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From Rainbows to Riots

dudler

Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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From Rainbows to Riots

22 Jun 2020 4:30PM   Views : 518 Unique : 302

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Last year, I interviewed Phil Taylor for EPZ, and I’ve watched his images of news stories large and small for some time here on the site.

Phil is a gentle and thoughtful man who, somehow, has the persistence and the stomach to follow the stories and take the pictures. Recently, he’s been posting images of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations following the murder of a black man by a white police officer in the USA.

Phil is interested in the way that selective editing of a sequence of images – and potentially selective image-taking in the first place – can affect the way that the story is perceived. Because he thinks about this, and about what he sees, he seems to be questioning the language and grammar of reportage…

And because the issue of race is emotive, his pictures have stirred opinion among viewers. There’s certainly a view that religion and politics have no place in photography: but if we are unconcerned about society and ethics, we are going to allow the self-interested to take over the world. I feel we have a duty to observe life in general, and record it. It’s as valid to say ‘Look! People are gathering to celebrate Diwali/Christmas!’ as to show how lovely a bird is.

And, possibly less comfortably, it’s as valid to say ‘This is awful, and it happened’ as ‘This is beautiful.’ All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing, to quote Edmund Burke. But it’s easy for people to get hold of the wrong end of the stick, or to choose images that are not representative of the situation.

Now, I’d planned to quote Phil selectively, but he sent me 1500 words, and it seems to me to be best to quote him more or less verbatim. All images are © Phil Taylor.

By the way – in his own words, Phil is a white male, who lives in Northern England, and welcomes comments on why he might have got this all wrong, and promises to listen…

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On the 5th June 2020, Bolton Town Hall was illuminated in purple, in the past I’ve photographed it in green, and a patriotic red white and blue. You wouldn’t imagine that a simple image of this imposing bit of Victoriana would lead to hundreds of comments in the local paper, mostly racist, with incitements from the far right to gather and ‘protect our heritage’. The local Conservative Council decided that it should be lit in purple in support of Black Lives Matter. This provoked outraged comments in their hundreds in the local paper on the two occasions that it was published, including some that believed that the local shopping precinct would be burned to the ground, and that the cenotaph would be destroyed, and needed ‘protection’. The end result was a crowd of several hundred ‘football supporters’, veterans, and members of the far right, and racist groups turning up to yell abuse at the small number of Black Lives Matter protesters.

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I shared a few of the images from the protest on EPZ in the hope that it might stimulate discussion on the issues around how events are reported in the media with regard to editing, choice of viewpoint and possibly bias. I got the odd dog whistle comment, provoked surprisingly by a photo of two grey haired ladies, and accusations of bias for picking out one angry, gesticulating man surrounded by his calmer football and sportswear dressed colleagues. Then there was the comment that it was a site for photographic discussion not politics.
I have to admit, I’m rather quick to notice that a lot of pictures in the galleries in EPZ do tend to lean towards tits (both mammary and avian), sunsets, traction engines, trains and vintage cars of the type that young people seem to think old people (men over 40) prefer on their birthday cards. However, I think as photographers we have to be aware that there’s more to photography than how many votes a picture can gain on EPZ, it’s very easy to game the system, and attract eyeballs here. A straightforward shot of a steam train at night got more interest simply by giving it a sepia tint, and a black border. Some of Britain’s classic photographers, Martin Parr, Don McCullin, Glaswegie are not afraid to take photographs with a powerful political message, be it about race, inequality, privilege or simply to show life as it is. Shouldn’t more photography highlight important issues as well as the aesthetically pleasing?

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You might think that the days of ‘No Blacks, Dogs or Irish’ have gone, but a quick look at the comments in a local newspaper reveal that there’s a significant number of people who have failed to grasp the idea that we are living in a diverse multicultural society. Social media is even worse, any possibility of attacking somebody foreign or non-white being seized upon. I started a faltering project documenting churches where the majority of members are asylum seekers from Africa in my locality a couple of years back. The editor loved them, but one church withdrew permission to publish fearing a media backlash, and on another I had to insist that online comments were disabled before publication. What makes this especially sad, is that following the Brexit vote, many Christians seemed emboldened to embrace an anti-refugee/foreigner stance on social media. I turned some of the work into a PowerPoint presentation in lieu of a sermon one night highlighting that our town now has hundreds of Christians, that the Bible might call sojourners, some people were challenged by it, others who were previously bold to express their thoughts on social media shuffled away. Even a simple picture of a foodbank seems to bring out the worst in people with cries of, I bet they have Sky TV, a phone and a dog, presumably eating the dog should be a last option before the food bank?

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You would think that Coronavirus with the Thursday street clapping might have brought about a change in attitude towards those from ethnic minorities, who have worked hard in distribution centres, meat processing plants, hospitals and care homes, in many cases giving up their lives to care for others or to make sure that our cheap fashion item is delivered. Sadly, it hasn’t many of the people who strived to celebrate ‘Our NHS’ banging pans in the street, outdoing the neighbours with elaborate window sized rainbow paintings will have gone on to revert to sending out hateful stuff on Facebook. I’m afraid trolls need little assistance in opening up a volley of hate. At the beginning of lockdown, I went into the bleak town centre late at night to record the contrast between the usually bustling nightlife, and the emptiness. There were few people around, and I came across two Eastern European lads with face masks carrying their takeaway home, now their nationality is irrelevant, I merely mention it to highlight the fact that my caption omitted that fact. Why omit it? Frankly, if that was mentioned somebody would leap up and accuse them of theft, stealing British jobs, having a takeaway whilst living on benefits or any other fantasy…

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The lockdown was going to start, it was a warm afternoon, and families had gathered in Queens Park in the sunshine for time together, as it was Mothers’ Day, then a terrible tragedy struck. A woman approached 7 year old Emily Jones and stabbed her, despite the attention of bystanders and the air ambulance, she died. It didn’t take long for the crazed right wing conspiracy theories to emerge. She was obviously Somalian (she’s not), and the media were supressing coverage of the event, and were supposedly protecting her. Why wasn’t it getting the coverage it deserved when a white person was killed? The simple truth is, that the event happened late in the afternoon, and the local paper’s front page had to be reset with minutes to go before going to press, and that the Nationals were in a similar position, concentrating on deaths and a pandemic. All the nationals ran the story online. Now a woman has been charged, she has been named as a 30 year old Albanian, but it still hasn’t changed the fact that conspiracy theory web sites are continuing to trawl for trial endangering information. The local news editor has even had to explain it in small words to readers, and to ban people from commenting.
Now, what’s all this got to do with Black Lives Matter? Well, some trolls, and indeed local councillors are arguing that the lighting up of the Town Hall in purple is a disgrace, and that instead it should be lit up for Emily Jones instead. Of course, to do so would be inappropriate when a trial is pending. Emily’s parents along with those of Lee Rigby have had to appeal for their portraits not to be used to stir up hatred.

Did I faintly hear a dog whistle?

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OK, what’s all this to do with us as photographers? Well, have a look at the way we approach travel photography, or even how we photograph people in our own country from the BAME community, a horrible modern term that to me is reminiscent of the 1960s term ‘coloured’ that seems to assume the world is divided into white, and everyone else, rather than different cultures even within the 4 nations that make up Great Britain. Many years ago, I was having a set of photographs assessed for my Royal Photographic Society Associateship submission. One was a not pin sharp picture of an Asian brickworks worker with a magnificent beard, some members of the audience pointed out that there was no catchlight in the eyes, and was therefore a poor portrait. The late Arthur Downes, who was President of the RPS at the time made a much more valid point- if it was a white man from Wigan, would it be as interesting? Now, have a look at some of the pictures on EPZ, and ask are we using people from different cultures to brighten up our portfolio, why do we see a picture of an old man on a spice stall in Goa as being more interesting than a lady in an apron selling Black Puddings on Bury Market? Are we guilty of a kind of ‘photographic imperialism’ that assumes other cultures and lifestyles are there for our picture taking? I know that in the past I have been guilty of that, or is it false guilt? Before heading off on that trip overseas (or even in the UK) to capture wrinkly faced people with character, maybe give your head a wobble, and think how you would feel if a group of Indians or Japanese tourists turned up at your pub, Labour Club, Golf Clubhouse, church service or similarly British institution, and started getting excited as they chimped their photos of middle class people and their rituals such as the ‘buying a round’ or the importance of supporting ‘Ingerland’.

Comments


dudler Plus
17 1.4k 1741 England
22 Jun 2020 4:41PM
For some reason, it's not possible to put hotlinks in blogs... To see the news story with the comments section closed, look HERE.
JuBarney Plus
9 33 5 United Kingdom
22 Jun 2020 4:58PM
Perhaps we take photos of locals in other countries as I find them far more interesting, and we hope others will too, especially in their colourful markets which are far more photogenic than markets in this country. If we are polite and ask them for their permission then we are showing a culture to some Brits who may appreciate a look at life abroad, even if they are white French people.

Smashing images, and the lack of politics/controversial images on EPZ is a big bonus for me.
GGAB Plus
4 31 1 United States
22 Jun 2020 5:00PM
"I have to admit, I’m rather quick to notice that a lot of pictures in the galleries in EPZ do tend to lean towards tits (both mammary and avian), sunsets, traction engines, trains and vintage cars of the type that young people seem to think old people (men over 40) prefer on their birthday cards. However, I think as photographers we have to be aware that there’s more to photography than how many votes a picture can gain on EPZ, it’s very easy to game the system, and attract eyeballs here. A straightforward shot of a steam train at night got more interest simply by giving it a sepia tint, and a black border. Some of Britain’s classic photographers, Martin Parr, Don McCullin, Glaswegie are not afraid to take photographs with a powerful political message, be it about race, inequality, privilege or simply to show life as it is. Shouldn’t more photography highlight important issues as well as the aesthetically pleasing"?

IMHO it depends upon the venue for the pictures.
Unfortunately images that highlight "important issues" tend to be divisive. They often bring out the "ugly" in people.
Because of this, in epz I only post neutral images. I try to make them as good looking as possible and ask for help when I have a question or need help.
For me epz is a venue to show my images, compare myself to others and get review from others on my images. EPZ is a visual journal of my development as a photographer.
There is enough politics elsewhere, I don't need it here.

Excellent Blog
George
dudler Plus
17 1.4k 1741 England
22 Jun 2020 5:15PM
Thank you Ju, and George.

If what's above is good, it's because Phil is a committed photojournalist, who thinks carefully about what he does, how it's used, and the reactions. I couldn't do the job he does, physically or mentally. I am sure, though, that it's important to show the truth, and often that's much more nuanced than (most?) single pictures can convey.

And I agree with Ju that what's different captures our interest, so it's easier to shoot in strange places. One of the things I find interesting is the way that the everyday for me is exotic for people elsewhere: and I love seeing the diversity of members' 'everyday' pictures. By 'everyday' I mean the scenes, places, people, vehicles that i see every day, the ones that are familiar. For me, it's grey double-decker buses and black cabs and green trees: for others it's yellow Ford Crown taxis and skyscrapers, or dusty bush tracks and elephants.

What's most heartening is that people everywhere are much the same: wanting to earn a decent living, bring up their children, live in peace, have a drink. It delights me when they respect and support each other - I have friends and acquaintances all over the world now, and if we all stand (at least metaphorically) shoulder to shoulder, we can make the world a better place.
philtaylorphoto 19 334 2
22 Jun 2020 6:51PM
I have been known to photograph apolitical Angel Delight!

One on, let's see some controversial thought provoking stuff on EPZ
GeorgeP Plus
13 62 26 United States
23 Jun 2020 3:05AM

Quote:
What's most heartening is that people everywhere are much the same: wanting to earn a decent living, bring up their children, live in peace, have a drink.


Thanks for that comment Dudler. I learnt this truism during the Iranian Revolution in 1979 when I was working in Ahvaz. My Iranian colleagues obviously had a stronger interest in the political changes than I did, but their main concerns were: job stability, education for their children, paying the mortgage and worrying about the future. [And, in those days, there was a more tolerant attitude to drink (maybe like the difference between C of E and staunch Baptist) so your final thought was also applicable to some. Grin I have found the same concerns among folks here in US, in Saudi, Nigeria, Japan and Venezuela. A small sample but maybe suggestive that the concerns are universal.
mistere Plus
7 6 4 England
23 Jun 2020 6:54AM
It's difficult to know what to believe these days. 24/7 news stations need a lot of news to fill their airtime. If they cant find it they invent it, making mountains out of mole hills, goading and provoking interviewees until they say something 'controversial'. Unless you make the news yourself, or witness it first hand, how do you know? It's always somebody else's version. Someone elses opinion of what happened or what was said. A soundbite from a speech or a sentence from a letter. Things taken out of context can easily create controversy and generate a couple of days worth of 'news?.
How much are we being manipulated and by whom.
News is big business. Newspapers compete with each other for sales, TV stations compete for viewers, the news is a commodity 'fake news' is big business (allegedly).
You have to look and listen very carefully, not something that everybody has time for.
A line from a Black Sabbath song springs to mind...
"If you listen to fools, the mob rules"
bluesandtwos 11 437 1 England
23 Jun 2020 9:56AM
Everything said above is valid, but here is my take on it.

I'm a fairly old, not too wrinkly white male born and bred here in England, and I'm quite proud of being English, no more or less than a Scot, an Irishman. a Welshman or any other Nationality would be of their place of birth.

I agree that 'All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing', but I can't change the World, I do however try hard to make the small part of the World that I inhabit better in whichever way I can. I think if we all did the best for our own small part, collectively we would make a huge, expanding difference.

No right minded person with an ounce of empathy within them would deny the ethos behind Black Lives Matter, but the slogan is, as can be seen from so many news reports divisive, someone even flew a plane towing a banner saying White lives matter, and of course, they do too, but that is equally divisive. I can't help but think 'Black Lives Matter Too' as a slogan would be more appropriate, it's all inclusive and would give no room for anyone to hijack the motives and say its divisive.

I come to EPZ for pleasure, I enjoy looking at, and maybe learning from, others pictures. Whether it be tits, trains or frogs Grin, I admire the ones I like, and scan quickly past the ones I don't, I'm here to enjoy myself in the simple and usually non confrontational pleasure of being involved in a wonderful hobby. Journalistic images of conflict shown here I would probably go straight past, not because I don't care, but because I come here to relax.
If you watch the news in any of its many formats, indulge yourself with social media, or spend time with the loud and angry, you will have plenty of opportunity to trouble yourself with the wrongs of the World, maybe real, maybe false, who knows which?
But here, here is where I come to relax, amongst friendly people, and enjoy myself. A few moments of relaxed pleasure in a turbulent world. There is without doubt a place for 'hard reportage' of the dirtier side of life, I'm just not so sure this is that place.
On a lighter note re we are inspired by going to different countries and how would we feel if Japanese ( or any other!) tourists took pictures of me here or at work, well I used to work for the Fire and Rescue Service and was often photographed at jobs, I never had any problems with that, and once while in America an American lady heard us talking, exclaimed 'oh you're from England' and asked if would we talk to her and have our picture taken with her! I was quite amused, and quite flattered, but certainly not offended!
My old Mum, bless her little cotton socks, said always treat others how you would like to be treated. Simple, but very true!
That's taken me forever to 'hunt and peck' this on the keyboard, now it's time for a cuppa!Smile
mistere Plus
7 6 4 England
23 Jun 2020 10:20AM
An addition to my previous comment. 4am was probably not the best time to jump in, but never mind.
Black lives matter, of course they do. If the banners and slogans said 'All Lives Matter' would that make it less controversial? Or just less newsworthy.
As for being photographed by visiting tourists. Before photography and scuba diving ate all my time and money I had a different hobby. Thousands of people from all over the world came to watch, film and photograph the proceedings.
Addiing hundreds of thousands of pounds to the local economy.
Keep clicking and enjoying the pictures, that's what we're here for.
dudler Plus
17 1.4k 1741 England
23 Jun 2020 8:13PM
One further thought from me...

People who have been badly treated by society often behave badly. It just happens that way. If you have a massive and justified chip on your shoulder, your view is bound to be unbalanced.

And part of being in the lucky majority is that you make allowances for that, just as you make allowances for mates who get a bit noisy when they've had a couple of pints too many.

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