Ed Barber’s photographs of the CND peace protests of the 1980s….
This remarkable book only came to my attention because of the author’s request for the forward to be written by a man heavily featured on this website; James Cameron.
Cameron was a founding father of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and one of Britain’s earliest advocates of the banning of nuclear weapons. Having been the designated British witness at the testing of an atom bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific and Woomera in Australia as well as seeing the aftermath of the devastation at Hiroshima, Cameron’s subsequent view of such devastating weapons stayed with him until his death.
Ed Barber (1949-2017) was a remarkable portrait photographer whose documentation of life as well as his five year work on the British peace protests of the early 1980s won him many plaudits. He came to his subjects with a sympathetic eye, championing societal injustice through intimate monochrome photographs which still resonate today.
Peace Moves: Nuclear Protest in the 1980s was first published in 1984. For those of us old enough to remember the women who staunchly protested at Greenham Common, will recall the derision they met with from both the media and large parts of the general public. Their sexuality, personal hygiene and family responsibilities all came into ridiculous, unnecessary question, they were deemed anti-British, communist sympathisers whilst all along, their actual message went largely ignored. Whatever one’s view there is no doubt that those women affected political and public discourse on the nuclear arms threat and CND enjoyed a revival in awareness and popularity as a direct result of their actions which often lead to arrest and imprisonment.
The first four years of the 1980s was a remarkable time on many fronts; Thatcher dominated the political landscape, opposition to her government spilled out of Westminster and into left-wing music, novels, poetry and art. It was a divisive, charged period in which allegiances were formed into new, radical movements and the young became engaged in the way their parents trailblazed in the 1960s. Barber captured these times and the people who took part, his book is full of mesmerizing images of a public rising up in protest, it knew no age limit, class or creed. Misguided? possibly, engaged? most definitely and this book captures the key moments in the Peace Movement’s activities.
The text to the book was written by Zoë Fairbairns, herself a card-carrying member of CND since 1962 and it’s very much in keeping with the photography. Fairbairns argues nuclear weapons transcend political leanings, that those on the left and the right should be equally as concerned by the prospect of man-made Armageddon, she had a point.
The proliferation of such weapons has longed given me cause to consider, given the untold devastation a single bomb can cause is it not right to question the billions spent on having more than a country could ever need? Fairbanks and the subjects of Barber’s book certainly did, and look at those subjects, particularly the young people whose very existence depended on the sensibilities of world leaders. They make for fascinating photographs of Barber’s; young, determined and angry, wearing their beliefs quite literally on their sleeves, these images embody that period brilliantly. It’s two fingers to the establishment, pitched battles with the police and a barb wired fence, setting the scene for the miners strikes to come the following year.
James Cameron’s forward was written the year before his death, unlike many of Barber’s subjects, Cameron had witnessed the horror of war on many fronts and unlike the young, he knew life before the atomic age and what this new, awesome power could do to our planet. That he wrote this as an old man for a relatively young photographer is the embodiment of this books appeal, concern for our planet and the protection of life in all its forms has no upper or lower age limit. Looking back at the women who camped at Greenham decades later challenged my then juvenile opinions. In truth, their sacrifices changed little, by 1991 the last missiles left Greenham airbase as a result of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty first signed by Gorbachev and Reagan. No doubt the Soviets made the most of the home grown protests at that time but if it achieved one thing, it showed that people cared and cared enough to leave the comfort of their own homes to make a stand. How many of us can say we could or would do the same?
Peace Moves: Nuclear Protest in the 1980s. First published in 1984 by Chatto & Windus.
Photographs by and copyright of Ed Barber.