wide angle

This is an interesting news image, which anyone living in the UK should be be familiar with by now.  It was the illustration of choice for no fewer than NINE national newspapers when they reported the ‘mindless violence’ of students demonstrating outside the Tory party headquarters over the trebling of university fees on Wednesday. Students will now be leaving university with debts of upwards of £30,000 – which makes the £16,000 I and many of my generation came out owing the government and high street banks look positively small.

Here’s the thing though. This is, no doubt, a strong news image – and I can see why the picture editors were unanimous in their choice. Maybe it will do well at World Press Photo because of that – who knows. But there’s something else they were unanimous about as well – ie the crop. Click on the picture above and you’ll see what I mean. Two shots probably by two different photographers, both employed by the same media agency. Both will have been available on the PA wire to anyone who subscribes – and all papers do.

It might just be me but the wider view poses some interesting questions about the media’s role in events like this demo. Without all the photographers egging on people like this student, or EDL meatheads on extreme right-wing marches, would this kind of drama happen to the extent it does? No doubt there would still be violence but the unspoken collusion of the press pack makes me decidedly uncomfortable. We are, after all, a nation of wannabes waiting for their five minutes of fame. Notoriety or ritual public humiliation will often do (reality and daytime TV prove that).

If the rather ambiguous role of the media makes me squirm as someone who works in the press, do other journalists and editors share my sentiments? I may be wrong but the fact that all national picture desks went for the narrow crop over the wide angle makes me think they probably do. Maybe they just think it’s the better photo, that it tells the story better. I happen to disagree. The wide shot tells me everything I need to know and more. As the print business continues to evaporate, there seems to be a collective will to collude, self-censor,  and avoid – at all costs – taking a critical stance on its own role and behaviour. Maybe it was always thus, I don’t know.

Discussion (25 Comments)

  1. David White says:

    Thanks Ciara, interesting post.

    As for that pic being chosen by all…It’s a stronger, faster hitting picture for the front page, that’s why. Fits the page better, too. The story was big enough to demand other pages inside, so more visual context could be provided there.

    As for the press being a catalyst, I think not. If I were a student now I would be seriously pissed off. I’m surprised they didn’t ratchet it up more.

    • duckrabbit says:

      I think you misunderstand Ciara? Or maybe I do … its the crop of the picture she’s commenting on, not that they picked that actual picture? Right, Ciara?

      • no I think they haven’t cropped – i think when i say the word ‘crop’ i’m talking about picture selection. they seem to be by two different photographers. sorry if unclear – my passion is blinding me!

        • that’s odd. There were another couple of lines added to this post a few moments after i wrote it saying exactly that but they seem to have disappeared…?!

          i’ve fixed it but just in case it vanishes again, the second paragraph should end:

          Click on the picture above and you’ll see what I mean. Two shots probably by two different photographers, both employed by the same media agency. Both will have been available on the PA wire to anyone who subscribes – and all papers do.

        • duckrabbit says:

          Reminds me of some of the pic from Haiti …

  2. haha. ok that’s me told 🙂
    i’m no doubt being overly polemic here but the vulture/spectacle aspect of the press pack bothers me a lot.
    *ducks for cover*

  3. Photojournalism, rioters & the crop… where are the blurry lines? (via @duckrabbitblog) – http://www.duckrabbit.info/2010/11/wide-angle/

  4. David White says:

    Be polemic, we love it.

    That sort of situation is an extreme example of ‘press’ behaviour…a potential riot brings all sorts out of the woodwork. If you’re lucky, you’ll win a prize. Vulture culture, maybe.
    Still, at least these days we can get to see a much broader variety of images to give a greater overview…we don’t have to be beholden to the whims and fancies of a picture editor.

  5. iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher says:

    I think the University of London Student Union’s Clare Solomon knows very well the power of the constructed image:- http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/nov/03/universities-welcome-flexbility-triple-fees.

    I remember the poll tax riots. The students created a big impact from something that was far less volatile than that incident thanks to all those photographers fighting for the shot… doing the police’s work and shielding the crowd and isolating the action – Robert Capa’s famous phrase has been taken far too literally!

  6. Pete Brook says:

    Ciara. Great post.

    Aren’t most protests these days prepped and, through the policing of special squads on time-and-a-half, managed? Doesn’t the press usually play into this following the mob waiting for them to burn a bin or something?

    Reports said the Met Police didn’t expect this one to get so tasty. Surprising one image dominated if it was all kicking off.

    Also, throughout all the media coverage of the unrest I’ve found it really difficult to find something that adequately explains the division between peaceful protesters and thems than ran a little riot (we don’t get channel four over here).

    That said, this is a great clip – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAGNJMQD1rA

  7. Tom White says:

    Ciara, thanks for bringing that wider angle shot to our attention. When I was writing about this earlier today I noticed that you can see a few cameras in the tightly framed version and wondered how much of a media frenzy was going on at that point, so it’s nice to get a shot that shows the whole scene as it were. The great thing about the wider shot for me is the coppers in the background seemingly making no attempt to intervene. I can just imagine a media savvy inspector saying “Let the press do their job lads.”

    Anyway, this kind of thing has been the norm at protests for as long as I can remember…Here’s one from last year.


  8. I saw the wide picture earlier in the week and it made me laugh. I much prefer the wide one just for the guy chimping on the right.

  9. jon says:

    I disagree both w your image preference and the sentiment of collusion here. It’s not the only image of course from the day and I saw others but the flare and the action of the figure make it one your can’t ignore. The crop is the best they could do, keeping in the crowd was not a big priority but having an edge of photog around still gives it context. But tears not the point or the context of this image.
    I’m glad to see students expressing themselves, I think in some way the papers are too instead of writing.g about France or Greece only as places people as fed up as us have at least stood up to be heard.
    But also because the context of every story that us photographed is in danger of being about a subtext of why its been photographed and what’s the role if the voyeur, and that is boring and often irrelevant. Not always but in this case its just a better crop to be about what they want it to be about, like everyone there that day, student anger, physical damage ande the stage being set for a response to austerity politics.

  10. That’s a great article and thanks for publishing the wider angle version.
    I think it’s true that the media hides the way that these events are staged.
    But the protestors are very conscious of the staging and arrange events accordingly.
    The whole demo gesture politics feels very false and old-fashioned. It’s supposed to be a grass-roots physical manifestation but in fact it is highly organised from the centre.
    Unless there is violence it usually goes unnoticed.
    There must be better ways of doing this in the digital age.
    One side effect of cheap cameras, phonecameras etc is that all protestors now act as their own photographers and any event is swamped in professional/freelance/citizen photography.
    And yet out of that comes one image that dominates the narrative.
    A classic example of digital abundance creating editorial homogeneity?
    All very post-modern…
    Charlie Beckett
    I blogged about the media coverage here at the POLIS/LSE blog

    • iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher says:


      “The whole demo gesture politics feels very false and old-fashioned.”
      You would be in a better place to judge coming from an academic institution but the anger appears to me to be very real amongst the student population.

      Even if a “highly organised” centre have got what they wanted, I do not see how that is a contrarian to a “grass roots physical manifestation”. The centre might just be taking the lead in organising the grass roots anger because one thing is certainly beyond dispute, that Clegg went to students to get their votes with a promise not to vote for tuition fee rises that has now been broken. If I was a student, I would be VERY angry (forgive me if I have misread you!).

      Do you think it is significant that the protestors (and the public) are not going to allow the media to take editorial control of THEIR event? This strikes me as very, very, very interesting indeed given that they now have the means to broadcast themselves too.

  11. Joe Fox says:

    Look closer at the wide angle shot.
    Then count the number of cheap dlsrs, people chimping, not looking the right way, holding up camera phones etc etc.
    Probably less than half those in the wide shot are actual media so that sort of detracts from the media collusion/press pack argument.
    It does however reinforce the 5 mins of fame argument both for those taking part and those with the phone cams uploading their pics to flickr and their videos to youtube.
    Not so much ‘this is what happened’, more ‘this is me in the middle of it all.’

    You have the ask the question, is the person kicking the windows in, really that incensed about student debt or are they merely thinking ‘this will look good on tv/youtube/my mates camera’.

    I remember the days when a riot was a riot, everyone joined in rather than one person standing in the front and everyone else behind with their phones. Maybe its just rioting has become more civilised. Localise it to one or two guys, post the videos on the web, job done, go home/pub.

  12. Tim Tilden says:

    With the cropped image I get the impression of a moment of impromtu action. With the wider angle I’m reminded how we are all voyeurs to this senseless act of destruction. (Isn’t that a policeman behind the cameraman in the back of the photo?) Plus, I wonder if the person smashing the glass didn’t turn around and ask “Did you get that?”

  13. Mo says:


    It most definitely is NOT “just you”. Well done on picking this up.

  14. Robert says:

    This has always been the case whether the medium is print, TV or web. In the past the media has both incited violence and ended it. Those capturing the event have the choice to point their cameras away when necessary.

  15. Wait a minute, was that an UK student protest or a press protest? Look at these 2 pictures: http://www.duckrabbit.info/2010/11/wide-angle/

  16. RT @thijsniks: Wait a minute, was that an UK student protest or a press protest? Look at these 2 pictures: http://www.duckrabbit.info/2010/11/wide-angle/

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