Jonathan Moore is a British photographer based in London and uses images to capture the stories the world has to tell. His work has seen him travel to places such as Bangladesh, Lebanon and Georgia, where he’s worked on long term projects. We Are Not What You Say We Are is a collection of photographs from this summer covering the BLM and counter protests.
Could you tell me what this series is about?
The murder of George Floyd was the catalyst for a global wave of protests in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement. Several protests took place in London that summer, some with tens of thousands of people attending. After Winston Churchill’s statue was damaged at one of those protests, The far right organised a protest in response to“protect our statues”.
These images were taken on the day they descended onto the capital. The official Black Lives Matter protest that was due to take place that day was cancelled to avoid any confrontation.
Despite that, as the day wore on several counter protesters gathered on the other side of the police line that had formed by Waterloo Bridge.
The atmosphere was extremely tense as the far right began to clash with the police and the number of counter protestors grew. Things felt like they could escalate into a fully fledged conflict at any moment but with the exception of minor clashes when the two fronts came close to each other, the situation remained relatively well contained.
As the official protest ended and the crowds dispersed , the police spent the rest of the day keeping the two sides apart in a city that was otherwise nearly deserted because of lockdown. It was a surreal situation and the atmosphere was far more hostile than the previous protests I’d attended during the summer.
What motivated you to document these events?
I’d gone to cover several other BLM protests throughout the summer, and this felt like an important part of that story. The protest that day was inevitably going to receive a huge amount of coverage from various angles. I think it’s important to try and see these things first hand to form your own view. I also knew that these events, in those circumstances, were unlikely to ever repeat themselves, and it felt important to be there and try and record what happened.
Do you feel this series of images aims to convey a certain emotion or message?
I never really give any thought to trying to convey any emotion or message, my intention is to experience whatever I’m photographing and to reflect what I see and how it feels as accurately as possible. If the things you photograph are of significance then they convey the message and emotion for you.
What did you learn from creating a series surrounding this subject?
First and foremost, that the far right protest was a far right protest. While I don’t doubt that some people were there peacefully, who would say they were there because they felt that the issues people who aren’t black face also need addressing and believe that for whatever reason the BLM movement runs counter to that, but they were the substantial minority.
I walked into parliament square early on in the day to photograph the people there. I was threatened, told I was being watched, and given ‘fair warning’ to leave. I also saw other camera crews chased away. There were more nazi salutes, consistently, than I care to remember, along with bottles being thrown at the people standing behind the police line. I never saw them thrown the other way.
The counter protests that day were also different. The BLM marches I’d been to previously had a vibrant feel to them. While they were passionate and militant about their demands, they were organised, full of music and chants, and consistently peaceful . They often took place in collaboration with the police. None of this demeanour was reflected that day. There was no organisation behind it, just large groups of people wandering aimlessly. There was an occasion at Waterloo station where a group of protestors were trying to break down a side gate to reach some of the people who had been at the far right march, with several other protestors trying to stop them.
I spent some time afterwards reflecting on how I felt about the events of the day. My conclusion was that it is impossible for me to understand what it must feel like when several thousands of people gather to protest against your right to a better life, or to say what reaction is or isn’t understandable in response. At an official BLM protest not long after this, one of the organisers said that what the counter protestors had done that day wasn’t helpful and that peaceful protests were the way forward. I recognised lots of faces who had been there on both days and at that moment there was a second or two of audible silence.
The police also had a nearly impossible job that day as both sides felt that they were defending the other. I thought that on balance they did an unenviable job well. If they hadn’t have been there it could have been a blood bath.
Which do you feel is the most important image in the series and why?
Probably the one of the young man kneeling in front of the police van. Of all the pictures I took this summer this one probably sums up the sentiment of the movement best.
What keeps you motivated and interested in the work that you make?
The world is full of an infinite number of stories. So long as there are stories I will always want to take photographs.
What is the ultimate message in your creative expressions?
I see my photography as a documentation of things that happen. It’s for other people to say whether there is a message in it but even if there is the message isn’t mine.