Lewes in East Sussex have what are almost certainly the largest bonfire night celebrations in the country. Thousands flock to the town to see the traditional celebrations featuring torchlit processions through the town centre.
I only live about 30 minutes away by car and 45 by train but have not visited for over 20 years, something I needed to remedy. As a news story I needed an outlet to distribute my images (my main representatives are an entertainment agency and these images would not fit). Over the past month or so I have been watching the launch of a new news agency “London News Pictures“. One of my friends and colleagues has been working with them and I am impressed with the coverage they were getting. As they had no other photographer listed in my area I thought it could be a good marriage, they agreed and I am happy to have a new agency to represent my news work.
The first stage of covering any event is in the office, confirming times, the best locations, access limitations etc. My first call was Lewes Council Press office who confirmed the times and that being near the memorial was the best location. With access (a real concern as I did not want to be stuck in the crowds) they confirmed that there were no Press Accreditations as each society had their own safety stewards, did not invite or accredit press and access should not really be a problem. I was sceptical.
With this is mind I set off early to check the location. A technically difficult shoot, with probable access problems for a new agency who I would like to impress. Arriving I chatted to some police officers who advised again that the marshals would ensure safety and me getting access into the parade should not be a problem. We had a coffee then stood in the rain for 2 hours in the chosen location as the crowds built around us. To help with any questions that may occur later, I decided to wear my UK press card visibly as I would at a demonstration or parade.
Once the parade(s) started I was able to move around fairly easily (and carefully with so many flames around). There are a couple of classic images of this which I really wanted to grab before heading out to file.
It was in the last 10 minutes before I planned to leave that it finally happened, a marshall bent down and said “you’re not allowed to be here” (there were other photographers near me and I was well back). I identified myself as press and showed my card. “Thats not a press pass” was the reply. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder from a second person. Decision time, do I argue of cut and run? I might be missing the final image I wanted but decided that was it.
The problem was the crowds had now grown to such a level that there was no way we could get out and whilst fighting the crowds to get to the station I (just about, over heads) got the shots of the crosses I was aiming for. Not perfect but ok.
The whole event is really quite dangerous but luckily this year was again fairly incident free. In our nanny state am a strong supporter of events like this but it think it is clear that it would not take much of an incident to close it down substantially. As a photographer it would have been fairly easy to paint a negative image, focusing on the dangerous; I tried to focus on the positive, the way the whole town is involved, the fact the all generations are involved, from the youngest to the eldest and finally the memorial and remembrance of our war heroes. It was just a shame I was unable to complete the job.
Edit: First job for new agency, with a use on the Daily Mail website here..
2nd Edit: 2nd use on Telegraph website here…