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The unacceptable side of press photography


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The unacceptable side of press photography

29 Mar 2021 8:07AM   Views : 629 Unique : 403


Phil Taylor got a job with his local paper in 2000: all was going well until…

One day, I was asked to get ‘A Collect’, now, if you are a good Anglican, like myself, you are thinking a seasonal, liturgical prayer, but in newspaper circles, it’s a photo of a missing or deceased person held by a relative or friend, usually obtained by a reporter, passed to a photographer, and quickly returned.

The domestic murders, the woman who drank herself to death on the patio on a sunny day, and what I used to find extremely sad, the ones where a senior fire officer tells the reporter, “they didn’t have a working smoke alarm.”


However, one job stood out from the routine with the potential for racism, sheer malice and callousness. A group of men lured an Asian taxi driver to the ‘Dicky Bird Estate’ in Bury, dragged him from his car, robbed him, then killed him by running over him in his own car. I was asked to cover the funeral, an all-male Muslim ceremony held on a local sports ground in driving rain. It was one of those occasions where the dramatic images just kept coming, the primary school child as pall bearer, the distressed sons, with no mother there to comfort them standing in the freezing cold, lashing rain, and then the shocking moment where the media were pushed towards the coffin, which was opened. I took my opportunity, and grabbed a shot of the body in the open coffin, as judging by gestures, it was what the family wanted us to do.


Back at the office, I looked at it, and said, “Have the courage to use it.” A Manchester Evening News reporter once pointed out how for a story to ‘make’ in a national paper certain criteria applied in a perverse pecking order. A white woman killed in London would receive massive coverage, less if it happened elsewhere, even less in Scotland. Abroad it would have to be many people (perhaps getting bumped up the agenda if they speak English, it involves Britons, or we go there as tourists). Consider the numbers killed at say in the Omagh bombing, then think how we react on hearing of a similar atrocity in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Timing can result in a perception that a story is being deliberately supressed. In the late afternoon in Queen’s Park, Bolton on Mother’s Day 7-year-old Emily Jones was playing on her scooter, when a woman approached her and slashed her throat. A truly appalling and senseless killing of a young girl. It’s quite near where I live, so got a few pictures away as the light faded. Basically, it happened too late in the day, and early editions were rolling off the presses, only the Express got it into print. Sadly, the lack of print coverage spawned racist conspiracy theories.


Emily Jones’ parents have repeatedly had to ask far right groups to stop using their daughter’s ‘collect’ picture on websites and in protests, ‘statue protectors’ have been seen carrying her image on placards at BLM protests. Indeed, some Conservatives in Bolton were demanding that the town hall should be illuminated for Emily Jones, rather than for BLM (despite a pending trial), which caused ugly scenes during the town’s protest.


I asked Phil about relations with the emergency services.

I’ve had varying reactions over the years. 20 years ago I was threatened with arrest following photographing a forensics officer Usually, nowadays most police officers and forensics are fairly easy going. On a recent stabbing one suited up forensics officer said hello to me by name, presumably from my by-lines. I usually find forensic teams are very helpful. I meet one lady far too often, who helpfully asks what I need, so that I can get wired quickly, and presumably I’m out of her hair net as soon as possible. I was at a murder scene where she asked if I had been waiting long, and what I needed.


Some younger, less experienced police officers can be prone to misunderstanding the ACPO media guidelines. I know one photographer who uses a bodycam because of the hassle he gets. On a stabbing in Bury, he was threatened with arrest, and his equipment being confiscated. I understand forensics and a more experienced colleague had a gentle word, and an apology was forthcoming. Even better, the forensics officer came over for a chat, and asked us not to use flash as she was light painting the crime scene with a powerful torch.


I asked Phil how photographing tragic events affects him.

I’ve found that as time goes by, I’ve become a lot calmer about covering tragic stuff. Somehow the need to rush pictures out live reduces it to shooting a real-life crime movie. I tend to concentrate on getting the single shot that tells the story. I was chatting with a crash investigator recently about how he handled tragedy. For him most cases are a puzzle to be solved, but like me he finds a few will really stop him in his tracks.


Any thoughts on reducing crime and accidental deaths?

A lot of the stuff I’ve seen this year has been gang related violence. Machete attacks, stabbings, drive by shootings, quite often drug related. Personally, a robust attitude to drugs and gangs would be the answer.

Fires? Fit a smoke alarm, get the fire brigade to come out post pandemic, give your house a once over, work out evacuation routes, plan what to do in case of fire, listen to safety advice.

Other deaths? For goodness sake, get vaccinated when your turn comes!


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
29 Mar 2021 8:11AM
Horrible things happen in this world, and we shouldn't pretend that they don't. If images like the ones that Phil often takes upset us, maybe we need to take action to make the world a better place. Being ready to pay more tax so that we can have more nurses and doctors, more police, and more social care to look after the people who are so often both victims and perpetrators of tragic crimes, before things go critical.

Sometimes, freedom is REALLY just another word for nothing left to lose.
PaulCox Avatar
29 Mar 2021 10:41AM
A very thought provoking blog, that made me realise what the emergency services must have to deal with. Thank you for your blog Paul.
cooky Avatar
cooky Plus
19 7 11 United Kingdom
29 Mar 2021 12:26PM
As Paul says, this makes us all think and unfortunately there are people who go out to commit horrendous acts of violence as well as the tragic accidents that occur. We can't pretend it doesn't happen and just close our eyes, John has made that point well.

In our super critical of everyone society, where often we forget how lucky we are, sometimes we have to stand up and be counted. Sometimes that's a simple thank you, a smile or pleasant word to one of the services that serve us so well day in and day out.

Thanks to Phil and John for an interesting Blog.

dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
29 Mar 2021 2:37PM
Thanks, Kath.
JuBarney Avatar
JuBarney Plus
12 36 7 United Kingdom
29 Mar 2021 6:10PM
Excellent images
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
29 Mar 2021 6:38PM
Images... The funeral ones are from 2001, and were shot on film.

Alarmingly, the rest are just a small selection from the last 18 months. That included 4 child murders.
cooky Avatar
cooky Plus
19 7 11 United Kingdom
29 Mar 2021 11:23PM
Thank you for sharing some of your work Phil and I hope we never become 'used' to or accepting of such crimes. We should all be shocked and outraged, images can often impact where words fall on deaf ears.
pink Avatar
pink Plus
20 7.4k 11 England
31 Mar 2021 12:42PM
Very thought provoking, not something I could or want to do, credit to our emergency services and to Phil for recording it.

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