Brighton Photo Biennial: John "Hoppy" Hopkins and Thomson & Craighead explore the visual language of protest

By Ruth Hazard | 15 October 2012
a black and white photo of a march with banners
Homeless March St Paul's© John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins

Exhibition Review: John Hoppy Hopkins: Freedom is a Career and Thomson and Craighead: October, Space@Create, New England House, Brighton, until November 6 2012

Although billed as separate exhibitions, these two very different bodies of work sharing a gallery space for the Photo Biennial are united by a shared focus.

John "Hoppy" Hopkins is a photographer, journalist and political activist who captured images of protest demonstrations in London in the 1960s; Thomson and Craighead have focused their efforts on a video installation that documents the worldwide Occupy movement of 2011.

Hopkins was the co-founder of counter-culture publication International Times, and his images come from within the folds of the march. He is known not just for photographing "underground culture", but for his position as one of its leading figures.

Similarly, Thomson and Craighead have used material from within, but this time sourced from video sharing network YouTube, recorded and uploaded by Occupy protestors documenting the movement as they experienced it.

The installation allows viewers to watch the protest unfold through the eyes of ordinary people. Looped amateur footage from the 95 different Occupy cities presents a vast and varied protest, rather than a single monolithic movement.

Both exhibitions tell the story of protests from the inside out, beyond what you might see in national newspaper or television archives. Together, they address the biennial’s core theme: photography as both a tool and a process: a means of understanding the world, and an active force in shaping it.

There is, obviously, a time gulf between these projects. The widespread availability of recording devices and digital platforms to share them has revolutionised photojournalism, bringing the voices and experiences of many ordinary people into the fray.

Hopkins, working at a time before the invention of the internet, made self-publishing commonplace and, without the availability of YouTube, he set up his own magazine.

Thomson and Craighead admit to an interest in how technology changes the way we perceive the world around us. In comparison to Hopkins’ static black and white stills, their installation offers a dynamic way to experience protest.

The screaming woman being dragged away in chains, the police using pepper spray in the faces of non-violent protestors and the rallying cries of anger in the Occupy marches present a very different picture of what these demonstrations are like when experienced on the ground.

The two bodies of work show how photography isn’t just a means by which to document events, but a powerful force of expression which gives groups the freedom to speak for themselves in a space unaffected by the agenda of mainstream media.

If the Biennial’s goal is to prove that photography is able to change the way people understand the world, these two exhibitions show how grassroots photojournalism makes this possible.

More pictures:

a film still of a policeman with mouth open
© Thomson & Craighead
a black and white photo of a policemen breaking up a sit down protest in a suburban estate in the 1960s
A CND protest in West Ruislip© John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins
a photo of a group of protestors wearing V for Vendetta masks
© Thomson & Craighead
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