You might have read my last post, where after a few weeks I’m developing the film from the Extinction Rebellion Protest. Well this week we’ll look at something a little more recent: The XR52 Protests in Bristol on the first of June, which I’ve been developing this week. Almost exactly a month ago, Extinction Rebellion descended on Bristol to protest the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Now that my semester two assessments are in the rear-view, I’ve finally found the time to process the backlog of film!
When you look back at these things, it’s funny the things that stick in your mind. Because of that, rather than go through the whole day (all of that’s covered in the play by play with digital photography which I posted at the time) I’ll pick out a few moments and illustrate them with the pictures. For the technical folks amongst you, the film pictures for the day were shot using a NikonF65 and Ilford HP5Plus film. I developed that in Kodak D76, then scanned the resulting negatives. The first advantage this shows of film over digital is that the picture editing is built in. I came back from XR52 in Bristol with eight hundred and eleven digital pictures, because that’s how you shoot digital. You shoot and you shoot, because there’s no reason not to and you’ll skim off the cream when you come to edit. Film puts a limit on that – I think I shot two rolls that day, seventy two shots in total. I know there’s an upper limit to how many shots I can take, so I won’t press the button unless I’m fairly sure of a good picture. And scanning negatives is a time consuming process, so I won’t scan the image unless I’m completely sure. I chose a total of nine pictures, most of which I’ll be using here.
So, let’s look at the first one.
XR is known for its iconography – the hourglass symbol, the flags, and of course the pink boat. I’ve spent a lot of time photographing flags with this project, and one of the things I really loved in Bristol was the cut-out of the boat they had on the front of their mini-stage. That in the foreground, the flags in the background, plus half the people there had the symbols or the slogans stenciled onto their clothes or skin. I like this image for the symbols, and for the expressions of the people in it. I said about my London pictures that when you see the monochrome images you’re not distracted by the bright colours, you have to examine the slogans and expressions and suddenly the whole thing looks a lot more serious.
And shortly after that I took this one.
The two images, pretty obviously, are taken in the same place at a similar time. Again you’ve got all those flags, the symbols, but there’s something in the expression of the speaker that tries to make a personal connection with everyone who was there. The other reason I like the image, is because I remember the talk and the discussion, and for me it said a lot about the problems we’re facing. The young lady’s recently set up her own fashion brand, which is designed from the ground up to be sustainable and to be good for the people who work for it. Their manufacturing is based in India, uses a lot of traditional techniques, styles, materials. It’s heavily involved in education and women’s rights, and with its UK launch you can buy sustainable fashion while helping your fellow man or woman. The only problem is that before you can buy it, it has to be air-freighted from India to Europe. And that’s….that’s the problem we’ve got. Whatever you personally might do to try and improve things, if you go far enough you will eventually be beholden to other people or bigger systems, or generally things beyond your control.
So there were a few talks, there was poetry. There were plenty of other people shooting pictures of the stage, so I wandered off to see what else might be happening. And not very far away I came across a large number of people holding signs, who I followed because that’s what you do in these situations. And then came the roadblock.
The thing that sticks in my mind here is the heat. Start of June, and it’s one of those really warm days, so after getting the first few shots I crossed the road to stand under the trees, and that’s where I was standing when I took this one. It lasted a while, and it was pretty drama free – no arrests made, pedestrians and cyclists loving it, and aside from a few annoyed motorists yelling and sounding their horns and making overly dramatic three point turns it was all very relaxed. Every so often they’d clear the crossing – there was some agreement about how long the could blockade during a given period of time, and it was recorded with a stopwatch.
Then a bit after that I headed back to the stage, and not long after that came the Cabot Circus die-in. Three pictures to illustrate that.
First image –
Abiding memory here, was feeling like I’d finally walked into my dream job, but being far to into the moment to stop and think about that. I was walking backwards at the front of the parade, with a camera up to my eye, trying to frame pictures while being aware of what was behind me and around me. This was down the middle of a road, so there weren’t any benches or lamp-posts to dodge, but keeping a straight line’s tricky. And the parade’s moving quickly, band of samba drummers at the front pounding away, and you’re trying to keep pace.
Then everyone turns left (or my right, given as I was still walking backwards) and we were moving into Cabot Circus proper, the intersection of glassed over shopping streets, and heading toward the central atrium.
I’ve written this before, but it’s an abiding memory – the second we were under those glass roofs the noise from the band became overwhelming, echoing back off the roof and from the walls as we entered a crowded environment, and I was jumping up onto a bench to get pictures. I thought hard about cropping this picture, to show more individual faces or expressions. I left it as it was because it caught what the moment was about – it was big, crowded, discordant, messy. People in every kind of costume, drums still pounding, shoppers trying to figure out what was going on. Everyone featured here – the other photographers with their backs to me, the lady taking a selfie, the drummers, anyone with a sign or a flag, they’re all a part of the moment.
And when we got to the atrium, it was time for the main event. I got on the escalator and headed up to one of the higher levels to try and get a shot of the whole die-in. Once everyone had congregated, they rang the bell and everyone took a two minute nap, leaving a carpet of bodies that pretty well covered the floor.
I’d like to point out that this is yet another strength of film – half of this picture is brightly lit, June sunshine pouring in through the glass of the roof. The other half is in shadow, again courtesy of the bright light and urban planning. But the flexibility of the film, means that none of it’s grossly under or overexposed, and it’s one of my favourite images of the day, largely due to the man disguised as the grim reaper.
That was always going to be the main event for the day, if only because things were scheduled to end by five, and there’s only so much protesting you can do in five hours. I watched the final speech, which degenerated in exuberant funk dancing, and called it a night.
So there you have it – black and white photography of highly colourful events.
More to follow.
My full write up, with accompanying pictures of XR52 Bristol, can be found here – https://languageandpictures.com/2019/06/03/extinction-rebellion-bristol-xr52-protest-photography-and-fast-fashion/