The fire at Grenfell tower is an example of the classist and racist structures that organise Britain. The victims belong to a long list of austerity’s casualties, to quote Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian last week, ‘spectacular examples of social violence, such as Grenfell … usually occur out of public sight. This decade of austerity has been a decade of social violence.’ From austerity-induced suicides attempts numbering 30-40,000, to 15,000 people dying in fuel poverty, and over 10,000 deaths of people declared ‘fit for work’, it is manifest that in order to protect their wealth and power, the politics of the ruling elite have been deeply injurious for the underprivileged.
Oren Ziv visited Grenfell in the days after the fire, creating this photo diary that shows the resilience, anger and grieving in the city; starkly revealing the injustices inflicted upon that community. Ziv is a member of the Activestills collective, whose photographs seek to capture the politics implicit in everyday situations and have been vital in documenting the struggle against Israeli occupation. Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel, collects many of these images.
As a cover-up of the number of victims seems likely, the transmission, circulation and dissemination of images of the charred building, of the protests and of the community, will gain political currency and act as a demand for rights. Activestills’ activist photography was conceived in opposition to the liberal sentiments of documentary photography, their images are agents for transformation, demanding social reform by exposing the economic, social, and political structures and conditions that enabled inequality in the first place.
For those lucky enough to not realise it before, Grenfell has revealed the deep injustices at play in austerity Britain, beyond that it should also signal the need for a sea-change and a new government that values the lives of all of its people.
Our new book on the disaster, After Grenfell: Violence, Resistance and Response, is out now and includes contributions from Lowkey, Ben Okri, Phil Scraton, Daniel Renwick, Nadine El-Enany, Sarah Keenan, Gracie Mae Bradley and The Radical Housing Network. All author royalties and 10% of Pluto’s profits will go to The Grenfell Foundation.