A couple of weeks ago I met up with around 20 other photographers in the centre of Birmingham for a bit of a Beers & Cameras photowalk. We met some angry football fans, angry anti-racists and some full on racists on our travels. But our kinship was strong, so strong in fact that we gained an extra friend. Like a moth drawn to the light, whilst surrounded by hate a stranger saw the love in our group a latched on to it. We were happy to have him – we felt strength in our greater number! The love within our collective would not be quashed by a day of hatred on the mean streets of Birmingham!
All joking aside, you know that feeling when you make a plan that involves a lot of people on a certain date, and it turns out that said certain date just happens to be the date that something else is happening that has the potential to ruin your plans… that was the feeling I had in the few days running up to the 24th of March when a number of people messaged me to tell me that not one, but three marches were happening in the centre of Birmingham. Some sort of march of footballers demanding justice for the Birmingham pub bombings, a racist march, and in opposition to that, an anti-racist march.
Getting off the train at Snow Hill I didn’t notice anything untoward, it wasn’t until we reached our meeting place that we spotted a large group of ugly middle aged men with vile banners coming together outside the pub on the other side of the road to our meeting spot. We had a bit of a chat about the direction of our walk and decided that without knowing where said marches were happening, we had little choice but to just crack on with our day.
Walking from Cherry Reds cafe, the plan was to meander down New Street and meet by the big Waterstones. What we didn’t realise was that the justice march was planned for the exact time we were to hit New Street. Fortunately, they were walking in the opposite direction to us, but in the melee we all got separated. Not a problem, we were meeting at the end of the street by Waterstones… or at least we would be had that not been the meeting point for the large group of anti-racists who were gathered exactly where we had planned to meet.
At least these were the anti-racists. Being someone who thinks of racial prejudice as, you know, a bad thing, I did at least feel somewhat more of an affinity with the group. I was certainly comfortable hanging around them taking the odd photo whilst our group regrouped.
After a bit of confusion we found ourselves and made our way toward the markets, stopping briefly by some steps to reflect on our experiences so far. This was where our extra friend joined us. He saw cameras. He had a camera, so he joined in.
The next meeting spot was decided as being about half an hour later by a Wagamama restaurant, the idea being we would meet there after having a bit of free shooting time wondering around the markets.
Would you believe these plans were slightly scuppered by a police cordon that had been set up to stop people inadvertently walking head on in to the racist march?! Fortunately, our passage was granted thanks to one of our party sweet talking a police man.
After a short wonder round the market I returned to a spot near the arranged meeting place to watch the racists walk past. It’s probably quite an obvious thing to say, but the whole experience left me cold. So much misplaced anger, hatred and ill informed solutions to misunderstood problems… The theme seemed to be removing an entire group of people from Birmingham, and then removing the UK from Europe… I didn’t take many photos of them. This one captures their deal.
From there we sought out relative safety by wondering down to Digbeth. We were also acutely aware of the fact the most of the pubs in town weren’t serving booze to put the racists off.
Digbeth had a bar, the bar was open, and the bar was good.
Actually, before we found beer, we took the opportunity to wonder around the area. It’s a fairly run down part of Birmingham, but photographically is quite interesting.
From here we strolled up towards the library.
This particular part of the day was where we had our most eventful run in with a group of drunken racists. We happened to walk past a pub at the same time a group of them were leaving and walking in the same direction as us. Though very regular outbursts claiming that a certain deity was a “paedo”, (though amusingly it sounded like “peanut” through their slurs) they started asking us questions about what we were doing – I think a bunch of blokes with cameras made them paranoid.
Not long after, one of them slapped the front of my camera against my face as I was taking the above photo. Fortunately, they soon came across more of their mates and our parties went separate ways.
From there, unfortunately, planned access to the roof of the library was scuppered by our tardiness (too much time in the pub). So we wondered back down to the train station where we went for a pizza and another drink or two.
All in all, it was a good day. Racists aside, Birmingham makes for a great location for photography, not to mention the odd beer! I’m pretty pleased with a few of the above shots. Both Lomo LC-A and Leica MP/Canon 50mm 1.4 were loaded with Kodak Tmax 400, (kindly provided by Kodak Alaris) a film I’ve only shot with once before – it’s growing on me too! As, actually, is “street photography”… More to come on all of these subjects, I’m sure!
One last note – it was really great to meet everyone – new faces and old alike! I do feel like I have lost track of everyone who came though. If you were there, and we’ve not spoken since drop me a note on twitter (or whatever).