One year ago today, I woke up to find out that my London neighbourhood had been ransacked by looters. The owners of my corner shop had to jump out of a second story window to avoid being burned to death. I was in shock, but I was powerless. I had a newborn in the house so I couldn’t go down and help clean up. Also, as a social media obsessive, my handle @albinoriotman seemed wildly inappropriate so I stopped tweeting for a few days.
So today, to mark the one-year anniversary of this terrible event, I am launching my search to find London rioters who will be willing to learn a new skill that will make them instantly employable. I want to teach them the most important language in the world. I want to teach them how to code so they can make websites and apps. I’d like to help them give back to the society that they ravaged. And then I’d like to see them get jobs not re-offend.
This is a bit ambitious, but I’m going to try it out. I am teaming with Steve Henry of Decoded, the company that helps teach people to code in a day and also Emma MulQueeny of Rewired State, the company that runs hack days as well as Young Rewired State, the philanthropic arm of RS that runs hack days for teenagers.
I am also on the hunt for London-based community-oriented charities that need websites and apps as these will be our ‘clients’ — essentially, the ex-rioters will give back to London by creating topical shareable content and housing them in interactive platforms that will help maximise exposure for charitable organisations that operate on donations and or shoe-string budgets.This is what I’ve been doing for a few years for charities and brands here at Urgent Genius.
Follow LondonCodeRiot on Twitter. I’d love to get your thoughts on how I should go about this little coding movement. Tweet me at @LondonCodeRiot and or @albinoriotman.
Visuals for this post and Twitter background/profile are from the Photoshop Looter which we featured here a few days after the riots.
Though the London riots lasted for days, splintering off into trouble in other cities, very few Urgent Geniuses have emerged to turn the topical issue into humour. One site, however, has been grabbing worldwide attention. Photoshop Looter is a Tumblr blog, the result of some content by the author and a lot of fan-submitted efforts. Like the numerous ‘naming and shaming’ galleries it collates images of the London looters, only remaining them as something unexpected. Hooded kids playing jump-rope with the riot police, overpowering an ice-cream van or risking life and limb to make off with a toy giraffe.. the site uses surreal humor to highlight just how surreal real life can get. It’s featured already on the Huffington Post and has been shared over 130,000 times on Facebook. We interviewed the creative force behind the site, the mysterious PhotoshopLooter himself.
The riots were a bit of a slow-burn, till suddenly it seemed there was a house on fire and an army of angry Turks around every corner. How early on did you decide to create something in response?
Monday evening. Sat in an old street Vietnamese restaurant hearing sirens going past. Idea of humorous reaction popped into my head. Inspiration from battered prawns.
It seems appropriate to bring Tumblr into the riot fray; every other social media outlet has had some kind of role in it! How did you promote it, originally? Did you tweet it on #londonriots, or would that have been too much?
I did nothing except place on Facebook’s newsfeed. Within an hour it had thousands of tweets. Basically, I didn’t have time to seed it, it just flew.
Have you created similar projects previously? Are you a regular Tumblr user?
Some things, but nothing that has gone so global so fast. I wasn’t a Tumblr user before, but now with 10,000 plus followers I probably am. It’s a great tool which complements other social media, without being too multipurpose.
Starting out with the site, did you start with your own images before submissions started flooding in? Are you surprised at the Photoshop skills of the nation?
Yes, I created four images. The snake is my favorite, but people have done far better since. I’ve received a new of art about every minute. Sometimes five a minute. There’s a range of skills on display, although sometimes quality comes more from humour than Photoshop skills…
You still have only 3 followers on Twitter, but a massive number of Facebook likes.. do you think there’s a tendency for people to not ‘follow’ and only browse Twitter as a way of finding links to other outlets?
Someone else started up the Twitter account before me, the same goes for Facebook. Although the person seems to be following the Tumblr quite well… The idea itself has been tweeted many thousands of times, but yes, the Facebook share figure is pretty up there- 130k+.
Do you have a background in graphics?
I’m a writer/art director at an interesting london ad agency
One thing that comes to mind looking at Photoshop Looter is how much really iconic images, from war, especially, have often been altered with Photoshop’s lo-fi predecessors. Which do you think will be the most iconic images of the riots, and how have you decided to alter them?
Yes, Banksy springs to mind. I think really it will be the silly ones which really work and remain. The cat stealing and the dog walker in particular.
Social media, and in particular photos in social media, are now helping to incriminate the looters. Have any of the images on Photoshop Looter played a role in tracking down the rioters? It’d be a wonderful icing on the cake. you get convicted, and the whole world sees you rioting stealing a record by Abba…
Not sure. I think and hope these images will take some of the coolness out of what the looters have done – for them at least.
When’s the book out? And how on earth did that happen so quickly?!
Thank Lulu. Books out now, although I’m trying to find photographers and agencies to credit them and ask permissions as some are understandably angry at the copyright infringement. But that said, the money is going to great causes.
Many of the events, and resulting images from the riots really did seem surreal. Was Photoshop Looters created out of sheer bafflement at how things could get so bad so quickly?
Maybe subconsciously. I was very close to the action and just felt pretty unsympathetic to the looters. Looting is just low.
Which is your favorite of the images?
I like Catnick, and the guy who stole the other guys trousers.
Have you tracked their popularity? Which images attract the most interest?
Catnick, Cameron and Missing.
Does Justin Bieber know about this? Do you have an axe to grind against him? I hear he’s hanging out with rappers these days, trying to be a bit more ‘gangsta’.. you might hurt his feelings..
Not sure who he is.
Did the HuffPost tell you that they were featuring the site? And have you seen a spike in interest resulting from it?
Yes, most news outlets have asked permission which has been given readily. Although the site is only really a platform to spread the good work.
What platform has been the most effective in promoting the site; Twitter, Facebook, or simply the Tumblr itself combined with coverage in news media?
Analytics says that direct email has been pretty big. But yes, Twitter and FB have had been big helpers. We are well into the millions, which feels quite nice.
Are you still working with a standard free Tumblr template, and the Tumblr URL? Do you plan to keep the whole thing as simple and uncommercial as possible?
Yes. And yes. I think in life when you hit middle age you should keep dancing, but as for memes like this, they can try and dance but it can feel too forced. If it’s purpose can evolve though, I’d be happy with that.
Looting is a sport, right?
With #RiotCleanUp, the Riot Wombles and their ilk, we’ve seen the positive steps social media is using to repair damage after the London Riots. Now lets look at the funny side.
We all saw the po-faced speech delivered by David Cameron outside Number 10, fresh from his summer holiday in Tuscany. However, Funny or Die team Mothers Best Child put a new spin on breaking news by superimposing it over something rather different. About ten second in, an unexpected visitor opens the PM’s front door, and things more progressively downhill from there:
London’s international reputation might be under fire (especially in this crucial run-up to the Olympics), but at least we’re finding a certain bitter humour in it. During the riots the ‘New Olympic Logo’, pictured above, reached number 1 one on Reddit, and has steadily climbed to meme status since.
Meanwhile, Photoshop Looter is an alternative to the current glut of ‘naming and shaming’ campaigns. Just like other sites it rounds up images of the rioters, only making small but noticeable changes in the process.
A mix of fan submissions and user-created content, Photoshop Looter captures all the riot moments that didn’t make the news*. Like the run on a Justin Bieber merchandise store. Or the hooded and masked young boy, audaciously dragging away a hotdog stand.
Or, maybe best of all, the super-camp riot band ‘Pillage People’, dancing their way through the flames..
(*moments that might never have happened to begin with..)
Check out our interview with the Photoshop Looter himself here.
The images of the riots in London and across the UK have been shocking. The authorities have stated that social networks have helped organise the looters and the opportunists. It’s also worth noting that social networks have also been vocal in condemning the looting. This Tumblr sprang up within a day of the riots breaking out. The owner has now stopped posting pictures of potential criminals because of the shear amount of images out there. The anonymous blogger is now pointing people to the Crimestoppers site to report anyone suspected of looting. It’s good to see citizens on Twitter objecting to the lunacy and criminality of the looters.
The Met police are also using Fickr to encourage people to report looting in the metropolis.
Photoshoplooter is a reaction to the many pictures posted across social networks, it’s a satirical take on this pretty sad situation.