The following photographs were taken during the third day of student protests in London on 1 December 2010, a bitterly cold day. Students, schoolchildren and activists braced the snow and rain and converged upon Trafalgar Square in their thousands to voice opposition to the proposal of the Coalition government to raise university tuition fees.
In contrast to a previous march which had seen Conservative Party headquarters in Millbank damaged and a fire extinguisher thrown from its roof, the demonstration began quite peacefully. At first, the protesters congregated around Nelson’s column and graffiti and anti-cuts slogans were quickly scrawled across the monument’s sides. The police, maintaining a considerable distance between themselves and the protesters at this early stage, stood back and watched as the crowd broke into songs and chants, most of which were directed towards Nick Clegg.
As the day wore on and the temperature dropped to below freezing, the crowd swelled and began pressing against the police lines. It would be wrong to say the students were being kettled – there were exits by which protesters could leave the square. As night fell, with many thousands still present in the square, these exits became less and less evident. It became clear that the mood amongst the protesters was changing, reflecting perhaps a fear amongst the young students that they were trapped, surrounded by a mass of riot police and armoured vans.
At this stage the photographer, Cosmo Hildyard, took the opportunity to exit the square and move just behind the police lines. Forced forwards by the surging crowd at their backs, the front row of protesters found themselves in scuffles and arguments with the police as bottles, flares and broken pieces of wood rained down upon the line of riot vans that marked the edge of Trafalgar Square. Here, the focus of the camera becomes the police themselves rather than the protesting students. The camera at their backs, their faces obscured – any signs of individuality amongst the police are deliberately hidden, with the observer invited to see the police not as individuals, but as a solid and homogenous unit: the personification of the unmoving state.
Photography by Cosmo Hildyard & text by Joseph de Lacey