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Photographing the National Front, by David Hoffman

1 June 2017

David Hoffman specialises in social issues photography.

Motivated by documenting what's become increasingly overt state constraint on our lives, I've spent some 40 years documenting a range of social issues from policing and racial and social conflict to homelessness drugs, poverty and exclusion. Protest, and the violence that sometimes accompanies it, is the theme that stitches my work together.

Editorial photography is an increasingly beleaguered profession. The erosion of press freedom, ever more intrusive policing and the undermining of copyright have created a perfect storm of obstacles. As a founding member of EPUK and Photo-Forum London, I'm now working on a very different front line. Engaging with regulatory bodies, collecting societies, the NUJ, the British Photographic Council and other UK photographic organisations as well as with commercial services protecting copyright, is the best way I can see to achieve a supportive ecology for professional photography and build a sustainable future for editorial photography.

The National Front was still strong and dangerous in 2000, actively whipping up race hatred. It organised threatening, baying mobs marching on asylum seekers' hostels and distributed vicious, hate-filled leaflets blaming immigrants for crime and unemployment. The NF message was echoed by some parts of the press. The Dover Express published a stream of racist articles - one referred to refugees as a "human stream of filth". The Daily Mail published the names, location and photographs of one refugee family. Their house was attacked and their windows smashed a few days later.

Exploiting this tense atmosphere the National Front staged an anti-immigration march in Margate in April 2000. It was confronted, stopped and turned round by anti-racist activists despite police using dogs in support of the marchers.

A few weeks later in June the National Front returned to Margate with its anti-immigrant hate message and I got this shot.

I'd been covering right-wing extremist and racist groups for more than twenty years, making photographs showing their violent and hate-filled nature and building a stock of photographs that were widely used to counter the far right's racist message. As a result I'd become well known to the various extremist groups. They were generally not too pleased to see me and would point me out, try to assault me and threaten me by name.

So while other photographers were presented with stony-faced marchers trying to look strong and respectable I was treated to screaming, rabid insults, hostility and intimidation. They had no idea this was a wonderful boost for my pictures. This is one of my favourites, particularly pleasing as it was taken on the on the eve of my birthday.

The picture was shot on Fuji RDP 100, probably on a Nikon F5 with a 24mm/f2.8 at around 1/250 f5.6. It's also one of my most stolen pics.

See more work by David Hoffman

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