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Attacks on photographers in the London Riots

I'm making this post to keep track of reports of attacks on Demotix contributors during the London riots. It seems that in many cases, photographers and other journalists have been deliberately targeted by the rioters, as was first pointed out in this tweet from the Times journalist Billy Kenber:

tweet from Times journalist Billy Kenber

The first Demotix contributor I heard of being attacked was Matt Aslett, aka docphot.

tweet from Demotix contributor docphot

I kept in touch with Matt via Twitter, and fortunately he was OK. It's quite reassuring that members of the public jumped in to help him out - obviously, the majority of people are against the riots and don't want to see people hurt.

Matt also reported an attack on a fellow contributor, Chris Calvert.

tweet from Demotix contributor docphot

Again, Matt kept me updated about Chris' status, and we're pleased to note that he is doing well after a visit to Accident and Emergency, and has taken a well-deserved rest day:

tweet from Demotix user docphot

Contributor HeardInLondon, who is also a very active Twitter user, also got in touch, reporting having a bottle thrown at her, on top of the problems she had on Monday night.

Demotix contributor SemiSara, a friend of mine from journalism school, also reported an attempt to grab her camera away from her - although she thought the motivation was theft, rather than preventing her documenting the events:

She did, however, report other rioters confronting anyone attempting to record events:

Given that a lot of the rioters seem to be very hostile to photographers attempting to record what's going on, and that cameras are obviously extremely portable, high-value objects, a lot of professional and citizen journalists have suggested that photographers try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Avoid displaying your camera and perhaps switch to a compact or your phone if you are trying to shoot near looters. Of course, these items are not immune from theft either, so take all of the safety precautions you would otherwise.

I've updated Monday's blog post with some more suggestions about staying safe during civil unrest posted by ODS Photo agency, which I'll repost here for convenience:

  • Know the area! If you don't know the neighborhood or the city, you can get lost and drawn into unwanted situations.
  • Whenever possible, work in groups of photographers. This way you can avoid attacks by the police or rioters.
  • When objects are being thrown, take cover. A corner, a phone box... can serve as a parapet.
  • Wide-angle photos, will never be the best. Use the tele, if the situation permits, you can take your images cleaner and work safe.
  • Always watch the movements of both rioters and police. You can easily find yourself in the crossfire.

That's it for today, but I'll update this post with any more news as and when I hear it.

Update

Craig Wherlock has added some more safety tips to those offered by ODS yesterday:

Tips for photographers in riot situations.

  • Be discreet. Keep expensive equipment covered. Also dress in dull, unstriking colours.
  • If challenged about why your taking pictures, be honest.
  • Don't argue or debate anything. Put your camera down if told to do so.
  • Walk away when possible from tense situation. There will be other opportunities.
  • Don't assume police will behave any better than protesters in tense situations
  • Don't bullseye, i.e forget what's happening around you when focusing on taking pictures.
  • Know when to quit.

Thanks, Craig, for those pointers - I hope everyone takes note if there is further violence this evening.

Update 2

Demotix regional publisher forestmat has a further, very important tip for photographers covering riots:

In violent or potentially violent situations like these, i can't recommend highly enough the need for a proper helmet to protect your head from flying bottles, stones, etc...
I never go anywhere without my Kevlar helmet in the back of my pick-up truck, just in case.

thanks again, and keep those tips coming!

Update 3

Stephen Barnes offers further thoughts on helmets following some discussion in the comments below this article, as well as some more general tips:

Kevlar helmets make you stand out a little too much. Better bet may be a 'Bump Cap' - looks like a baseball hat, but has an ABS plastic liner. I got mine for about £5 on eBay and it's already seen action twice in Belfast. And I totally agree with 'unstriking' colours: I prefer all black, particularly at night!
Finally, if water cannon are deployed, stay behind them: no amount of waterproofing on your gear will protect it if you're hit at full force (ouch)

Also, a former professor of mine at City University, Roy Greenslade, offers some safety tips for journalists covering riots in his blog over at the Guardian. They are based on similar documents from the NUJ and the International News Safety Institute. I hope you find them useful.

Update 4

I've just stumbled across this set of images from contributor Joe O'Brien that were uploaded on Monday, showing a photojournaist who has come under attack by rioters. Yet more evidence that photographers and the press were being targeted deliberately?

Update 5

One last update to this article comes from contributor Guilherme Zauith, who has his own tale of coming under attack while attempting to photograph the riots.

Was in Hackney, in front of the Town Hall. First a guy gave me a neck lock (arms around my neck...) threatening me with a broken glass bottle and shouting at me. I started punching around screaming (lying) that I was a Brazilian tourist and had nothing to do with it. So he said lots of F words and I ran...

Second was 15 min later on the stairs of the town hall. A guy came kicking and screaming and I just ran towards the other side near the police line.

At the council house behind Dalston Lane there was no police at all and I saw two photographers having their cameras stolen by 10 guys and people being punched because they were photographing with IPhones. I just got of there due to a very heavy situation. Lots of gang kids spreading terror. One ambulance attending people bleeding. No police at all.

It looks like the situation has stablilised for the moment, but it is worth bearing in mind for the future than photographing any kind of civil unrest can make you a target, either for the authorities or for those taking part. The fact that the UK government asks media organisations to turn over images to them which may provide evidence of crime means that photographers can be seen as evidence gatherers for the police by protesters or rioters. Be discreet, stay safe and if it looks too dangerous, don't stick around.

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