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Masked protester attacks policeman, London - Jules Mattsson, 2011

1 July 2012

I’ve always been interested in documenting political news, and have photographed protest movements in the UK and elsewhere since before I became professional in 2010.

This picture was taken near the Ritz Hotel in London during the anti-austerity protest of 26 March 2011. I was shooting on spec and groups of protestors using ‘black bloc’ tactics had broken off from the main demonstration to target high profile shops and banks around London’s West End while activists from the tax justice group UK Uncut occupied Fortnum & Masons, accusing them of tax avoidance.

An officer had lost his helmet and became surrounded by protestors, he was kicked and hit before being pulled out by other officers.

The media were themselves being attacked when they tried to photograph or film the action, with reports of lenses spray-painted and smashed. Just to the right of the frame, a videojournalist was being pushed back by his camera, and I was only able to get the picture as I’d hidden most of my equipment in my bag and was wearing a black hoodie with no press credentials on display.

Working this way meant I received a lot of aggression from the police as I now appeared to be part of the protest, but it seemed the best way to document events.

If I’d had a small camera like the Fuji X10 I now use it might have been easier to work but I shot this image of the anti-austerity protest with a 12-24mm lens on a Nikon D300 set at 2000 ISO.

During the England Riots the following August the photograph spread rapidly via social media with false claims that it had been taken during disorder in Birmingham. My copyright watermark had been cropped off and the picture filed with news agency WENN by a stringer who claimed a friend had taken it on their phone. It was printed in this false context by The Guardian, Daily Star, Daily Record and even the German tabloid Bild as well as a number of online uses. Legal action over this infringement against the agency continues nearly a year later.

In May the picture was licensed for a national advert by the Police Federation which ran in several newspapers on the day of the federation’s big march in Central London against government cuts to policing. Just five months earlier I had settled a legal case against the Metropolitan Police over unlawful detention in 2010 for photographing, during which I was described as a ‘threat under the terrorism act’ and told I couldn’t photograph police officers.

I had to adapt to changing circumstances quickly to get the picture, which is part of the challenge of shooting news; you never know what’s going to happen until you’re on the ground.

Jules Mattsson is a London based freelance news and documentary photographer. In 2010 he was stopped from photographing an Armed Forces Day parade in Romford by Metropolitan Police officers who claimed it was dangerous as he was ‘likely to be trampled by soldiers.’ Mattsson’s polite and reasonable insistence that the police were not entitled to interfere with his right to report won praise from fellow photographers.

Photographer since 2010, EPUK member since 2011.

See more work by Jules Mattsson

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