Going live from the picket line

Wendell Daniel, aka StreetMic, describes how a lifelong interest in photography led to his regularly filming protests live from London’s streets

April 18, 2022 · 4 min read
Photo provided by the author

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I was born in Barbados. My mum sent me to England in 1973 for a better life with my father and stepmother. I was one of a few West Indian children out of 1200 pupils at school. I have worked for the same large employer since 1983. I plan to retire in four years’ time at 60.

I have been with my partner since 1984. We have two children and five grandchildren. My ambition is to live in Barbados after retiring to enjoy the fruits of my labour.

At school, photography was one of my hobbies. I decided to attend college in the early 90s. There I learnt how to take a black and white photograph, along with developing and printing images in a dark room. I also love the art of journalism and the media – how words and images are combined to tell a story. One of the first big events I photographed was the funeral of Ronald Kray in Bethnal Green and Chingford Cemetery.

I am intrigued by protest movements: their leaders, objectives and overall approach. StreetMic has covered most of the main protest movements in London over the last three years, including Reclaim These Streets (following Sarah Everard’s murder), Black Lives Matter, Kill The Bill, Free Palestine, Stop HS2 and many others. I have also had the pleasure of working closely with BLM leader Sasha Johnson who was shot in the head in May 2021.

Filming protests regularly helped me to get to know the leaders of these movements and build trust, allowing me to engage more closely with them.

The first movement I became interested in was Extinction Rebellion (XR), particularly their creativity in dropping a pink boat in the middle of Oxford Street, under the noses of the police. Brilliant!

I have never been arrested during a protest, despite being in the middle of hostile environments with my camera to capture the best action. I must admit that my size, personality and professional equipment seem to scare the police.

My best friend is Sudanese. In 2019, he asked me to film the protests in Trafalgar Square each Saturday against the 30-year rule of military dictator Omar Al Bashir. My recordings soon became the focal point for the Sudanese people in the UK. Within three months, I decided to travel to Khartoum to make a documentary outside the main military base, where soldiers had murdered thousands of innocent protesters. I did not know whether I would return alive. But I felt driven by the desire to visit Africa for the first time to record history being made for future generations. It was a privilege to film over one million protesters on the streets; I have never seen such numbers in London.

When filming, being impartial and being myself helps me to build instantaneous rapport with people, so they quickly forget I’m carrying a camera. However, the size of my 4K video camera also seems to inspire protesters to ask to be interviewed. I enjoy helping disadvantaged people who cannot afford expensive film-makers to tell their story.

Covid-19 has resulted in the rapid growth in live streaming. Protests seem to thrive on going live on social media to be watched in real time. StreetMic LiveStream is a new way of capturing protests in the digital age.

Wendell Daniel’s StreetMic Livestream is available across streaming platforms. This article first appeared in Issue 234, ‘Technocapitalism’, as our column The Spark, in which our interviewees describe their experiences of becoming involved with protest movements. Subscribe to read more!

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