Photographing Protest: David Hoffman and Lívia Bonadio

An introduction by David Hoffman:

Protest photography is much more than extreme street photography. Coverage of protest forms our social memory, it creates a permanent record for history, spreading the ideas behind the protest and fertilising social change.

There’s something very Zen about protest photography. Caught on the fly, seen and recorded in a fraction of a second, protest photographs are truths. Not an explanation of the truth. Not a commentary or an analysis. These images are about as unmediated as a record can be.

Public protest is so potent a force that the state puts massive resources into subverting and undermining it. Undercover cops act as agent provocateurs as well as spies. Riot trained police provoke protesters so that the intelligence gathering teams can film and photograph them to add to the police databases. Police tactics are often designed to smear the causes rather than to keep the peace.

Key Pieces of Advice – David Hoffman

  • Dress quietly, don’t wear badges or slogans. Maintain a polite and co-operative demeanour, especially when badly treated. The police will try to provoke in order to arrest.
  • Remain clearly separate from participants and from police.
  • Look after your kit. The most important item is your body. Take a helmet, good boots, shinpads, water, cereal bars and barley sugar. Wear cotton. Synthetics will melt and stick to your skin if burned.
  • Know the area or at least have a copy of a local map. Try to always have at least two ways to get out.
  • Study police tactics, understand how they move crowds and form kettles. Get to know the rank badges.
  • When things get rough, your fellow photographers are your protection. Stay in sight of them and watch out for each other.
  • Carry a small, amateur looking camera. If it really kicks off put your pro gear away, or better get it out of the area. Don’t use flash.
  • Learn basic first aid, carry a small kit.
  • Join a professional organization such as EPUK or NUJ

Key Pieces of Advice – Livia Bonadio

  • Aesthetics: Dramatic images make the front page. Capture the one image that summarises that particular protest; images are not as interesting if they could have been taken at any protest.
  • Speed: Online journalism is extremely fast-paced; therefore send images as soon as possible, before anyone else.
  • Perspective: Notice what other photographers are not looking at. Find different angles, from where no one else is taking pictures. If you need to knock on a door and ask if you can photograph from their window, do so. However do keep in mind trespassing, obstruction, public order and other laws will apply to you. Understand your rights and responsibilities and avoid giving the police a reasonable motive to stop and search you.
  • Communication: Let picture editors know where you are and how to contact you, making yourself available for assignments on demand.
  • Individuality: Spot the unique individuals in the crowd, find out their personal reasons to be there and make them the story.


David Hoffman has worked independently specialising in social issues since the mid 1970s. He is driven by documenting the increasingly overt control that the state exerts on our lives. Racial and social conflict, policing, homelessness, drugs, poverty and social exclusion, plus the inevitable and sometimes violent outbreaks of connected protest make up most of his work.

Editorial photography is a beleaguered profession facing challenges on many fronts, notably around press freedom and policing, copyright and intellectual property. As a founding member of EPUK, the NUJ London Photographers’ Branch and Photo-Forum London, and vice chairman of the British Photographic Council, David is now working on the frontline with others.

Engaging with regulatory bodies, Collecting Societies, the UK Copyright Hub and PLUS in the USA as well as commercial organisations enforcing copyright, is the best way he can see to achieving a sustainable professional photography ecology and the copyright ecosphere of the future.

Livia Bonadio is a picture researcher at The Telegraph, which she joined after graduating as a Master of Arts in Photojournalism from the University of Westminster. Through her studies she extensively researched the usage of conflict imagery, writing on the role of photojournalism in the gallery as opposed to its original context in the printed and/or online media. In 2014 she presented a paper at The Business of War Photography Conference at Durham University.