Concepcion Picciotto

Concepcion Picciotto (known as Connie) maintained a protest for peace and against nuclear war in a plastic makeshift tent outside the White House in Washington DC. Her vigil, lasting 30 years until her death in January 2016, is considered to be the longest political protest in American history.

She is believed to have been a Spanish immigrant who arrived in New York in the 1960s. In 1981 she took up residence on the sidewalk by the White House fence, with fellow activist William Thomas who began the peace vigil. They were moved to a site across the road where she lived, alongside one of the most powerful leaders in the world. Five presidents of the US ignored her. I read that not one of them crossed the road from the White House to listen to her appeals for peace and justice. She appeared in Michael Moore’s documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11, which was scathingly critical of President George W. Bush’s war on terror.

In 2007 I made a portrait of Ms Picciotto, giving me the V-sign of peace, as she sat facing the White House, clad in her trademark hat and helmet. This image will be shown in the touring Poppies: Women and War exhibition, as it enters its second phase.

Meanwhile, as I head back to Washington in the next few weeks, and take a walk to the White House, I wonder if this, her home for three decades, will be gone without a trace.

Or whether it will be occupied.

Share Post:
Christmas in Sierra Leone wih Gladys and Rebecca

Share Post:
December 2015
Today I’m packing my cameras, notebooks and Yorkshire tea, plus special gifts for Sierra Leone. This will be my seventh visit to the West African country, but one that comes after a long pause, during which a lot has happened, for me and for them.

For the first Christmas ever my parents will not be here, so I’ve decided not to be here too.

For many people in Sierra Leone this season will be a difficult one also, without parents, children, siblings and friends lost to ebola. Though the country has been given the all-clear, there is an observation period in place from now until February, as borders are porous and the disease keeps rearing its ugly head in neighbouring countries. Ebola and its aftermath are causing problems, and my heart goes out to those left behind coming to terms with loss, as well as the vulnerable youngsters and orphans, and the survivors suffering health and social problems.

Still, there will be joy at seeing my female friends again - Rebecca, Julie, Sally, the two Cecilias, Sarah - and getting back to work recording life and lives. Gladys has promised to cook jollof rice until our ‘bells-full ping ping!’. I remember the burn of the hot pepper on my tongue and the sounds of burnt grains being scraped from the bottom of the cooking pot and never thrown away. She asked me to bring along mixed spice for the Christmas cake. She is an expert baker at her charcoal fire, controlling the temperature by shifting the lid of the pot and blowing on the coals.

We will all miss much this Christmas but one thing’s for sure, In Sierra Leone we women will not be alone.

Gladys preparing dinner © Lee Karen Stow

Share Post:

In a field in North Yorkshire, the red poppies and the white poppies grow freely, side by side.

I know this because I visit each summer to photograph them. The red poppies are in their thousands and far outnumber the white poppies, which number seven to ten. Chris, the local farmer swears he sees more of the white poppies reaching up amidst a blood red carpet each year. It's profoundly moving and like nothing I have ever seen before. It is no illusion. Here at least, the red poppies of remembrance and reflection live hopefully with the white poppies of peace

Share Post:
November 2015
Remembering the Women

In Whitehall, London, a few strides north of the Cenotaph and the tomb to the unknown soldier is the Monument to the Women of World War II. This tall, bronze pillar, sculpted by artist John W. Mills, is a giant coat rack. Seventeen types of uniform, representing the roles thousands of women undertook during the war, hang on coat hooks, symbolising their job done. Unveiled by the Queen in 2005, this monument of recognition was a long time coming.

One of the uniforms represents members of the 80,000-strong Women’s Land Army (WLA). Women like Iris Newbould of Hull, now aged 90. Iris is one of the few ‘Land Girls’ still around to share memories of digging up spuds, sorting the chaff, felling trees, catching rats, ploughing and milking the cows on bitterly cold mornings. Physically demanding work, but which freed male agricultural workers to serve on the front lines, and helped feed a nation.

I met Iris a few years ago, when I photographed her in her garden allotment. We talked about the poppy story and, a keen poet, she offered to write a memory of a day she can never forget:

Tags: poppies poppy day remembrance women war peace

Poppy Day
(Memories of November 1932)

by Iris M. Newbould, Women’s Land Army

‘Why do we have Poppy Day, Daddy, why?’
The shrill echo creeks down the years
To fill my mind with sweet recall
Of a parent’s love, the best gift of all.

‘Because it’s Remembrance Day, my child,
Put on your poppy, I trust you have prayed,
Now, watch out for Daddy, he is on parade.’
‘But why, Daddy? I already did it last year.’

‘Lest we forget, my dear, for as we live and dream
Too busy to remember, they too had dreams.’
They now lay dead, where the poppies grow.
The band plays on, silver trumpets glow
Hymns and prayers echo in the silent streets.

The Cenotaph falls silent, poppies lay crisp
On the frost, their glowing redness
Warms the hearts of father and child.
They wander off, side by side
In peace, they live in the moment
Content, rejoicing in just being
‘tis enough.

[In memory of a beloved father 1900-1974]

Share Post: