The Papal visit to London – September 2010
Pope Benedict XVI visits London amidst rallies of protest and support:
Whatever your beliefs or your faith, the pope’s visit to London was a big occasion and the crowds that turned out both in support and protest showed this. It was a lively, loud and colourful event on both sides of the fence.
After spending the morning working on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen I headed into town to meet up with Jim Shannon and Joe Sheffer at the head of the Protest the Pope March outside Green Park tube station. Typically of me though, I didn’t take the tube to Green Park. I had assumed the rally would take place around Hyde Park so I got off at Bond Street intending to walk the rest of the way, thus avoiding the huge crowds I expected at Hyde Park Corner tube station. I ended up miles away from the head of the march…but what a glorious mistake to have made. On the walk back to Green Park I passed all the pilgrims and supporters of the pope on their way to their gathering in Hyde Park. It was colourful, fun and lively and I decided to convince the others to return there once we had finished at the march, allowing us to photograph both sides of the story, something I don’t think we had planned to do.
I wanted to go to the march not only because of the enormity of the historical occasion but because I believed and agreed with the issues raised by the protesters, feeling the same anger and concerns expressed by them. But above and beyond all that, I wanted to go and take photographs. I am slowly rediscovering the ‘documentary’ side of my photography (it is nestled comfortably alongside the landscapes I am continuing to take) and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
My style of photography, however, does not usually suit large crowds – a wide angle lens is not always the best option when confronted with a sea of people – and black & white does not often do occasions like this justice as colour is often one of the main ingredients. You really have to work hard to get anything special and hope that things come together in the view finder geometrically.
The atmosphere on both the march and the vigil however was great fun and I found it easier than expected to take photographs. All the ingredients seemed to be there for a successful and productive day. There was anger, yes, but there was humour and good nature as well, especially in some of the banners. The paths of the two groups often crossed but there was little animosity beyond the occasional jeer. The police too handled the crowds so differently from what I have been used to in the past (no sign of the riot police charging us on horseback), chatting to everyone amiably despite their massive presence.
Beyond the incomprehension I felt towards the devotion and blind faith the pilgrims showed towards the pope and the church I felt nothing but enjoyment and satisfaction within. I had witnessed an historical event first hand (as well as a choreographed papal blessing) lent my presence to a march and cause I believed in, and (I truly hope) I came away with some images that I can be proud of. I will know in a couple of weeks when I finally get around to developing them.