Photography Monday, January 23rd

Focusing on Protest: Inside a Leominster photographer's new book of protest pictures

Photography Monday, January 23rd

Focusing on Protest: Inside a Leominster photographer's new book of protest pictures

The best protest photos capture watershed moments.

On October 21, 1967 it was 17-year-old protestor Jan Rose Kasmir, on a march against US involvement in the Vietnam War, offering a single white flower to an armed solider.

On January 21, 2017 it was the hundreds of thousands of men and women, emboldened by pink pussyhats, marching across the world with a message of resistance in the face of inequality.

 

Some of the most iconic pictures of the last 50 years are of moments of dramatic tension - moments the world might not have seen if it wasn't for photographers on the frontline.

Not everyone is willing to pick up the baton from those who discarded the notion of keeping a safe distance from confrontation, but Leominster-based photojournalist Jim Wood is. 

March 1 will see the release of his new book, Protest. The first of a series, it'll feature images taken from 2014 to 2016.

 

We caught up with Jim, of Leominster, to find out more about his experieces of photographing public protest.

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Above: a pro-Palestinian marsh, and supporters of Islamic State in Cardiff. Photos by Jim Wood.

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Above: protestors outside the NATO summit held in Wales. Photo by Jim Wood.

How did you get into protest photography?

Jim: "It’s just something that has always appealed to me - the energy of a protest.

"It was a way of getting back into the industry because I took about eight years off work to care for my wife and I suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after she died. It was my way of getting back into work.

"I was looking around to see what was going on and there was a protest happening in Cardiff. I went down to photograph that and it turned out being quite violent. That was it then."

How did you progress your protest photography from there?

"I started looking around the country to see where the protests were.

"I went to Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester, and London, a couple of times. I built up a collection of photographs and started selling them. It has always been in the back of my mind since I started working again to do it as a large project.

"I started doing it in 2014. It’s a few years down the road and I’ve got enough photographs for two books so far."

Are the different books focused on anything in particular?

"The first book is Cardiff and south Wales based because there were the NATO protests when the summit was in Newport.

"It’s usually the same group of people who go on the protests, no matter what the protest is about it’s the same group of people. The guy in Cardiff who organises everything has written a little bit for the book.

"The second book is more focused on Liverpool, Manchester and a big protest in London. I got to know some activists in Liverpool, the Love Activists, so I was following them around."

What reaction do you get when you start photographing people at a protest?

"They love it.

"If you go to a protest you know someone is going to be there taking a picture. It’s not the sort of thing you go to and not expect to be photographed and there are always other photographers there." 

What was the reaction when you photographed supporters of 'Islamic State' in Cardiff?

"There were two protests happening that day. There was this little one which was mainly made up of IS supporters and there was this bigger pro-Palestinian protest.

"You could hear people in the bigger protest saying ‘who are they?’. I just happened to see the Islamic State protest because of the flags and I was, like, ‘snap snap’ and I carried on. There wasn’t any danger. It turned a bit nasty later because it was a big football Saturday in Cardiff. It was really busy, really hot.

"The IS supporters ended up getting prosecuted because IS, as a group, have sites on the dark web. Apparently they had lifted pictures from my blog, which I had watermarked my name on, and used on the dark web. The anti-terror police came to me and I ended up giving my pictures to them as evidence."

Do you have to prepare yourself mentally to attend protest that could be dangerous?

"No. For me it’s all about making sure the camera is ready.

"At the time when I started doing it I was suffering from PTSD, panic attacks, and nightmares all the time. As I was getting over that, I started getting back to work and I started going to protests.

"I felt better being in that sort of situation than I did in normal life.

"It doesn’t bother me, you just think about taking the photographs."

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Above: Role reversal as Muhammed Qamand photographs Jim Wood. Photo by J.M.Innes.

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Above: Muhammed Qamand, injured in Aleppo. Photo by Jim Wood.

Jim's work has led him to set up the charity Muhammed’s Hope.

During an assignment he met nine-year-old Muhammed Qamand in Istanbul. Muhammed’s legs were amputated above the knee after his grandparent’s house in Aleppo was hit by a rocket on May 2, 2012.

The blast killed his mother, little brother, uncle, grandmother, grandfather and great-uncle.

With the help from friends who had fled to Turkey, Muhammed and his father made it through rebel held areas across and today live in Istanbul, supported by the generosity of members of the Syrian community.

"I was on assignment photographing Syrian refugees living in Istanbul when I met Muhammed," said Jim.

"He was there with no help so I said to him I will do whatever I can to help you. I really empathised with his dad (who had lost his wife in the rocket attack) having lost my own wife. 

"It just niggled me that there was this family and there was literally no help for them. I thought I would try to raise the money they need.

"Muhammed will need an operation to cut back the bone in his legs. Hhe is at risk of suffering from a condition known as bone overgrowth in which his leg bones will start to grow through the ends of his stumps.

"He’s probably going to need two or three operations as he won’t stop growing until he is 21.

"It was the first time I had met someone who had been in that situation, you see it on the news all the time and it means nothing but when you are confronted with it face-to-face."

Find out more about Muhammed's Hope on Facebook and Instagram.

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