The big picture: umbrellas shielding democracy in Hong Kong
French photographer Thaddé Comar spent months documenting the struggle of protesters in Hong Kong, for whom the umbrella became a symbol
Hong Kong democracy protesters first used umbrellas to defend themselves against police teargas in street demonstrations in 2014. Since then, brollies have become the defining symbol of the movement, an improvised defence against surveillance cameras and pepper spray, a low-cost gesture of defiance against the militarised might of the Hong Kong authorities. Chinese web platforms such as Taobao and AliExpress stopped offering umbrellas for sale to Hong Kong customers in 2019. One politician tried to ban them on the basis that they had a history of use as offensive weapons in kung-fu movies. But protesters continue to use them as makeshift shields and as a kind of talismanic protection against the gathering storm clouds of repression.
The French photographer Thaddé Comar took this photo of activists hunkered down under the nylon skin of their first line of defence, like Roman legionnaires in a testudo. The picture is part of Comar’s project How Was Your Dream?, which documents the Hong Kong protests of the summer of 2019.