Peter Tatchell by Polly Borland
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by Polly Borland
bromide print, November 1999
19 1/2 in. x 15 3/8 in. (495 mm x 391 mm) overall
© Polly Borland
Peter Tatchell (born 1952) is a campaigner for Human rights Basic rights believed to belong to everyone, that they should be treated fairly and not in a cruel way, especially by their government. , Civil liberties Guarantees and freedoms that all citizens are entitled to and that governments cannot interfere with. and social justice. He is particularly well known for his work with movements campaigning for LGBTQ+ equality. He helped to organise the first official Gay Pride march in London in 1972.
The artist, Polly Borland, has made this portrait look like a police photograph known as a Mug shot An informal term for a photograph taken at a police station soon after a person is arrested. It is an official record of what the person looks like. .
Peter Tatchell was arrested a month before this portrait was made for his protest about the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe’s abuse of human rights.
Analysing the portrait
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Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a minute. What can you see?
- The portrait is framed like a Mug shot An informal term for a photograph taken at a police station soon after a person is arrested. It is an official record of what the person looks like. .
- It is a close-up photograph of Tatchell, who is Pose A particular position in which somebody stands or sits in order to be painted, drawn or photographed. centrally within the composition and faces forward with only his head and shoulders visible. He is looking straight ahead at the camera.
- The background is plain. Mug shot photographs are taken against a plain background to make sure that there are no distractions and the person’s face and features are easy to see.
- Borland has used lighting to ensure that Tatchell’s face and features are clearly visible and evenly lit with no shadows.
- His expression is quite blank – he doesn’t seem to be showing any emotion.
- She has placed a banner in front of Peter Tatchell, showing his full name and other details, including the name of a police station. Mug shot An informal term for a photograph taken at a police station soon after a person is arrested. It is an official record of what the person looks like. usually show the person holding a board with details like this written on it.
- She has added the text on the banner to communicate who he is and tell us the story of his arrest.
Peter Gary Tatchell
- We discover his full name.
- She tells us that he is gay and that he has experienced prejudice because of this. After Peter Tatchell’s arrest, some Tabloid Newspapers with smaller pages, many pictures and short reports, that often attract readers with celebrity gossip and exaggerated claims. journalists labelled him a ‘homosexual terrorist’.
- Mug shot An informal term for a photograph taken at a police station soon after a person is arrested. It is an official record of what the person looks like. include a reference number for the police files. Here, this could be the actual case number used by the police, or perhaps the artist has chosen significant numbers and letters.
Belgravia Police Station
- This is a police station in central London. Tatchell was taken there after his arrest. He was charged with using threatening words and assaulting a police officer.
Sept 30 1999
- This date is exactly one month before Tatchell was arrested.
- Perhaps the artist was trying to show the police as Bias A strong feeling in favour of or against one group of people, or one side in an argument, often not based on fair judgement. – that they had already decided Tatchell was guilty of something before they arrested him.
- It could also reflect the way Tatchell felt he had been represented in the press. He has described how he has been ‘... subject to press harassment, smears, lies and doctored photos’.
- Or it could simply be that the artist mistakenly dated it as ‘September’.
Who is Peter Tatchell?
- Peter Tatchell was born in Australia. He became interested in Human rights Basic rights believed to belong to everyone, that they should be treated fairly and not in a cruel way, especially by their government. from an early age.
- At the age of 16 he tried to start a gay rights campaign but remembers that people were too scared to support him (homosexuality was still illegal in Australia at the time). He also protested against the Australian government’s involvement in the Vietnam War A long war in Vietnam in which the US army, and other US allies, fought against Communist forces. .
- Tatchell moved to Britain in 1971. Here he became involved in the gay rights movement. This was a time when traditional attitudes towards sexuality and gender were being questioned and British laws were beginning to change (although they were still very limiting).
- In 1972 he helped to organise the UK’s first official Gay Pride march and rally in London. Today, this has grown into a yearly parade and festival, now known as ‘Pride in London’, or ‘London Pride’, with over 1.5 million people.
- More recently, Tatchell has talked about the need to return to the radical roots of Pride and has led the ‘Reclaim Pride’ march in London. He describes this as ‘a community-led march getting back to the roots of Pride, being both a celebration and a protest for LGBT+ rights, ditching the corporate sponsors and commercialism’.
- Over the years Tatchell has been, and still is, at the forefront of debates and campaigns on LGBTQ+ issues. These include making the Age of consent The age at which somebody is legally old enough to agree to have a sexual relationship. the same for everyone, regardless of their sexuality, and making same-sex marriage legal.
- He has also campaigned around the world against many other human rights abuses and is known for using a wide range of tactics in his campaigning.
Why is this portrait significant?
- In October 1999, Tatchell was arrested for trying to carry out a Citizen's arrest An arrest by an individual who is not a police officer or other sworn law enforcement official. on Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, when he was visiting the UK. Tatchell aimed to arrest him as a protest against the torture of two Zimbabwean journalists and laws in Zimbabwe which made gay sex illegal and punishable by 10 years in prison.
- The artist Polly Borland created this photograph as an imagined version of the police Mug shot An informal term for a photograph taken at a police station soon after a person is arrested. It is an official record of what the person looks like. taken after Tatchell’s arrest. It is not an official police photograph or taken in a police station although it looks as if it is.
- Borland is known for experimental, stylised and sometimes unsettling portrait photographs. She carefully directs the way the person is presented, including their Pose A particular position in which somebody stands or sits in order to be painted, drawn or photographed. and clothes. This artwork is a good example of her approach to photographic portraiture.
- What do you think is the main message of the photograph?
- How has the artist achieved this?
- Find out how LGBTQ+ rights have changed since the first Gay Pride marches in the early 1970s.
- What do you think are the key issues relating to LGBTQ+ rights today?
- Is there a cause you believe in or would fight for?
- What two words would you use to describe yourself in a mug shot like this one?