A photo by Press Association photographer Joe Giddens has inspired Billy Bragg’s new single, ‘Saffiyah Smiles’. The iconic image (above) of Birmingham activist Saffiyah Khan facing down English Defence League leader Ian Crossland inspired a single from Billy Bragg’s new album, ‘Bridges not Walls’, out now. Joe captured the moment – which quickly went viral- on 8 April 2017 during a demonstration in the centre of Birmingham in the wake of the Westminster terror attack.
English singer, songwriter and left-wing activist Billy Bragg contacted PA Images directly to license the image for use in the music video for the song along with two other images which captured moments of calm defiance in the face of bigotry and aggression: David Lagerlof’s picture of Tess Asplund standing with a raised fist opposite far-right demonstrators in Sweden (TT News Agency), and Jonathan Bachman’s picture of a woman being detained by armed officers in Baton Rouge (Reuters).
Describing the single on his website, Mr Bragg said:
“Following the shocking scenes of white supremacists marching through the streets of Charlottesville this past summer, my mind went back to an image of a young woman facing down a ranting fascist with nothing but a serene smile. Saffiyah Khan had been taking part in a counter demonstration against the neo-fascist English Defence League in Birmingham, England, in April this year when she saw a woman being surrounded by taunting EDL supporters.
“Saira Zafar had been verbally opposing the racists and a number of them had left the demo to turn on her. When the police struggled to protect her, Saffiyah stepped up and got in the face of the loudest aggressor, holding him at bay with nothing more than a smile until police intervened. “A press photographer captured the moment and the picture went viral. Local Labour MP Jess Phillips memorably tweeted the image with the caption ‘Who looks like they have the power here?’”
Joe Giddens, a staff photographer at the Press Association, said: “It’s flattering to hear that a singer-songwriter has been inspired by my photo – it’s certainly not the sort of thing that happens every day! “As staff photographers we’re used to taking photos that make it into the papers one day and might be forgotten the next. One of the highs of the job is seeing your photos take on a life of their own, so to know this one has appeared on t-shirts, been recreated in sketches and paintings and now inspired a singer-songwriter is a pretty special feeling. “On certain assignments you know before you arrive what sort of image you’re trying to capture to tell the story but on this occasion it was more a case of seeing how the protest unfolded and getting a feel for the atmosphere then being in the right place at the right time.
“I knew at the time that I’d captured a shot that worked well but didn’t know it would get the reaction that it did. I think it’s the facial expressions of each party in that moment that makes it such a strong image for so many people – the moment captured in the photo has become a symbol for many to stand up against bullying, hatred and prejudice.”