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National Post photographer, Brett Gundlock was one of the 304 protestors arrested during the G20 protests in Toronto, last June.

Since last Summer, and dissatisfied generally with the representation of the protests, Gundlock has tracked down many of those also taken into custody. He has asked each of them to provide a (very) short statement on the experience of being processed through protest-policing and city jail.

In March, Gundlock will mount a show for the portraits and accompanying testimonies. For this he has already crowdfunded the $1,500 necessary via RocketHub. You can read more about the project here or you can watch Gundlock’s video intro.

Picturing Victimhood

Gundlock’s portraits are rather austere, which probably fairly reflects the seriousness with which many protestors take to their direct actions. In formal arrangement, they echo the look of two very famous photographers before him.

Marc Garanger, a young French soldier was pressed into a fortnight of taking 2000 identity pictures of Algierian women. Garanger considered himself – as military man and photographer – as an aggressor. His female subjects as victims. Although, as Fred Ritchin describes, when Garanger returned to Algeria decades later he was warmly received by the sitters and their families. And thus squashing the simplistic presumptions of the Western audience.

Richard Avedon’s In The American West was the work of a fascinated, brave yet perverse outsider. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of In The American West was that Avedon – under the guise of fine art – used his camera to adopt an outsider engagement with his subject akin to ethnographic research. In 20th century America, no less.

Whatever we might think of Avedon’s awe and reverence to his cowboys and oil-workers, they are set up as victims by means of their exclusion from the comfortable predictability of majority America.

Photographically, one end of the spectrum (Garanger, Avedon, Gundlock) depicts victims quiet and silent, while the other has them wailing in grief and duress. I’d suggest in this visual environment, Gundlock has made the right decision to ask for written recollections of the moment from his subjects.

Brett Gundlock is part of Boreal Collective.

Found via drool

A woman voices her opinion while a Police man looks on as hundreds of demonstrators gather outside a Toronto Police Station to protest against tactics used by the Police against anti G20 protesters over the weekend. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Just have to say, I enjoyed reading Chris Young‘s NPAC blog this week. He’s good with words:

June 24th

A colleague of mine had advised me that kayaking helmets are the way forward for this kind of thing as they are built to come into contact with rocks. I went to a camping store and asked the guy behind the counter where they kept their rock proof helmets and was sent into the basement. There, I was met by Colin, a thin man with darting eyes. […] He looked me up and down, beckoned me towards him and asked in a hushed, conspiratorial tone “Is it for this weekend ?” I confessed it was. He quickly produced two helmets and began to give me the low down on what helmet could withstand what impact from what size rock and from what distance. I got the impression that Colin had been selling a lot of helmets recently.

June 25th

The weapons cache found in the roof rack resembling a grade 2 project comprised of a crossbow, a chain saw, and a swiss army knife as well as an assortment of handyman tools. Unless this was an A-team inspired assassination kit it began to look like a hillbilly had stopped in town on the wrong day.

June 29th

I’m the first to admit that I have a cynical streak […] maybe it’s from attending too many carefully choreographed PR stunts. But watching police cars haphazardly left at major intersections with easily flammable front seats whilst an unchecked mob of pimpled anarchists career towards them tugs at my senses. Was this a justification for the $1billion tab that the taxes payers have been left with for the summits?

June 30th

The look on the cop’s face pretty much said it all. As he climbed onto his bike to trail a group of several hundred demonstrators as they set off march through the streets of Toronto to voice their anger at the detentions, harassment and beatings they’d experienced over the previous 48 hours. He looked like a five year old being dragged around a mall by his mum to find a new pair of gloves after he’d lost the last pair. Slightly guilty, though not completely sure why, and totally over it.

London Metropolitan Police Anti-Photography Propaganda Campaign Poster

London Metropolitan Police Anti-Photography Propaganda Campaign Poster

When I began writing this blog, it was meant as a vehicle to display the documentary work of photographers working in sites of incarceration and to generally expound the stories touched upon. It was also meant to deconstruct some of the persistent myths surrounding prisons and prison populations and how visual culture has played its part in weaving some of those myths.

Not once did I envisage the current situation whereby the act of photography could bring about the threat of detention and imprisonment. Such impingement on basic rights of expression has been known in some of the dictatorial and despotic regimes of modern history … but not so much in the West, right? The times they are achangin’.

Photo: Liam Oliver Newton Craik-Horan.

Photo: Liam Oliver Newton Craik-Horan.

When my brother visited from the UK last month he couldn’t stress enough how much of a police state it has become. We reasoned that the fingerprints taken by US homeland security are know also the possession of the UK government. It used to be the case that fingerprints were only taken and kept on file in the UK if you had been convicted for a crime. How things change.

A few months ago I signed up as a member of ACLU, the decisive moment was when the ACLU representative said to me, “You don’t want the US turning out like Britain with all those cameras and surveillance do you?”

Britain really is a country that has got itself on edge; it’s culture promoting men and women in all guises of security to exert illegitimate power and enforce ludicrous policy. Unfortunately, this robotic application of rules has infected even our art galleries, as the venerable John Berger discovered.

This past months have seen a slew of stories coming out of Britain regarding the rights of photographers in public spaces. All these are in response to a slew of legislation to slowly whittle down the rights of photographers; the rights of UK citizens.

On 16th February, the Counter Terrorism act came into effect making it illegal to photograph a police officer or “elicit information” about them. The British Journal of Photography has the details.

After the disgust at such brazen restriction of rights, the response by the photographic community in London was to go to Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan police, and in an act of mass civil disobedience take lots of photographs of lots of officers.

The Guardian UK has been the mainstream print media that has really pursued this topic, reminding us all of what we have just lost. They broke the story that Kent police monitored members of the press during an environment protest, for which the Kent constabulary have apologized.

The Press Gazette explained this tactic and the associated tension between police and photographers.

David Hoffman, a photographer with 32 years’ experience, said he now carries shinpads in his bag, claiming he had been kicked by police officers at protests.

“The police today [NUJ Protest] have been beautiful – but that isn’t always the case,” he said. “Recent protests have been very bad. The worst was October last year, at the Climate Rush demo. One copper spent his time kicking my leg. Stood there with his steel toe caps kicking away – and me, a silver-haired man. I’ve still got chunks missing from my legs five months on. They want you to think: I won’t cover it next time. They have been using FIT [Forward Intelligence Teams, who use cameras], they have been using intimidation.”

Hoffman added, “It’s important the police know they’re being watched and observed. If you don’t see what’s going on, your society’s less democratic.”

It is almost like the lines have been drawn so indelibly, people are having to pick a side. It is sad to see but the police fall in line with the government and the majority sympathise with the press. This has led to a conflation of stories involving the G20 protests, police misconduct, and the death of (and vigil for) Ian Tomlinson. Judging by the Guardian’s recent coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that London was on the edge of civic breakdown.

I think the media and the Guardian in particular are taking a principled stance here and just reminding the Met at every opportunity that they are watched and the press will not be cowed. I think most of us realise that with millions of people in possession of recording equipment it is unenforceable to stop people from documenting the streets.

Ian Tomlinson’s death received a lot of coverage and rightly so, but I shall wait for the inquiry ruling before making a call, despite the early damning evidence. We, however, in the business of images know that they can never tell the full story. This is now an investigation of excessive force by the police and distinct from the main issue of photographers/civil rights.

Yesterday, the Guardian published this footage of the police threatening photographers with arrest if they did not move. Again, later the force apologized. But what is interesting here is the Guardian‘s decision to line up video footage of various scenes of confrontation from different days in the right hand nav bar. It is a dossier of police activity and unlike anything I have seen in mainstream media.

Photo: Roger Lancefield. The protesters stickers read "I am not a Terrorist, I am a Photographer".

Photo: Roger Lancefield. The protesters stickers read "I am not a Terrorist, I am a Photographer".

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the Guardian showed that front-line press aren’t the only ones under scrutiny. Metropolitan police deleted a tourist’s photographs this week to “prevent terrorism”. Klaus Matzka, the tourist involved summed his experience up as such:

“I’ve never had these experiences anywhere, never in the world, not even in Communist countries.”

So, at best you are harassed for your photographic activity and at worst, if thought to hold sinister motives, arrested and face a 10 year sentence.

Before all this gets to any court, however, the clashes are felt on the street, on the shins and in the constantly diminished rights to freedom of expression. Where citizen photographers may feel powerless, it seems the press – and the Guardian in particular – are just getting powered up.


Thanks to all the Flickr users credited above for their images, but more importantly their acts of documentation in the face of legislation to prevent such freedoms. I hope we all stay out of prison.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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