On Saturday, thousands gathered in London’s Clapham Common for a vigil for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing executive whose kidnapping and killing has shaken England — and much of the world — since she went missing on March 3. The vigil came a day after a British police officer, Wayne Couzens, 48, was charged with her kidnapping and murder.
The story has been closely watched in England and around the world. That Everard vanished while walking home resonated with many women, who have been taking to social media to share their own stories of being harassed or attacked by men.
Saturday’s vigil made international headlines, after images of one protester being pinned to the ground and handcuffed by policemen went viral. We spoke with Reuters photographer Hannah McKay, whose photos from the vigil have been widely circulated. McKay has been photographing at Clapham Common since Saturday, she said, and described what the feeling on the ground has been like.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Lena Felton: First off, it’d be great to hear what it was like to be at the vigil on Saturday.
Hannah McKay: I was there from about 1 o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday, just photographing people bringing flowers. It was a real constant flow of people wanting to pay their respects to Sarah Everard. There were some really moving moments; people were quite emotional.
As the afternoon sort of drew to a close before sundown, it really got busy. There were lots of people, and it just felt like something was going to happen. There was a ring of people surrounding the bandstand, and there were thousands of people there. I hadn’t seen that many people in one place since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, because of coronavirus. It’s quite strange seeing so many people together, so it reminded me of that.
It’s quite beautiful to look at, the bandstand covered in flowers. Lots of people were hanging around to look at the flowers, and then some people came with megaphones and then it got dark. So I think the police were asking people to leave, and these things often end up in clashes, and that’s basically what happened in the end. People weren’t leaving when they should’ve due to the coronavirus restrictions and then a few people clashed with the police, and that’s when the arrests happened. And that’s what you see in the photos of mine.
LF: As a photojournalist, what’s your process when you’re at an event like this? What’s going on in your mind?
HM: Ultimately, you’re there to show what’s going on around you. In the beginning, it was about the flowers, the emotion. And then it became about the mass and the amount of people that were there, so then it was about showing the scale. And then the police came, and it became about showing their presence — it made tensions rise, having the police there. You could feel the atmosphere changing.
For me, it’s just about showing what’s happening on the ground. It’s about being the eyes on the ground to show what’s going on.
LF: Did you notice anything about the makeup of the crowd? Was it mostly women?
HM: Yeah, I’d say 80 percent women, but certainly there were men there as well. But I’d say it was mostly women, aged 20 to 40. And that’s been quite constant throughout the two days I was there. I just think it hits home with a lot of people. The people that are turning up to pay their respects feel passionate about women’s safety.
LF: I think that’s what we’re seeing with Sarah’s story, is that it’s resonating with women, and particularly millennial women, across the world.
HM: It went from quite a local story, a tragic local story for London, and then it turned into a national story. And by Saturday night, it’s gone global. We really gained a global interest in the story, and I think that’s what’s resonating, is women’s safety. You know, a woman is walking home from a friend’s house and tragedy happens. It definitely brought out a lot of emotion from people about their own experiences and wanting change for that.
LF: I wonder as a woman photojournalist, do you think you bring a certain empathy or a different perspective to the story?
HM: I can’t comment on how men feel, but I can certainly relate to walking home in the dark as a woman. I wouldn’t necessarily feel like I was able to show the story any differently on Saturday than my male colleagues, but I’ve certainly felt — I could see why there were so many people similar to my age wanting to be there. I’m the same age as Sarah, so I had a lot of friends who wanted to go down there as well.
LF: What’s it been like to see the international response to your images in particular?
HM: I mean, my phone has gone nuts. It has not stopped — it’s crazy how much social media can really back a photo. I got home quite late on Saturday night, and I looked through the pictures. And I woke up on Sunday morning and it kind of exploded, and I think that’s when the world could see what happened not just through my photos, but the photos that were taken that night, and it gained momentum for the story. I’ve had so many positive messages for my pictures, which is really nice. I didn’t expect this global interest in it, but I really just showed what was happening in front of me, and that has gotten quite big.