Misan Harriman captures London’s stand against racism
The London-member, photographer and founder of What We Seee shares ten images from two weeks of Black Lives Matter protests in London
As told to Jess Kelham-Hohler All images by Misan Harriman Tuesday 9 June, 2020 Long read
‘Capturing this moment is my duty. I believe my pictures will last longer than my (hopefully) long life. I want my children and my children’s children to remember a very unique time in our history. I am empowered to be out there. As I went to more and more marches, I realised it’s even more important than I initially thought to make sure I capture these raw and honest moments. You don’t get these opportunities as a photographer very often and certainly not at this scale. So, I had to be there, there was no question.
‘There’s never been a display of solidarity with regards to racism within the civil rights movement in the UK like I witnessed at the marches. It’s a combination of where we are in 2020, the amount of information and ability to scale afforded by the internet, and the absolute sense of helplessness felt by so many normal people. The only thing they could do was come out and let the world know that they do not agree with what they’ve seen.
‘Beyond being a record of London at its finest, fighting against racism, I want anyone who doesn’t understand what it means to mobilise for a noble cause to see these images. If you look at them, you’re not going to think “thugs”, not on my watch. You’re going to see solidarity, hope, purpose, some heartbreak, love and dignity – and that’s what protest is, nothing more than that. There’s no vandalism or violence in my images, [they] just show how protest is done right, and how it was done right, in London in the summer of 2020.’
‘It’s become possibly the most shared image I’ve taken during the protests. She’s unearthly in her beauty, which definitely helps the shot. But she’s not looking at me; this isn’t a fashion shoot – she’s looking ahead at something important. Then you have her boy on her shoulders, who clearly understands how important it is that he’s there. He clearly knows it’s a moment for him to take it all in and make sure he understands the lottery of life, meaning that he is a Black boy. It is a hopeful image. When you see the youth in these pictures, I have nothing but hope in my heart. They are seeing things that I certainly didn’t see when I was a boy. It will help them have a rounded view of the world and hopefully change it for the better.’
‘This is really a photographer’s dream composition. Eye contact, along with one of the strongest signs that I’ve seen. I think the signs are as important as the subjects in this kind of photography. The composition of the faceless boy on the shoulders of, I presume, his father looking at me with absolute confidence and strength, matching the words above his head. And a whole bunch of young people behind him and the Black Lives Matter message overhead. It evoked a lot of emotion from the moment I saw it.’
‘Protest, but make it fashion. I mean I think looks like it’s straight out of the 60s or 70s and he looks incredibly chic. But, with the wonderful sense of style he has, you can still see that sense of pride, dignity and absolute determination to try and improve the world that he was born into.’
‘Apart from just looking like an incredibly kind, sweet person – which she was, because I spoke to her after I took the picture – she spells it out. Quite simply, if there’s one thing we need to eradicate racism in this country, it’s empathy. That’s it. If we have empathy in our hearts, within a generation racism will be no more.’
‘I believe that one of the bigger issues in relation to institutional racism is that the common man is not very well informed on why racism has existed and the history of the slave trade, both with regards to the American story and the British Empire story. In this age, where you have access to free information online, if you could be bothered to spend two hours reading the history of the civil rights movement and the slave trade, you would begin to understand how we got here. And then what we can do to change our present and, thus, our future.’
‘She looks incredible. The sun was kissing her skin and she’s glowing. This was at the first big protest in Trafalgar Square and the last time we really had any light. She was extremely eloquent and galvanised the whole audience with her speech. I stood lower down and decided to shoot from that angle to show strength in her sense of purpose.’
‘I get the most messages about this picture on Instagram. It’s a sort of obvious image, but I think the composition is clean. You don’t see her face, but you see she’s a White woman, which shows solidarity. It’s a simple, strong image taken on Park Lane and I love it. It goes to show that it doesn’t have to be complicated to be a good photograph.’
‘This is probably the most personal shot for me, because I have many aunties, many relatives where I’ve seen that look in their eyes. The older generation of Black men and women who did not have the internet have had to deal with so many humiliations on their own. To see them come out and witness their children and their children’s generation have this strength in numbers, this unity, is a deeply moving thing for me. That look in her eyes shows so much – not just strength, but vulnerability, pain, shock and some kind of hope in everything that’s happening so quickly around her.’
‘I love this because they literally look like exchange students – not particularly intimidating, just a kind of pleasant, touristy look that you’d get anywhere in London. But then [there’s] the punch out that she did when they saw me, as if to say “We’re not lost, we’re here because you shouldn’t die when you leave your house for no good reason” and I love that.’
We strive to use our platform to highlight the stories of our creative members, but at this time of reflection we know that we can do better in supporting the Black community. We are committed to focusing the spotlight on the black voices within our membership and recognise that this goes beyond a moment. Please send us your thoughts and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org