I’ve covered them for two decades, trying to capture images for the national press that convey the issues behind a protest – the things people care about strongly enough to come out on the streets for.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the homemade placards many people bring can really add to a protest. They display individuality, a personal perspective, they can be incisive or add some humour. Often photographers like me will focus in on these placards, especially ones which reflect the mood of the day and stand out in a sea of generic placards.
Here are a few of my favourites from the last couple of years to inspire people ahead of the TUC organised march and rally in London, “We Demand Better”. I’ll be working on the day and looking out for your placards too!
I found the health workers' protest during the peak of the pandemic very moving. Everyone wore masks and was gripped with anxiety. With the constant fear of Covid, it was an incredibly tense time to work and travel.
We had witnessed the clap for carers, which initially felt like a positive community show of appreciation for our frontline health workers. But it became increasingly clear that the government had no intention of matching public goodwill and gratitude with hard cash. I was full of admiration for the health workers, who after long and gruelling shifts came out to demand a pay rise.
The placard itself, painted on an easy-to-find cardboard panel. The use of colour matching her mask was great. “Hero” and “Zero” was really catchy, and exposed the irony of the crisis.
This was a protest local to me that I was very passionate about. A group of young mothers occupied empty homes on the Carpenters Lane estate in the borough of Newham. The women were being forced into relocation outside London by Newham council because their hostel had lost its funding, which meant them being wrenched away from their support networks.
The estate was surrounded by shining, new metal and glass Olympic legacy tower blocks and the campaign became a key struggle for social housing versus gentrification. I documented the Focus E15 Mothers in 2014 for the Guardian.
Ultimately the protesters were evicted, but their protest in 2020 highlighted the fact that there were and continue to be more than 400 empty homes on the Carpenters Estate lying vacant while many in the borough live in dangerously overcrowded conditions and Newham has the highest rates of homelessness in London.
This socially distanced protest snaked, single file through Stratford and rallied on the estate. It was always a make-your-own placard and banner campaign, out of necessity and lack of funds, but it certainly is not poorer for it.
I love the confidence of the little girl and her mum in the background taking photos. Very simply and clearly demanding, “Give Us Homes”.
Abortion Rights is a trade union-backed campaign that I have had the privilege to work with. It is particularly resonant at the moment, with the impending United States Supreme Court decision that could overturn the 1973 Roe versus Wade case, which will impact on women’s ability to get safe and legal abortions in the USA. I was commissioned by Abortion Rights in 2021 for a protest in Parliament Square countering an anti-abortion march by March for Life UK.
The placard slogan itself is not new, but it is a powerful one and held with a lot of passion and conviction. Friends making similar placards to march together also makes for a great spirit on the day.
This was another take on a placard I simply could not walk past. I thought it was fantastic, the workers sporting hard hats with the famous quote from Greta Thunberg when she mocked world leaders on climate inaction. It was really innovative and humorous and made for a striking image. The added bonus was not having to actually carry a placard - top points.
This cost-of-living protest was really energising for the amount of hand-written placards. In the wake of partygate, people were fuming about now having to foot the bill for the energy crisis. My favourites were “This isn’t a protest, I was ambushed by a placard”, “Kill the Bill$”, “Can’t Afford Food, Eat the Rich”, but as a food bank volunteer I especially liked the poignancy of, “People Don’t Chose Poverty, Governments Do”.
I love this placard! It is my favourite from COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021. I have a little rule that if something makes me laugh out loud then I must photograph it. This was definitely that photograph. I am so pleased that it has made a magazine and journal cover already.
I travelled to Glasgow to work for the TUC, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Unison, Unite and Fire Brigade Union (FBU). It was a hectic week. The intense level of policing saw me caught in two police containments (kettles) just cycling to cover events.
As the huge Global Climate Strike of students was assembling everyone was looking for Greta Thunberg, who was due to lead the protest. I then spotted this chap, a Glaswegian protester who really stood out amongst the young climate activists with his blue hat and a homemade wooden placard which perfectly summed up the problem of the situation with colloquial spelling!
With the national march and rally fast approaching, will you be making your own placard to bring along?
If you are, we'd love to see it.
We've got 3 campaign hoodies as prizes for our favourites, to help you look the part on the march. Tweet a picture of your placard with the hashtag #demandbetter, or upload a photo with this form. We'll get in touch with the winners by Twitter or email.
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