Late as always. I rush up out of Charing Cross, just catching the old lady behind me saying that this one is always a bit of a trek, just catching the surreal flash of a polished leather boot on the hind leg of a blonde in a black coat. I follow a family that is ejaculating Trafalgar Square! Trafalgar Square! to the general direction of everyone else in the station and rush up the stairs, past an elderly couple, who I can feel watching my progress upwards.
The day is the supple sheet of a wind that promises tears. I walk down the familiar path again, but at first it seems as though nothing is happening. I cross over the road to the square and then notice the group in front of the National Gallery. There are, incredibly, no policemen in sight.
I walk into the crowd and everyone is photographing everyone else, although there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity to catch a good image in the net of the camera. Everyone has these stickers: I AM A PHOTOGRAPHER NOT A TERRORIST. I pull out my own Samsung – carefully juiced up from the night before – and take a few snaps. They’re pretty rubbish. Nothing is happening. I try to get an artistic shot of the photographers leaning out of a balcony next to Nelson’s Column against the sky. People keep on coming in the way.
How ironic that the master or mistress of the spectacle, the photographer, cannot make a spectacle of him or herself.
As I plunge deeper into the crowd, wondering what everyone else is looking at, why everyone leans towards the base of those great stairs up out of the square into the National Gallery – the centre of the image – absurdity increases. There are two lines of photographers at the bottom of the stairs, each telling each other to step back, get a better photo, don’t stop the camera flashes. Photography at the bottom – art at the top. The square stretches out like a gigantic photograph with the portrait of Nelson at the centre protruding from it into the heavens. The symbolism isn’t lost on me.
The excitement of protest has died down. It is a poorly organised effort. I look around. It is obvious that other people are bored. There is nothing to see. I take out my reporter’s notebook and stroll around. Reporters, journalists, photographers are everywhere. But there’s no news.
The first woman I ask for an opinion of the protest is French. She says people shouldn’t just be arrested for taking photographs. Her name is Patricia. Her hair is curly and she has tanned skin. I walk about a little after this, trying to find a more interesting opinion. I want to ask someone different. I notice two young girls giggling at the protest a little while away from the main crowd. They’re two students, Rose from the Fine Arts Department at UCA and Debs from Kingston. They tell me that the protest is just funny, people photographing each other. I notice they’re not looking through any cameras.
In front of me are two photographers literally photographing each other at the same time. The blonde lady is smiling behind the camera. The guy seems totally absorbed by the camera lens.
Sarah at the Socialist Worker Stand, the Anti-BNP petition, is next. She tells me that the protest is necessary, but when I ask her if she thinks it is well-organised, she laughs and says she doesn’t know. She says its shocking that photographers are being treated like terrorists and never thought it would get that bad even though people said that it could be like that in the future.
I watch some costumed ghouls walk around with the protest flag which is being shared out to everyone by an elderly gentleman. Photographers congregate around the group, asking each other to step out of the way for the perfect shot. One of them pushes a woman out of the way, grabbing her shoulder.
I ask one last woman about her opinion about the protest. Her name is Dawn. She’s a photographer. I ask her why she thinks the police haven’t turned up to the protest. She tells me off. It’s not a protest, she says. It’s a gathering. You have to be careful not to call it that. If it was a protest the police would have to turn up. Okay, I say, why have the police not turned up to the gathering. Dawn is an elderly lady with cracked teeth and big glasses. The reason the police haven’t turned up, she tells me, is that they don’t want a confrontation.
This is a photographer’s protest.