Women and activism
HOW TO STAGE A PROTEST [PHOTOGRAPH]
There are numerous issues being protested in Ireland today, but one that for some is the most divisive is the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Constitution Act (1983).
Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” This and its wording is the result of an amendment to the constitution voted into effect by a referendum in September of 1983. Of those who voted, 66% of Irish people supported this amendment. Subsequently, nobody under the age of 53 has never had an opportunity to exercise their right to vote on this issue.
In the last two years, the Repeal the 8th movement has grown with an estimated turnout of 20,000 people on the streets of Dublin for the most recent Rally for Repeal protest in September 2016. Numerous solidarity protests in other cities worldwide have also been held. Jumpers, bags, badges, t-shirts and hats are on sale to support the movement, with proceeds going to the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), a grassroots movement in Ireland with the slogan “Free, Safe, Legal”, a movement that has largely spread its message and rallied support through social media.
But how do we recognise the trademarks of protest? What makes a protest photograph? There are obvious signs and signifiers present in images such as the iconic photographs taken of Bernadette Devlin in 1969 during the Battle of the Bogside, where the megaphone is a signifier that contextualises the photograph and informs the viewer that this is an image of protest, and in 1914, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington addressing crowds outside Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, a striking figure, standing tall above the crowds.
I wanted to take what I have learned from the archive and activism to create an image with the signs and signifiers of protest. I attended the annual rally for the Repeal the 8th movement in Dublin City Centre to photograph the women and men in attendance. As it happened, one particularly performative moment that I photographed echoed some of these signifiers. I returned to the studio and created images that echoed the aspects of 'the street protester' as a powerfully iconic modern figure. By removing the protest image from its environment context, off the street, and placing these signifiers into the formal setting of a photography studio, I produced three images, where the equipping of the protester is brought to the fore, the ‘tools of protest’.
I found the same features of protest time and time again in images from Ireland and from other countries. Typically, still, basic items such as megaphones, placards, and more specifically to the Repeal movement in Ireland, the Repeal Project jumpers designed and distributed by Anna Cosgrove. These plain black jumpers printed with the word 'REPEAL' in a simple white sans serif typeface are synonymous with the movement.
Similarly, pink '8' handcuffs are regularly seen in protests staged by political parties People Before Profit and the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Working with these signifiers I have placed them into my own images. It is my intention to reinforce the image of protest typical on Irish streets and all around the world in support of the Repeal the 8th movement and against the current regime.
Many thanks to People Before Profit and the Anti-Austerity Alliance for allowing me to photograph their Rally for Repeal, to Susanne, Georgina and Claire for the use of their portraits, and to all the organisers, supporters and campaigners fighting for women’s bodily autonomy in Ireland and abroad.
Johnson, B. (2017) How to stage a protest [photograph], Available at: (Accessed:___).
I am most interested in urban photography, exploring the impact of urban design on city-dwellers and how city space connects global communities in a wider context. My recent projects have focused on this, mixing my own film photography with online archives and amateur photography. I am driven by issues of great concern in Ireland today, and am active in highlighting the necessity to Repeal the 8th amendment in the Irish Constitution.