Today we celebrate ten years since the magnificent “Mass Photo Gathering” when thousands of photographers swarmed Trafalgar Square demanding their rights organised by press freedom campaign group, I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist (@phnat).
Amateurs and professionals from across the land, armed with only their cameras and tiny placards, came to protest against increased police use of stop and search powers against photographers.
In the weeks leading up to the event an avalanche of high profile stop and searches, threats and arrests of photographers highlighted once again the police were equating photography with the threat of terrorism.
Leading architectural photographer and PHNAT organiser Grant Smith was one of those high profile cases. Whilst photographing the 300-year spire of Sir Christopher Wren’s Christ Church he was apprehended by City of London police. A squad of seven officers, in three cars and a riot van attended the scene and searched him under Section 44.
BBC photographer Jeff Overs was also stopped under suspicion of terrorism reconnaissance while photographing St Paul’s Cathedral. Amateur photographer Andrew White was questioned by two police community support officers for photographing Christmas lights in Brighton.
The issue was lampooned by Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell who depicted Police Community Support Officers arresting train spotters and automatic photo booths. On the day the BBC, ITN, CNN and Sky News all ran live reports and interviews from Trafalgar Square. Phnat had mobilised thousands and reached millions of people across the country and worldwide.
End of Section 44 in sight – find out more in our online pamphlet: I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist – A Brief History