Tag Archives: London

Brian David Stevens—the Theatre of Protest

From about 1999-2006 I used to photograph a lot of protests on the streets of London, I was never much interested in the cause of the protests more the act of ‘protest’ itself. It was its own kind of street theatre, with its own cast of characters and roles to be played out.

Mayday in London had been a flashpoint for the last couple of years and in 2001 the police penned a couple of thousand protestors in Oxford Circus; one of the first examples of ‘kettling’. The day had started quite slowly, the standard march, the standard slogans, the standard photographs, the standard rain, however at Oxford Circus things changed, the police sealed off the four exits holding the protestors in the middle of the road junction.

“You are being detained here to prevent a breach of the peace and criminal damage to property. You will be released in due course.” was the police line. The ‘kettle’ was in place, the ‘normal’ police blocking the exits were replaced by those in their full riot gear. Any attempt to leave the cordon was met by shields and batons.

The rain continued to fall, by now my equipment was getting a real soaking, my cheap flashgun gave up the ghost and the Nikon F4 got water in the body resulting in only half rewinding a film, ruining some pictures when the back was opened. Luckily the old Leica M4-P had no electrics to go wrong, so soldiered on.

I had not been in London long and was still finding my feet as a photographer, going back through contact sheets and dusty negatives I found that I’d spent a lot of the time photographing the police rather than the protestors or the protests themselves. It was the first time I’d really seen riot police in their storm-trooper uniforms (quite strange if you’d been brought up in a place when the police’s most high-tech piece of kit was a Mini Metro), and quickly became fascinated by the only section of them that was visible, through the visor of their riot helmet. It seemed that I had spent the whole day concentrating on this little window of humanity. Once I’d found this angle I started to work, at the same time watching the game of chess between the police and protestors unfold, the clashes, the insults, the boredom.

At this point in time I did not have a press pass, I shot really just for myself and the camera gave me an excuse to witness events I was interested in, so when I saw press photographers showing passes and being able to leave the kettle I felt a pang of jealousy but at the same time felt determined to stick it out. I was finally released from the kettle at around 6/7pm. At least the rain had stopped.

Images and text ©Brian David Stevens 2015

Brian David Stevens (B 1970) is a photographer based in London UK. He has been published and exhibited worldwide. His current exhibition of portraits of war veterans is on show at the Royal Armouries Leeds until Feb 2015.  The show moves to Fort Nelson, Portsmouth in March.

Café Royal Books have published four books by Brian David Stevens:
Tyburn Hemp
Mayday
Notting Hill Sound Systems
Billy Childish

briandavidstevens.com
driftingcamera.blogspot.com
@driftingcamera

sound system box-set now available

George Plemper – Thamesmead

George Plemper  worked in a then new Thamesmead; parts were still being constructed. A major Modernist development, a new society, new community, a problem solver perhaps. I’m interested in Brutalist and modernist architecture (and estates). How it can create and serve a community, how it functions generally and the unapologetic nature of the buildings and materials used in their construction.

George and I have released two books so far with two more coming in the new year, all archive work. The publication details follow this text from George, in response to me asking quite broadly, why he took these pictures.

“The camera and my love of photography came into my life uninvited” always comes to mind. By this I think that what I mean is that I was never that interested in photography and I bought a camera as a tool, in a vain attempt to rescue my failing teaching career. Of course, this quest was an abject failure but on a more positive note people liked my pictures and this encouraged me to do more.

A few years later I found myself in a Riverside School classroom with a camera in my hand. This time I was using photography as a teaching aid to reinforce my pupils’ sense of self and self-esteem.

One day around 1976 I was walking in St Martin’s Place, London and across the road I saw a poster of Paul Strand’s “Young Boy at Gondeville”; it stopped my world. Despite the distance I was stunned by the seemingly telepathic impact of the image and I never looked at a photograph in the same way again.  As my fascination with photography grew, the work of the early documentary photographers (Julia Margaret) Cameron, (Lewis) Hine, (August) Sander, and (Eugène) Atget took me to their own place in time. I have come to understand that the power of a photograph is not defined by technique, form or line and neither is a photograph a memory trace.

In my existence memories are ephemeral and insubstantial and a photograph is always physical and substantial.  The photograph provides an intuitive description of photographer’s experience of the world as it manifests to them. If we learn to look deeply, we can see through the photographer’s eyes, see what they saw, feel their presence in the world. This is what led me to take these pictures. They are a small testament to my existence on Earth.  Although it is true that I took the photographs, I do not want to be burdened with the label “photographer”.

Plemper’s photographs aren’t nostalgic. They are very much a record of time and a place – a new place. A new kind of place, untested and unknown. This series puts Plemper in the role of community photographer and documentarian. What is also apparent is that today these photographs would not be taken, and certainly not broadcast or published. A mix of paranoia, safety and hype would sterilise the work, perhaps making room only for generic, over-priced and badly lit mottled back-drop school photographs in which the child stares blankly over the photographer’s shoulder into the eyes of the ‘entertainer’ employed to make the child face forward.

This particular series, published recently by Café Royal Books in ‘Thamesmead and Abbey Wood 1977 – 1982’ is almost devoid of people. Topographic photographs , like Baltz and Adams, not the Bechas. However, the inclusion of the boys on the bridge disrupt and perhaps soften the architectural images of construction.

George Plemper’s Café Royal Books publications can be found here:
Sunderland and South Shields in the 1980s
Thamesmead and Abbey Wood 1977 – 1982

Thamesmead Riverside School 1976 – 1978 One will be released next week, 27.11.14, and part two early 2015.

All images © George Plemper.

Tony Bock’s Social Landscapes in Britain

So far, I have published two books by Tony Bock, each focussing on a part of his Social Landscapes series shot during the 1970s. This week I am ‘releasing’ the third book in the series, Social Landscapes East London in the 1970s.

I first came across Tony’s work on the excellent Spitalfields Life. What attracted me to his work was the apparent honesty of the images. They look like they are shot by a tourist, although they don’t look like tourist photographs. I mean they have the innocence and playfulness of photographs taken by someone who doesn’t live in the place they are shooting, but a compositional and narrative structure which, in places, is reminiscent of shots from Tony Ray Jones‘s ‘a day off’, or Homer Sykes‘s ‘Once a Year’. The focus is human behaviour; the crowds and in some cases the emptiness or lack of crowd, the solitude of the photographer and topography of the area. Mostly he goes unnoticed, documenting moments which have become a record of change.

I asked Tony what led him to take these photographs.

When I was given a 35mm camera for my twenty-first birthday, I knew then I wanted to be a photographer.

But in 1972, after being asked to leave the Photo Arts course at Ryerson Polytechnic in Toronto, I found myself living in Yorkshire. Immediately, I was intrigued by this new and visually rich place, the beauty and character of the landscape, both rural and urban, and its people. And mostly I was fascinated by the overlapping of the past with the present.

A year later I moved to East London, working for several newspapers covering the area from Whitechapel to Essex. Another compelling place, and a great time to be there.

My family came from this part of London, my mother was born in Bow, and grew up in Dagenham. My Grandad, a docker, had worked in the Royal Docks for many years.

Then in 1978, I was offered work at The Toronto Star, the largest paper in Canada.  The racism and pollution in the East End were getting me down and when Maggie Thatcher was elected – well – that was enough to send me back home.

I worked at The Star for over thirty years, a great place to be a photojournalist. It was (and still is) a paper with a long history of great journalism, with editors that cared about photography. It had the budget to undertake long term projects, deal with social issues and send its staff around the world.

Today, I work on personal projects and contribute to Photosensitive, a group of photographers concerned with social change. But mostly, my wife Lyn and I spend much of our time restoring an old village railway station about eighty miles from Toronto. It was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1904, but now sits in the woods, it hasn’t seen a train in over fifty years.

station_670

I try to tell a story with my photographs. They are not just arty arrangements of subject matter in the 2×3 rectangle, but there should be relationships that develop between the elements. And when the images are edited into a sequence, they should be making a narrative. The world is a visual place to be, and photographers use a non-verbal vocabulary to describe their experience.

Tony Bock, 2014

Tony Bock’s Café Royal Books publications can be found here:
Social Landscapes London in the 1970s
Social Landscapes Britain in the 1970s
Social Landscapes East London in the 1970s

All images © Tony Bock. Publications © Café Royal Books.