after all, are the ones who will be left to sort out the mess our world is currently in. It behoves us to listen to what they are telling us. I’m not sure how often I will write. Perhaps only when I’m prompted to ask questions. Or when I’m truly shocked by events. Whatever else is true, we in the UK really need to think about how we’ve found ourselves here in this place where societal empathy has been turned down to very low indeed, or in some cases simply switched off altogether.

(c)SJField 2016

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Taken at Skipton Castle in October’s half term, a critical location during the English Civil War, 1642-1651. I wonder what sort of mess we are leaving for our children to sort out (c)SJField 2016

South London Photographer: A day out

Whatever you feel about the current political state of collapse it would be difficult to deny how historically important it all is.  I won’t say much in words.  Everybody has their view and I know from past experience that asking people on either side of an argument to shift or broaden there positions can be hugely challenging.  But obviously I took some photographs while out and about today and I’m sharing some of those here.

Images (c)SJField 2016

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