Yesterday I found myself heading down to Batley in West Yorkshire. The last time I was there was back in June to cover a memorial service for the Labour MP Jo Cox who died after she was shot and stabbed in the street outside the library in nearby Birstall as she held a surgery.
After her death it was announced that a by-election for the Batley and Spen constituency would be held. Former actor Tracy Brabin was selected as the Labour candidate for the seat. Out of respect to Mrs Cox the Conservatives, The Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens didn’t contest the seat. However smaller fringe parties including the British National Party, National Front, Liberty GB, English Democrats, One Love Party and several Independents ran.
I was sent by Getty Images news to the area to cover some of the polling stations through the day, to try and illustrate the diversity of the area and to cover any other events as they happened through the day before attending the count which was to be held in Huddersfield later that evening and through the night.
The first location I wanted to head to was the library in Birstall where Mrs Cox was killed. The library was acting as a polling station so it was important to get some pictures given the sad events that played out here and to try and show that despite this violent attack the democratic process was still strong enough to overcome it.
Arriving at about half-six it was a dark and wet so it was going to be a bit of a challenge to get some early pictures with high ISO’s and slow shutter speeds needed. It’s important to get something shot and filed early especially on a job like this where the story would be running high up in the news that morning and because the story would then play out all day and pictures would be needed to support it. Struggling a little with the darkness I shot a few of the library building and polling signs. I also shot a couple of frames of a BNP placard attached over the top of a Labour placard on a lamp post outside the library at the spot where Mrs Cox was killed. Along with PA photographer Danny Lawson who also arrived to get some early shots we soon headed back to our cars to quickly edit, caption and transmit the pictures back to our respective desks for distribution.
Not surprisingly given the situation some of the staff running the count were a little concerned that we were taking pictures of the library. While legally of course and like anyone we could photograph the polling station from the street but we had a quick chat to her and put her mind at ease about what we were after and didn’t have any issues.
I decided that from there I would head over to Batley where I would spend much of the day going around some of the other polling stations in and around the town. After parking up in an area with free all day parking! I walked over towards the Town Hall. It was also acting as a polling station and was a key building in the memorial services for Jo Cox so was worth heading to.
Sometimes you just get lucky and as I was walking into town I passed a coffee shop. Glancing in the window I thought I saw someone I knew facing away from me and chatting. So I tapped on the window to wave hello. But I was wrong. It was someone totally different! Slightly embarrassed by knocking on the window and disturbing a woman I didn’t know I then realised that the women in the cafe she was talking too was actually Tracy Brabin! Ducking into the shop to explain my random act of window knocking and assuring them that I wasn’t trying to ambush them for a picture I thought I might as well ask if, as I was there…could I shoot a few.
So between their coffee and breakfast order I managed to get a couple of pictures before leaving them alone to their breakfast. I quickly headed back to my car to file the pictures as it was a good result to get a picture of the main candidate this early on and I was pretty sure that no one else had photographed her yet that morning. When I got back to the town hall I ran into Danny again who was filing some pictures from his car. I always think that it’s good to share this stuff with other photographers when on jobs like this. If a few work together then you have more feelers out and each has their own contacts that the others might not have so to me it just makes sense to work in that way. Everyone benefits. Telling him that I’d just seen the Labour candidate having breakfast down the road we headed back down to see them.
They’d already left so we called and messaged one of the Labour media folks with her to try and arrange a meet to get some pictures of Tracy as she was out canvassing and speaking to any potential last minute voters to remind them to head along to vote. Eventually we got a call back and were given a street address just outside of Batley.
So at the designated time myself, Danny and Ian Hinchliffe (LNP) arrived to meet up with Tracy and her fellow canvassers who were also to be joined by Andy Burnham, the Labour MP for Leigh. Set-up photo calls are par for the course on events like this and while this photo call was arranged it did reflect that they had been and remained out canvassing for most of the day along with many other of the Labour faithful, many of them had travelled from around the country to assist with the last minute canvassing.
So ‘they’ get some good pictures of them out and about doing their thing and ‘we’ get some pictures to send out to illustrate the story. Personally I see it as just part of the game but I try not to interfere with what they do and try and get as natural a picture as I can. Twenty minutes later we were done and headed to our cars to edit and file.
From here I spent the rest of the day in and around Batley trying to get a few more polling station pictures and to try and show the wide diversity of backgrounds and ethnicity that come together within the Batley area. Everyone I met through the day was friendly and many I spoke to obviously knew of the by-election that day and still spoke with sadness about the events of June.
After dropping into one of the Labour campaign offices for a couple of pictures and getting a shot of Jo Cox’s former office in town I decided to head over to Huddersfield where later that evening the count was to be held. I should say that I did try and find out if any other candidates were out and about during the day so that I could try and give balanced coverage of the canvassing and not make it all about Labour but none of the messages I left were replied too. There’s only so much you can do so I wasn’t overly bothered I couldn’t get hold of them.
Arriving at Cathedral House in Huddersfield where all the ballot papers from the various polling stations were to be brought and counted – whilst out of the constituency area this building was chosen for suitability rather than location – I checked in with the organisers and waited for the evening count to begin at ten thirty.
Events like this follow a similar theme…restrictive position, usually on a balcony (you’re not allowed on the floor of the count), bad lighting, people sat at desks, lots of ballot papers, ballot boxes being carried and emptied, candidates walking the floor…so you shoot and file and shoot and file then shoot and file some more whilst keeping an eye out for the unplanned, the quirky or the unusual or a different angle and try and keep a steady flow of pictures going into the desk. At least that’s what I try and do. Knowing that a lot of journalists were there writing about events the papers are always going to be hungry for pictures and whilst by this time you’re unlikely to make the paper the next day because of deadlines for going to print their online versions will likely use some of them if you can get it out to them.
Once the ballots were counted and the results were in the candidates were then called to the stage for the declaration of the winner. Knowing the reason for why this by-election came about it was obviously going to be a more subdued reaction if (and it was always likely) that Labour retained the seat and this they did. But you get ready to get the reaction shot as the results are announced and then follow it up with shots of the winners speech and the other candidates and anything else of interest that goes on. Some of the candidates heckled Tracy Brabin during her speech and some wore t-shirts with various slogans so it’s always worth keeping an eye on events as they unfold.
From there many of the candidates come to where the media are for interviews so this is a good chance to get some tighter head shot style pictures and get a bit closer to their emotion and animation as they speak. Once these are edited and sent out the night, or rather morning is pretty much done. So packing up the laptop and making sure you have all your gear you tie in for a quick chat with others photographers or people you know and then begin the drive back home.
Door to door on this job was about 26-hours by the time I got back and working pretty much all the time it’s a bit of a beasting but hopefully by the end of it you’ve put out a good selection of pictures showing the events of the by-election as they happened and in a fair and balanced way and if you’re lucky you might even get a few used. These have been a selection of some of mine from the day.
At the time of writing some of the pictures were used in the Scotsman, The Independent, BBC, Metro, The Sun, Radio Times, Daily Mail, New Statesman, New York Times and City AM…
See more of my work on my website and blogs… HERE
Images copyright Ian Forsyth / Getty Images
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