A photographer was allegedly beaten by anti-protesters in London, raising the question of how photographers can keep safe during these difficult times.
London based street and documentary photographer, Christian Cross, attended London’s protests on June 13th. Several groups of far-right protesters were fighting against the removal of certain statues around the UK. Unfortunately, the peaceful protest soon escalated into violence, and many people were injured as a result. Although Cross himself managed to leave unscathed, he did see another photographer beaten and bloodied.
Photography and Safety
Photographing protests isn’t something a photographer should ever take lightly. Although plenty of people who attend public demonstrations do so with a peaceful and assertive approach, there’s always a chance that a portion of people will escalate matters further. Violence isn’t uncommon in such environments and everyone’s safety is at risk. When asked what happened to the photographer who was allegedly assaulted, Cross said, “he was set upon by a group of counter-protesters. They were fully aware of how the media would make them look. During a heated exchange, one of the counter-protesters punched the photographer in the face, bloodying his nose.”
Commenting on how the photographer responded to the alleged attack, Cross said, “the photographer was obviously shaken, and in a state of shock, he was helped up and out of the area. I very much doubt that he continued working, he was hurt, but I don’t think he would have required professional medical attention.”
Seeing an attack like that is enough to put most photographers off doing their job. While it may be “part of the job,” nobody should be subjected to violence for taking photographs. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this: it likely won’t be the last. We asked Cross if he was tempted to turn off his camera and go home.
“No, although it made me recognize that I was in an extremely hostile environment, I felt confident that no harm would come to me. I use a small nonobtrusive camera, and I’m also a pretty big guy. I grew up in Peckham during the nineties, so I have seen a few sights and have been in a few situations in my time.”
Cross was able to create some powerful photographs during the protests. His work certainly paints an accurate picture of the deep emotions and opinions running through societies across the world. It’s a credit to him and his work ethic, and we’re pleased to see he was one of the photographers able to return home unharmed. But, even he has his own techniques to ensure he remains safe and doesn’t provoke a reaction. “I use the same approach as I would for street photography. I walk with confidence and try to show my subject respect; while leaving my personal opinions at home.”
For a photographer, part of showing respect often means being around people whose opinions don’t align with their own. A video has circulated of a group of far-right protesters fighting with police. Cross was seen standing amongst the men, appearing to have a friendly dialogue with one of them. This, unfortunately, resulted in many people believing Cross himself was part of the far-right movement.
“That’s not true at all,” Cross tells The Phoblographer. He continues, “I showed the protesters respect without compromising my own values or morals; this led them to believe I was one of them and gave me the freedom to shoot. The video shows me putting my arm around a guy and talking to him. I was simply showing respect to ensure my own safety. Rest assured, I did my best to diffuse several situations throughout that day before taking pictures.”
Do You Really Need to Be There?
These are difficult times for society. And the way the photo industry documents it is extremely important, both for seeking truth and moving the world forward. Brave photographers like Cross are putting their safety at risk on a daily basis — creating important and powerful photography in the process. If you’re out on the streets, ask yourself, “do I really need to be here?” And if you feel you do, please ensure you do everything you can to keep safe and not escalate the situation further.
You can see more of Christians work by visiting his Instagram page.
All images by Christian Cross. Used with permission.