London Riot Photographer Amy Weston Tells All About Getting The Shot

Photo by Amy Weston/Wenn.com

You might recall my recent post in the wake of the London riots, where we discuss photographer Amy Weston capturing a woman jumping from a burning building here. I’ve been in those situations a few of times, even though I’m not a photojournalist by trade and I raised the question of whether I should be shooting or helping. Lots of debate ensued, with the most common answers being grounding in specific circumstances, but I thought you’d appreciate hearing from Amy – the photographer who actually shot the image featured in the worldwide media and here on my blog. Unsolicited, she reached out and…in a stream of consciousness sort of way, she had this to say…[reprinted with her permission]:

Hello Chase how are you? I am Amy Weston and I took the photo of the women jumping at the London riots. I came across your blog, but I could not figure out how to respond to some of the comments posted… [so I emailed you.] Your question was To Shoot or Not to Shoot.

My answer to that is: to shoot!

I live my life looking into my lens, I see a world passing me by and I photograph it.

Although I have said to shoot, I don’t always keep images, I …[sometimes] take the pictures to report a story of sadness and despair, and then I only send pictures of the chaos and the aftermath to a paper to be printed. The rest I delete…

To take a picture of a staving child could save a life. To take a picture of animal cruelty could save an animal. And could stop cruelty.

When I went out that night to photograph the riots, I didn’t want to get a picture of looters. I felt fear from them, it was like they had been put on the planet and were of a completely different mind set to the normal sane reality that comes with common human decency.

It was not the London I have shared for 10 years.

In front off me was a burning fire like nothing I have ever seen before and behind me was a market street bright with street lights but looked like a war zone.

When I turned my head back towards the fire and I heard the shouting that a women was about to jump I looked into my lens and…the world around me went silent. I heard nothing just the clicking off my camera, I knew what I had seen. I knew what was in side my camera, but I had no idea of the impact that it would have.

The moment I took those frames and once she had landed I could see her running away, I held my hand over my mouth in shock at what was happening.

In answer to a comment on the blog, I never hung around to get names, I was in a war zone. After the silence I experienced, it became insane noise of explosions and people screaming at each other. I covered my camera inside my cardigan and ran towards my car to be told by riot police to turn back. So I had to then run via the very road I had just seen behind me full of rioters and people turning on other people. I ran non stop till I reached another road blocked by riot police who again tried to stop me. I showed him my press pass, and he let me go past him to my car.

Getting names and ‘hanging’ around was not a safe option.

I don’t believe this [photo] fueled any rioters or looters. I think this image shows something breath taking, life and death, a moment in time. When I look at the image now I hear the silence I experienced…if that is even possible for anyone else to understand. I have not yet met Monika, the lady who jumped.

I read some very positive comments on your blog, so thank you to all those people and the positive feedback

Love and peace to this wonderful, fragile world we live in. Amy x

Photo by Amy Weston/Wenn.com

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36 Responses to London Riot Photographer Amy Weston Tells All About Getting The Shot

  1. Eliano September 19, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I’m totally agree with Amy Weston, well said and good shot!

  2. Tyson Colins September 19, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Thanks for sharing this account of photography under extreme circumstances.

  3. Mike Russell September 19, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Very interesting insight. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Rory September 19, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    I think many people forget too easily that a photographer is a person too. They have their own fears and what you may think on the other side of the world / newspaper / computer screen would have been safe/better, isn’t always the case or how the photographer felt at that time.

    Anyone around the age of 30 (or older) should remember the photographs that came out of South Africa and the Sudan in the early 90′s. A lot of critism was thrown around then about the action, or inaction of the photographers.

    Watch the movie (or read the book) The Bang Bang Club to see how being behind the lens can affect the person holding the lens.

    Amy, thank you for sending Chase (and permitting him to publish here) your letter.

  5. Happy Tinfoil Cat September 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    I’m always dismayed at people who bash photojournalists for not ‘helping’ instead of shooting. It also is disturbing how many people think photojournalists are invading the ‘privacy’ of people who are in the middle of very public incidents. So often, these kind of people become violent. They simply do not understand the compassion of photojournalists and confuse it with mocking. Disasters don’t scare me nearly as much as overreacting, enraged people who want to control what other people do.

  6. glenn g. September 19, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    I am guessing that most readers of this blog have seen the BMW short films from a few years ago called “The Hire” and starring Clive Owen. One was called “Powder Keg” and was directed by Alejandro Inarritu. Just in case, here’s the link to it on youtube: http://youtu.be/22n7TX90vXM

    I think Inarritu pegged his portrayal of the conflict debated here.

  7. Adam September 19, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Great shot and it really captured the nation at the time, will be an icon of the riots for years to come.

  8. Cameron Brown September 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    I photographed some rioters during the Vancouver Stanley cup riots… but all I got was a concussion, a broken lens, and 3 stitches.

    http://www.cameronbrown.ca/blog/2011/06/shame-vancouvers-2011-stanley-cup-riots/

    Sometimes it’s important to keep your distance

  9. Andy September 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    Wow!! great lucky capture,

    “I live my life looking into my lens, I see a world passing me by and I photograph it.”
    I could quote the rest of the interview but lets face it, it sounds like she is on or needs acid, and needing help.
    She got a very lucky image, got it on to chases feed and now deserves worldwide recognition?.

    Did she know that image was going to come?, did she plan on the child being passed out of the window?? Please forgive my scepticism (unless this is posed) but are we all now wonderful photographers if we get a lucky shot and get on Chases blog? I love Amy’s Image, and I understand it’s news worthiness, Chase’s post was about shoot or not shoot, that is up to the shooter I suppose.
    I say well done Amy for managing to catch the moment in front of her,
    For me, I take images everyday and hope for the day that Chase or Joe Mcnally “Likes” one of my Images,

    P.S. courtesy of my 8 yr old son, I sponsor 5 Dolphins, an elephant and 2 tigers, I have a 3 legged rescue dog and a 1 eyed rabbit that I rescued from trampling by cows by throwing myself under the path of the combine harvester. I support world Peace and hope that no children wherever they are in the world should suffer from hunger………….. I just don’t use it as a means of self promotion

    • PatrickKelly September 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      @Andy

      You sound like a bitter, jealous ass.

      • Andy September 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

        No, u missed the point, read the whole post, i have already said its a great capture and i’m not dismissing that or having a go at Amy, its the “I love fluffy animals ” and “teddy bears theme” of the email and the presumption that Amy set out to capture this image, she didn’t.

        • Andy September 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

          gone quiet?? hmmm

          • jdubj September 20, 2011 at 5:36 am #

            Andy, I too find your comment negative, disparaging and self-promoting. ‘Lucky shot’ it was not, Amy put herself in the situation where she may get THE SHOT rather than surrounding herself with fluffy bunnies.
            How can ‘I live my life looking into my lens’ mean she is on drugs or needs to be when you obviously like photography too and shows you have little understanding of the drug you chose to insult her with.
            You could just say – Well done, nice photo and thank you for taking the time to explain how it was took.

    • Mark September 21, 2011 at 9:08 am #

      Andy,

      As a former pro photographer in the ’80s, I now make images because I love to make them. I could care less if Chase or Joe McNally ever sees them or likes them.

  10. Graham Green September 19, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    In this instance I’m not sure why people are questioning whether Amy should have helped or not.

    There are clearly at least 2 people already helping, in what looks like riot gear, police officers or firefighters or perhaps military personnel. In any case, they are likely far more capable of executing a rescue than Amy.

  11. Kathleen Hinkel September 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Great post Chase and great image Amy. There is no question of shooting or helping because shooting IS helping.

  12. Claire September 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    Thank you Amy for being both brave enough to photograph during the riots, and then to open up about what it meant to you.

  13. Mike Yip September 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Nicely answered.
    Sometimes, we just have to do what is needed to help document all these important aspect of what truly happens.
    Furthermore, this photo show hope in the midst of all the rioting and looting.
    I too would do the same thing if I was in your situation.

  14. K Brown September 20, 2011 at 12:59 am #

    History, both good and bad needs to be recorded. Sometimes words alone can’t describe the emotion of the moment.

    That’s why there are the Amy’s.

    We need to see.

  15. jdubj September 20, 2011 at 5:25 am #

    Amazing account of herself. How could Amy help? – I think she was extremely brave to have put herself in that situation. That photo is an excellent answer to all the photos of looters, to show the real consequences of the riots not loads of smashed windows. Well done on the photo Amy and well done on the measured reply – the word ‘silence’ tells its own story.

  16. fas September 20, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    The insight is awesome, simply awsome.

  17. Duncan Fawkes September 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    A great and on-the-way-to-being-iconic image, and great reply Amy. She’s there to shoot, she put herself in harm’s way to shoot and that’s what she rightly did; there would be no photojournalism other than of fluffy kittens otherwise. She wasn’t in a position to help, so any morale outrage is ridiculous. Had it been a 1-1 ‘shoot and die/don’t shoot and live’ situation then the question is different – but that’s not the situation. And she risked personal injury to be there – as much as I saw the images on the telly I admit I didn’t have the balls (or approval from my wife and daughter) to head into town with the camera.

    Kudos Amy.

  18. Faz September 20, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Chase, your site reaches out to many people regardless of our predispositions in a variety of circumstances. Thanks goes to Amy for taking the time to discuss the moments of capturing that frame.

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  20. DanielKphoto September 21, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Very nice story by Amy here! I think what she did was right, and the image is certainly beautiful!

  21. Al Overdrive September 21, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    Erm… how come it’s a photo from London but has USA-style road signs in the foreground ? I thought this image had been dismissed a s aphotoshop job form a USA news story?

    Last time I walked around London (yesterday) we still had round signs ;)

  22. Al Overdrive September 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    Actually ignore the above comment – I forgot about the tram signs in Croydon ;)
    I take it all back.

  23. Melissa- California Wedding Photographer September 28, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    This hot gives me shivers. Definitely captures the energy of the riot.

  24. Jenny - Surrey photographer October 6, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    great to read Amy’s response about the moment she captured in time.

  25. Spicytee October 9, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    Wow.. I’m touched with her story.. Great shot well captured Amy.
    Thanks for sharing Chase.

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