More images at the of the text!
Even after, long after the moment has passed, you're still gritting your teeth in frustration and wondering... if only you'd been just that little bit braver and impulsive, you might have seized the moment and captured the prize?
This isn't some angst-riven story of love in the conventional sense, there are no salacious details to share, but missed opportunities happen both in love and photography all the time. And whereas love is all important, photography isn't even on the same scale. Here then, is where this metaphor breaks down. A bit. Because when a missed photograph of some basically unimportant event taken for no other reason than personal use, and which has no actual value whatsoever, why then does it hurt so much?
This Sunday I found myself wandering the streets of London and in particular the Hamiltons gallery in Mayfair which was showing some of Richard Avedon's work. It was interesting to see the actual engraver prints that were sent to the printers and note the obvious montaging and retouching that was integral to his published work. A reminder, if any were needed, that photo-manipulation isn't a new idea.
I was intending to then amble down to Parliament square and watch the historic announcement of a possible Brexit deal being announced after the key vote being taken that afternoon. Turning onto Park Lane I was surprised to find a million other people all with the same idea. I'd forgotten there was to be a People's Vote march against Brexit.
Being an old age pensioner with half a working heart plus a history of heart attacks, I'd argue doesn't have that many advantages. But it does have at least one, photographic advantage, in that you become patently harmless and mostly invisible. And when I did talk to people, even big stern security guards and tired policemen, they were all kind and friendly to a fault. Some even smiled.
The huge crowd had a surprisingly high age demographic which lent something of a lie to the claim that the Brexit leave vote was mainly all the fault of the older generation. The famed British eccentricities and rude sense of humour were also, I'm happy to say, on full display. I couldn't help contrasting this huge and peaceful protest march with the concurrent and violent protests happening in Hong Kong and in South America. Here in the UK, people made way for each other and I didn't see a single unpleasant scene. Perhaps we really are bred to queue and wait and not push.
I decided to walk quickly through the march, rather than with, taking shots as I went. However, because of the crush of people, this was easer said than done. Using my Leica M9, a relatively old but small pocket-able rangefinder camera with a tiny 35mm lens and no hood, made photographing things simple and quick. Using manual zone focusing and a slowish shutter, I hoped to get some sense of pictorial engagement plus any motion blur from flags or feet would be a visual bonus. Which was just as well, because then the rain came and the light went. I love bad weather. No, I'm not being sarcastic, I really do like bad weather photography, if not the bad weather itself. Life is all about compromise.
I had already taken a few 'portrait' style shots of quite interesting people and, because I was using a fixed prime wide, I needed to get close, in order to do so. In these cases I prefer to ask the subjects permission rather than simply shove a camera in their face. Yes I know it's a public march where everyone is dressed in flags and waving banners, and permission isn't really a problem. I just like to be polite when I can. I'm British, what can I do?
I then spotted this couple, standing huddled together, bedraggled against a brick wall to the side of the crowds. They were sipping tea from a thermos flask and eating a sandwich, while festooned with anti-Brexit posters and flags that were being pressed into use as makeshift raincoats. It was a great picture. Pathos, bravery, fortitude and dedication to cause and principle, all summed up in one scene.
If I'd been a photojournalist for National Geographic, the front cover was right there in front of me, simply waiting for me to press the shutter button. Had I been said photojournalist, no doubt the button would have been pressed regardless. But I'm not. Instead, I walked up to them and asked them for permission to take their picture. 'I'd rather not, thanks,' was the somewhat soggy and terribly British reply.
It would certainly have been the best picture of the day. I simply said that's fine, and left them to it. But it was a bit difficult walking after that, due to me constantly trying to kick myself for not taking the picture the moment I saw it. And of course, once permission had been denied, I couldn't simply turn around and take the shot anyway. That's not me. Even though I easily could. Perhaps I should have. I mean, frankly, if you're covered in flags and protest signs on a public street during a public protest you are, photographically and legally speaking, fair game.
It was the best shot of the day. In my head it still is. So why does it matter that I let it slip away? Why do I mourn it's loss? It's the one that got away, I guess. And I'll never forget it. Love is a bit like that, too.
Fine piece of photojournalism Peter, good story and nice photos... some are really outstanding :-)
Thank you so much Luc!
Great article. Great photos. Especially in comparison with the dispersal of Moscow protests and subsequent courts. By the way, if I introduce myself to make a successful shot, I will take it, and only then I will think about taking me permission or not. Or maybe I won’t think about it )) ... Thanks Peter! Thanks Ivette!
I just can’t teach Google a translator to spell your name correctly. Sorry, Yvette !!! :-))
Thank you Vladimir. Yes, get the shot is the rule. And yes, Moscow was hard to view. The dispersal of protesters can get a little rough even here sometimes, but thankfully not very often.
Wayne Pearson PRO
A very good story Peter and a predicament that we have all faced. I'm with you about asking permission, but it comes with obvious consequences, missing out on that split second shot, capturing the spontaneous moment that will never be repeated again! I think that some of the most famous street photographers were prepared to suffer the abuse from their subjects, but I assume that their motive was to just take the shot and not kick themselves for years to come by missing out! Thank you very much for sharing your story and excellent photographs!
Thanks Wayne. I guess if you're shooting for a good reason, like the newspapers, shoot first and maybe ask later is the rule.
Miro Susta CREW
Excellent up to date subject. Interesting write up with superb photos back up.
Miro, thank yo so much!
Yvette Depaepe CREW
A fine narrative of this protest manifestation, Peter! Many photographers can relate to it! Thanks for sharing this so well written report. Cheers, Yvette
Thank you for publishing this piece Yvette, very nicely produced!