Documentary Photography in Westminster Parliament: Wednesday, 5th February, 2020

Today I worked on a very unique, very odd, but definitely enjoyable photojournalism assignment. Chief Raoni Metuktire, a Brazilian leader and environmentalist visited the UK to engage in a series of talks regarding the cause he has championed since as early as the 1950’s. I was brought on by a production company which has been working on ways to bring Raoni’s story to the forefront of media attention. My role was to photograph candidly throughout the different meetings and talks Raoni was engaged in – with the added twist that on the day I was brought on for the majority of these would be inside Westminster Parliament.

Not counting a school trip (which I barely remember) this was my first time in Parliament, and to have that kind of access not as a tourist but as a photographer was really special. I don’t know what the specific rules for photographing in Westminster are, but I stuck with the group throughout so I didn’t wander off anywhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I wanted to make the most of the situation – I genuinely don’t know if I’ll ever have this kind of access again in my life, so I was a little stressed throughout the day.I joined Raoni along with his delegates at the Portcullis House entrance, where I photographed as they entered the building – I was asked not to photograph as we went through security which is pretty reasonable but after that I didn’t have any other issues, or restrictions to navigate.

We went from the entrance to the hosting Ministers office for a preliminary conversation between them, and I took a few snaps of this. It was really interesting to be in the office, but I didn’t manage to convey this fascination into my images – my focus was on the people rather than the location.

I anticipated the moment they would be switching to a larger meeting room and managed to be the first out the door which allowed me to capture the first image of the day I was truly happy with – this photograph of Raoni stepping out the Ministers office, the early morning sunlight glowing through the feathers he wore on his head.Just after this I took three images which I find quite funny when viewed in sequence. The first is a snapshot over the heads of a couple of the other delegates as Raoni and the minister started to walk down the corridor. Then a blurred shot as I noticed that the Minister and Raoni had linked arms, followed finally by the shot of them walking together, arms linked, after I’d deftly dodged past the translator and other delegates to get a clear view. I think it’s a fun insight into some of the literal obstacles I have to navigate in order to make a picture as and when I spot the potential; and the blurriness of the second image really shows my mind switching into a slightly more frantic, as I hurry to avoid missing the moment.Once we got to the main meeting room we were joined by more members of Parliament, as well as a few other interested parties from different special interest groups. I hadn’t been given much of a briefing, aside from simply covering the day, shooting in my usual style, so I chose to focus only on the most important people in the room, which I judged based on who was doing the most talking. I positioned myself on one side of the room and photographed from this vantage point. I captured a few establishing shots as well, which meant there would at least be some record of some of the individuals I wouldn’t be specifically focusing on.Some of the windows were open and some were closed, which made for tricky lighting conditions throughout the meeting. There were large patches of sunlight on some of the walls which were only really useful for this shot where I managed to time it to make one look like a speech bubble coming from the woman’s phone – unfortunately I framed badly and didn’t have the opportunity to shoot another, so it’s only a half-decent result. Some of my images were composed less than ideally as this was the first time I’d used a 35mm lens for serious photojournalistic use. I’m overall happy with the results, but a couple of images such as the above really show that I have a way to go with relearning the focal length.

I put the patchy light to most effective use in this image of Rt Honourable Valerie Vaz, current Shadow Leader of the House of Commons who was sat at the other head of the table opposite Raoni. I didn’t have much space to move around this meeting room, and I didn’t want to be causing much fuss by moving too much anyway, so I worked the scene as best I could from my chosen corner. There were a couple of interesting scenes, but again I don’t think I was able to really translate just how interesting it was to be in that room with those people in that situation. 

When the meeting finished the delegates and I went to the terrace cafeteria for lunch, but I didn’t photograph much while people were eating. 

After lunch we left Parliament and went to the flat of one of Raoni’s entourage, so that he could rest before more upcoming meetings. I was expecting to join them again in the afternoon back at Parliament, but unfortunately the rest of the people he was due to meet with had asked that no photo or video be taken (a videographer had also been working with us on the day) which meant that I didn’t end up going back.

However it wasn’t a complete waste of time as I was able to take a few casual images around the flat – and it also turned out that the flat also belonged to “Pingu the Climate Watchdog” so I made a few photographs of him as the others chatted above him – a nice way to end the day!

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