Rise - Freedom to Assemble: Photo Series by Sophie Allen

Marianne Stenger
23rd July 2022

As one of the sponsors for Westminster University’s BA Photography Degree Show, the Bob Books team had the privilege of selecting three winners from a very talented group of up-and-coming photographers. 

With so many brilliant projects to choose from, selecting a winner was no easy task. With that said, we’re very pleased to announce that the first place winner of the Bob Books Student Award 2022 is street and documentary photographer Sophie Allen. 

Her photobook Rise - Freedom to Assemble immediately stood out to us as timely and important in light of the controversial Policing Bill that recently became law. Seeing the photos in black and white also brings to mind the student protests of the 60s and 70s, and highlights the similarities between then and now. 

As a whole, it’s a strong piece of work that emphasises the power of protest to drive political engagement and policy change. We had the opportunity to ask Sophie a few questions about her project.

Image © Sophie Allen

Could you tell us about your style of photography and areas of focus? 

Despite working in the fashion industry as a model for over ten years, my style of photography is not posed beauty. I like to capture people in their natural habitat, looking naturally beautiful in their own way. 

My main passion is for street and documentary photography. When I first started, I often found myself photographing little old men or elderly couples. People would ask me why I kept taking photos of old men and I couldn’t really tell them why. 

Thinking about it now, I think I found them more interesting than youngsters. Their old fashioned clothes and the lines on their faces that tell a story of a life well lived. I was also conscious of the fact that the photo I was taking could very well be the last one taken of them on this planet. 

On the flip side, I also enjoy shooting maternity. These photoshoots are very intimate, and I get to work together with these women to create something really special just before a new life enters the world. I’m happiest with a photoshoot if the expectant mother is left feeling empowered in her own body with her baby bump.

Image © Sophie Allen

Tell us about your project Rise - Freedom to Assemble. Could you explain the idea behind it? 

When I first started shooting protests it was back in summer 2020, when George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement was sparked. Like many others, I was deeply disturbed. I needed a way to stand up and express how this was not acceptable. The way I did this was by taking to the streets with my camera and photographing people’s anger and solidarity. 

From then onwards, more protests began springing up, and I began to attend and photograph them. I built up a lot of images over the past two years. 

The reading of the Crime and Policing bill happened recently. It considered restricting the noise in decibels of protest, despite the fact that protests are inherently a noisy act. This is when I decided to take a look at all my material and look at the possibility of making a book that was linked to the fear of losing our freedom to assemble. 

I hope people will see the images and find faith in humanity again. Despite the wrongdoing in the world, people still come together and fight for what’s right even during a global pandemic.

Image © Sophie Allen

In practical terms, how did you go about shooting the images and putting them all together as a cohesive project? 

I shot my images on a canon 5D. While I enjoy shooting film, digital is more practical when shooting protests. Initially, I was going to divide my images into chapters, such as BLM, Ukraine, Extinction Rebellion, and so on. However, I soon realised that I had more images for some and less for others, which in a book form may have looked odd. 

I found that the workflow that worked best for me was printing the images out and arranging them on the floor in front of me. Being more hands on and moving the images around rather than looking at them on a screen helped with coherence. 

I designed the book on InDesign and found the whole process a bit of a struggle. I’m not a graphic designer so I definitely found that part of the process draining. 

I worked with a company called MJCP to print my book. They were extremely helpful with making my book print a reality. I also had support and guidance from my fellow photographer James Kemmenoe, who also has a protest book out called Black Not Sorry

At the moment I am setting up my own business to shoot weddings and maternity. But I would love to pursue a career more in protests/documentary/ reportage style of photography as this is something I am passionate about capturing. 

Sophie Allen’s book is available to order now. You can email her at sophieallen_21@hotmail.co.uk to order a copy or visit her Instagram @sophie_allen_photography to see more of her work.