Photos From Australia's Protest Warzones

Danny Casey takes photos of the left and right yelling at one another in the street.

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24 October 2018, 1:12am

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Danny Casey is a photographer and photojournalist based in Sydney. Moving to Melbourne in 2013, he became interested in the city’s protest culture and started documenting demonstrators from both sides of politics. These photos culminated in a series titled Street Politics: Left Vs. Right, which is a loaded, intimate depiction of the nation's changing times.

Here we chat with Danny about the series, what he learned, and what’s it like to be on the front line of an angry mob.

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VICE: Hey Danny, what motivated you to start this series?
Danny Casey: It started when I was in Melbourne studying photography. Coming from Queensland, I was drawn to these protests; I’d never seen anything like this before. Melbourne is very political and the idea of these masses of people coming together, all doing something as one collective, shutting down the streets, was quite moving for me.

Your photography seems to exclusively explore Australian culture. How do you see the protest movement, which is driven by such a small group of people, representing the country more broadly?
Australian society happens on such a multi-level existence, with so many little interesting quirks. For me, [these protests are] an experience of navigating the way through this new facet of Australian politics for myself. We’re seeing something that’s this almost global schism of what's happening in society, and this new generation of right-wing voter and protester emerging.

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What’s the significance of documenting that schism?
In Australia, you can feel so far removed from some of the larger global political going-ons. This is another tentacle of that beast around the world. The way it is now, these groups identify more with the alt-right. It’s Australia’s own chapter of this global movement.

You state on your website that Australia has a long history of protest culture. Do you believe these protests are a cultural trait?
There’s always been this desire to protest. The far-left and the far-right have been fighting each other here for decades, and this is just the latest front. When this series started, the heat from the right was directed at the Syrian refugees, but more recently they’ve focused their attention on this so-called “African youth gang” crisis. It’s interesting to see where it’ll end up, but there’s always been that distrust and at times, bare-naked racism.

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What was it like to document these protests?
Over the years, the groups, especially the right-wing, got to know me and I got to know them. There are lots of other photographers and filmmakers following these groups around, so for the most part they didn’t have an issue. A lot of the supporters though, unless you’re in line with their values, they’ll pin you as “lefty media.”

There was one time I remember where my friend and fellow photographer James Ross went to Toowoomba from Melbourne for the launch of the UPF's [the United Patriots Front] political party, and we were actually shaken down by the AFP. They wanted to know why we’d come to this event from Melbourne, trying to pry our political beliefs out of us. I remember they were somewhat interested and alarmed, because we’d paid in full and travelled all this way to just photograph the event.

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Have you ever been beaten up or pepper sprayed?
Yeah when the confrontation flares up, you have to be wary of your surroundings so as not to get pepper sprayed. Guys from the far-right groups ask if I’m with the left and insult me, but I just tell them I’m there to document the event objectively. The ones with their heads on knew that criticising the media would make them look bad. Once, though, outside the Melbourne’s Magistrate courts, these UPF supporters called us parasites on the assumption that we worked for the ABC [laughs]. But I can’t say I felt endangered then, or any of the other times.

These photos do seem unusually objective. Was that intentional?
Yeah, the neutrality was really important to me. In both groups, you have people there for different reasons and I wanted to present that. In the far right, for example, you’ve got this range, going as far as neo-nazis. There’s no real central individual on either side, so capturing those different groups of people was important to me. I was trying to achieve an on-the-ground portrait of how these movements really look.

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How do you go about capturing that moment?
With things like this, you just show up with a camera and the story will tell itself. You wouldn’t get that same result by following around the most obvious neo-nazi all day. It’s not trying to create sympathy but to humanise it in a sense. You see these people and think Why would anyone want to be a white supremacist? What’s happened that’s led someone to this point?

The series is ongoing. When will it be finished? What will you need to finish?
I don’t think it’ll ever be finished. Life changes, but I’ll always be looking for those aspects of Australian society. It’s a constant in Australian society. It’ll ebb and flow, but it’ll always be there.

Interview by Sam Nichols. Follow him on Twitter

Check out more of Danny's work here

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