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Behind the Image with Hollie Adams: Dominic Cummings departs Downing Street


The 100 images selected for the BPPA Assignments 2021 exhibition cover some of the most seismic news stories from the past couple of years. The abrupt exit of Dominic Cummings’ – special advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and architect of the Brexit campaign – was one of the biggest political stories of the year.

Dominic Cummings waits for a taxi on Whitehall the day he leaves downing street © Hollie Adams / Bloomberg
Dominic Cummings, special adviser to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, waits with a box of possessions on Whitehall after departing from number ten Downing Street on the day of his resignation. 13 November 2020.
© Hollie Adams / Bloomberg

While rumours had been circling that Cummings was on his way out, no one knew precisely how or when. While it had been thought that Cummings would stay on until Christmas, an auspicious Friday 13th of November 2020 saw his abrupt exit from Downing Street carrying a box of personal effects. One of the press photographers there to capture the scene was Hollie Adams, whose atmospheric, street-lit shot would go on to earn a place in the BPPA Assignments 2021 exhibition.

As the exhibition prepares to open, we chatted to Hollie to get the story behind the shot…

Jon Stapley: Hi Hollie – congratulations on getting an image featured in Assignments 2021! How did it feel to find out?

Hollie Adams: It was great. I’ve not actually had a picture hung on a wall before, so I’m excited to see it. I’ve been down there helping out the last couple of days, and it’s exciting to see the exhibition all come together, and see all the work that people have managed to produce, even during a lockdown.

JS: So this particular image, can you talk us through the moment you captured it?

HA: There was a bit of mad panic. I had got a call early in the morning asking if I could get to Dominic Cummings’ house, but by the time I got there he’d already left. So I’d kind of started the day on the back foot, and I was thinking to myself, “I’ve gotta get him, I’ve gotta get him at some point.”

I was at Downing Street all day, waiting and waiting. I got another call saying, “You know, if you think nothing’s going to happen, you can probably head off.” But I thought I’d just give it a bit longer. Another photographer had already left. But then, out of nowhere, Dominic Cummings just walked out of the front door with a box.

It seemed very deliberate. We weren’t expecting it, because if he’d wanted to avoid us, he could have. Because I’d missed him earlier, I’d set up an off-camera flash to make sure I got the lighting right. It was in winter, so it was getting dark really early at that point. And when he started walking down the street, all the other photographers continued to shoot him, and I only had a camera with a long lens in my hand and my flash was off-camera. So I panicked, and I just thought, “Well, there’s available light in the street,” so I ran out into the street after him. And to my surprise, he stood there and hailed a cab. Obviously he was very aware of the photographers, and to me it seemed like a very deliberate move.

When I started getting messages from people, that’s when I knew. At the time I didn’t really know that I had got a great shot, but when people started messaging me, that’s when I knew I’d got something good.

JS: I guess you never really know for sure until an image gets out there into the world.

HA: In the moment, all you’re thinking about is making sure everything’s right, that the exposure’s right, trying to predict where people might go so that you’re in the right position. There’s a lot of luck too.

JS: How long have you been doing press photography?

HA: I’ve been in London for two years now, but I was on staff at a national newspaper in Australia, and I’d been there for five years. So I’ve been doing it for about seven years.

JS: That’s quite some time! Are there any skills you’ve learned that you think are particularly important?

HA: Working in London is really different to working in Australia, and working at a newspaper is quite different to working for a newswire. You spend a lot of time on the street. But you also become a lot faster by doing a lot of hard news, and technically you learn a lot more because it’s really competitive. There are so many photographers in London, and you’ve really got to be on your game because there’s a lot to compare your stuff to. If you don’t get a great picture, people are going to see what else has been shot that day.

JS: There’s a standard you have to hit.

HA: Definitely. I was shocked at the number of photographers when I came here; I couldn’t believe it.

JS: Do you have your next assignment lined up?

HA: I just work day to day. I don’t have a project on the go; I take it as it comes and go where the news goes.

Hollie Adams is on Instagram as @hollieradams. The BPPA Assignments 2021 exhibition runs at Bargehouse London, Oxo Tower Wharf, London SE1 9PH, from August 27th to September 5th.

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