Tuesday 9 August 2011

photographer was kicked to the ground and beaten by four youths on the Pembury Estate in Hackney on Tuesday, while in Birmingham two photographers were mugged,

Photographers covering the London riots appear to be bearing the brunt of violence against journalists, with several serious incidents of beatings and muggings over the last three days.

Photojournalists covering conflict and civil disorder often find themselves in the worst danger, as they have to get close to the story to do their job and stand out because of their equipment.

One war reporter, who has just returned from the frontline in Libya, was mugged by three hooded looters outside Currys in Brixton on Sunday night with £2,500 of video equipment stolen.

Another photographer was kicked to the ground and beaten by four youths on the Pembury Estate in Hackney on Tuesday, while in Birmingham two photographers were mugged, one suffering a vicious attack by an angry mob of more than a dozen.

A videographer in Tottenham, Ben Stockman, needed 10 stitches after an angry mob broke into his home and started bashing him with bottles left in his hallway for recycling.

Two Matrix picture agency photographers working for the Mail on Sunday had £8,000 of equipment robbed and smashed by a gang during what was described as a "lawless" scene near Bruce Grove in Tottenham.

"We got the commission from the Mail on Sunday and nobody knew at that point what was happening. It wasn't until the two snappers got into the thick of things, did they realise how dangerous it was and they were at the centre of a full-on riot," said Trevor Adams of Matrix.

"They got separated and one of them had his stuff smashed by a gang but he wasn't roughed up. The other beaten to the ground with gangs kicking him. He literally feared for this life. One of the gang members stopped and said 'OK, he's had enough.' If it wasn't for that I dread to think what would have happened."

The Guardian's reporter Paul Lewis, who has been covering riots late into the night since Saturday, said photographers and journalists are being set upon despite their best efforts not to stand out.

Anyone even taking pictures with mobile phones was liable to be confronted and asked if they were "Feds", said Lewis.

Fil Kaler, a photojournalist, who had been filming less than a month for the BBC, lost five hours of video footage from Sunday when he decided to leave the protection of the police line on Effra Road in Brixton and get closer to the looting that had started after midnight in Currys.

"The police line was 500 metres or more from Currys and it was impossible to get any usable material from that position. It was dark, the lighting was poor so I made a conscious decision to go into the crowd," Kaler said.

"I was fully aware of the risk I was taking. I had been up in Enfield earlier where I had been with other journalists but here I was on my own.

"Once I got in, I knew it didn't feel safe to film. I had my camera down by my side and took some shots on my phone and sent a few tweets and then out of nowhere I got punched in my face, my glasses were knocked off and my camera was nicked," said Kaler.

He said although he had lost all the days footage, it was a calculated risk and he would be back out tonight.

However a lot of photographers, including those working for agencies, are now trying to remain as inconspicuous as possibly by using high definition flip cameras that look like mobile phones but take professional quality images. The Canon G11 is an example of one used by quite a few agency photographers.