By Heather Grant
On the morning of Easter Saturday, I woke up around 8am, and within the hour had somehow hopped onto a train from Yorkshire to London. Impulsively (to the extreme, perhaps) I felt like I had to photograph the Extinction Rebellion protests. While most photography is generally seen to capture moments in their immediacy and freeze an element of this within an image (unless you’re a philosopher), there’s something about protests to which this is especially true. They are ultra-immediate, with pent-up passion and fear surfacing in the union of people, in a certain place and time. This time was one in which I had this insane hope that, as I clicked the shutter and advanced the lever, in the future I’d be in a position to look back on my photography and feel as though I’d captured a significant changing point in human history.
It was a complete gamble, for all I had available to shoot on was a roll of black and white 35mm film: which needs to be sent off to be lab developed. I’d only used C41 process before, and I’d got into a routine of (mostly) trusting my photos to survive in the hands of strangers. At that time, it felt like a very temperamental option, for whether I could find a trustworthy lab remained to be seen.
This made me wonder – does art need to be concrete to exist? I was hyperaware of the potential for art to be lost before it was ever seen, and for the only evidence of it to ever have existed to have been me, as a photographer, experiencing the act of inspiration and of igniting the process of creation. A process which might have never fanned into flames, if my old Olympus OM10 had been unreliable and not taken anything.
Luckily, I found a reliable lab online. Every single frame developed. I think I focused on capturing the presence of Extinction Rebellion and the way in which the protest was situated within the city: as well as snapping moments, and protest signs.
Something that springs to mind is a lyric from The 1975’s song Love It If We Made It: “the poetry is in the streets”. This has been used frequently by the band, as a twist on the French phrase “la poesie est dans la rue”, meaning “the poetry is in the streets in full living cover”. This phrase had its origins in the French situationist movement of the 60s, drawing the link between aesthetic art and radical politics.
I became fixated on the idea of this connection, witnessing it in the present within the fact all these people had come together, driven by the same existential hopes and fears in the face of the climate crisis. I believed there was an aesthetic experience in this that needed to be captured, which I attempted to frame the best I could within the confines of a limited number of black and white images.