Why photographing the police is an essential right
A new law in France could restrict sharing images of police. Here, photographer Alan Lodge reflects on the importance of documenting law enforcement.
Last Saturday, Parisians rallied together at the Place de la République to protest against police violence and legislation currently being passed that would restrict the sharing of images of law enforcement officers. Given the key role that photographs and filmed footage of officers have played in bringing about justice for victims of police brutality, the legislation, proposed in the guise of an act to protect police officers, amounts to a severe curtailment of basic citizens’ rights. Against this backdrop, i-D met with Alan Lodge, one of the first and most legendary photographers to have documented police brutality. He discusses how he first began turning his lens on rogue police officers, and what truly lies at stake if the law is passed as planned.
How did you first start taking photos?
When I was 20 — which was quite a while ago, as I'm now in my late sixties. I took pictures of the free parties that were taking place across the whole of England, which the Conservative government was trying to dismantle. Law enforcement agencies began to monitor these events, taking photos of people together, some of whom were taking drugs, to accumulate incriminating evidence.
What made you want to start taking photos of the police?
I noticed that the police broke a lot of rules, searching people by forcing them to undress, sometimes completely, and not following gendered search protocols. This disregard for the law by law enforcement officers was very difficult to prove, and it suddenly dawned on me that my photos could play an essential role in courts. Photography wasn’t as widespread back then, and the word of the police always seemed to be worth more than that of an anonymous civilian. My photos have therefore been used in numerous hearings, trials and a large number of civil actions in court. They’ve helped several people to build cases, accumulate evidence and be released.
How were your photos received at the time?
I once confronted the head of a police station and told him about a blunder one of his officers had made, which he outright denied. So I went to the photo studio, developed the shots and saw the look of shock on his face; he had never been faced with such undeniable evidence. Suddenly, the police realized that they too could be seen. Everyone knew it, but no one could prove that law enforcement offers were acting like criminals, assaulting, beating up and shooting strangers, and never being punished.
What do you think of the new law currently being passed in France?
The police are in the service of the state and it should be possible to monitor their comings and goings. If this law passes in France, it risks encouraging England to undertake such changes: the country has always tried to censor the free expressions of its people. The party-goers, the travellers, the ravers, the demonstrators who made the streets their field of expression have always been targets of the police. It is an unbelievable hypocrisy: when people complained about CCTV surveillance in the streets, they were told that if they had nothing to hide, then they would have nothing to fear. Why shouldn't this rule apply to the police when it’s the other way around if they too have nothing to hide?
What are you working on today?
I re-enrolled on a master's at the University of Nottingham to study technological and cultural advances in photography, in particular the field of documentary photography. I am also part of the national union of journalists, and I want to transmit my knowledge to the young generation. They know their rights well but they must learn to interact with police in a smart and strategic way in front of the police rather than directly clash with them
What message do you want to pass on to the young generation?
That these protests are symbolically powerful and vital to the people, who are meeting and forming around shared values; that police violence is a sign of abuse, an act of control exerted over the body. Why don't they tackle real crimes — murders, rapes and urgent cases — rather than freedom of expression and belief, our most basic rights?
Images courtesy of Alan Lodge