Tavakolian versus Carmignac

September 17th, 2014

Iranian photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian (born 1981) gives her reasons for  returning the 50,000 Euro grant and stepping down as the winner of the Carmignac Gestion Award for photojournalism 2014 in an article Newsha Tavakolian versus Carmignac published today on The Eye of Photography (L’Oeil de la Photographie).  In it she makes clear her reasons for doing so, because of the interference of French investment banker Edouard Carmignac in the presentation of her work.  She writes:

from the moment I delivered the work, Mr. Carmignac insisted on personally editing my photographs as well as altering the accompanying texts to the photographs.”

and that his interventions had the effect of changing her work from “a subtle attempt to bring across the realities of life of my generation in Iran to a coarse and horrible clichéd view about Iran.”

Tavakolian states that the Carmignac Foundation has a persistent attitude of erring on the side of controversy, and that their behaviour towards her and her work is at odds with its stated aim of being “committed to champion the personal and, by definition, minority view”, attempting to straitjacket her subtle and nuanced individual perspective into the clichés about Iran. As she points out, even their statement they made about the ‘adjournment’ of her exhibitions and book they state this was due not to her standing up for the integrity of her work but to ‘severe pressure’ applied by the Iranian government on her and her family. She describes this as “absolutely false, and laughable”.

Tavakolian was one of the photographers – others included Azadeh Akhlaghi, Gohar Dashti, Shadi Ghadirian, Babak Kazemi, Abbas Kowsari, Ali and Ramyar, and Sadegh Tirafkan whose work was shown earlier this year at Somerset House in Burnt Generation: Contemporary Iranian Photography, and one of her pictures in a set of images on Iran’s young middle-class from The Observer shows a man sitting at a table with his face covered with shaving foam, ‘to draw attention to her feeling that, “Men in Iranian society are often perceived as angry and bearded in the west”’.

Hers is a principled stand, and one that as a photographer I whole-heartedly applaud. Too often the price of having work published or shown has been to have the views of others imposed on it. Her website  – and those of the other photographers listed above – is worth spending time looking at to understand something about both her own perspective and the realities behind living in Iran.

Hugh Mangum (1877-1922)

September 16th, 2014

These days I seldom seem to have a good word for the BBC, and their coverage of the Scottish question in recent weeks has further mired their reputation. It will be hard to believe any report from their political editor Nick Robinson after he was widely perceived to have made “a brazen and quite spectacular lie” about Alex Salmond’s lengthy response to his questions at a press conference.

So it’s nice to get a little away from politics and have something positive to say about one of our great British institutions. In the BBC online Magazine there is an interesting article by Rob Brown of the BBC World Service, The photographer who rejected racism in the American south, about a relatively unknown photographer, Hugh Mangum (1877-1922), a self-taught itinerant photographer from Durham in North Carolina who travelled by rail across North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia and set up temporary studios producing low cost portraits for anyone who wanted a photograph of themselves or their family.

The Penny Picture Camera he used allowed for a variable number of images on a single glass plate, cutting the costs of each exposure (and hence its name – with the smallest pictures costing only a penny), and sometimes the photographer would get things a little wrong, producing unintended if sometimes interesting multiple exposures.

Some of the pictures have been on show last month at the Museum of Durham History, curated by Sarah Stacke, who is working together with Margaret Sartor of the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies on a book about Mangum. You can see all of the 688 surviving negatives in the  Hugh Mangum Photograph Collection on-line in their fine Digital Collections site, where you can also download images at various sizes for  study and personal use.  The surviving images are almost certainly only a small fraction of his work.

Mangum was unknown to me until I read the BBC World Service article, although there was an article by Stacke about him on the NY Times Lens blog in August last year that I missed.

You can see more about Penny Picture Cameras on the web, and there is a detailed description of the 5×7  Century Penny Picture camera which was manufactured by the Century Camera Company from  1900 to 1907, and then when they became part of the Kodak empire by the Folmer & Schwing Division of the Eastman Kodak Company until 1926. After leaving Kodak they made a similar camera until 1937. There were also other cameras of this type available and I don’t know if it was a Century that Mangum used for his work.

Mangum’s pictures are interesting in showing us such a cross-section of the population of the US South, working across the boundaries of race in a society that was, as Stacke says “marked by disenfranchisement, segregation and inequality — between black and white, men and women, rich and poor” and also for the directness of the images, showing the people he photographed as individuals.

Gaza Stop the War

September 15th, 2014

Israel began its 2014 military attack against Gaza, ‘Operation Resolute Cliff ‘ (though they gave it the different, more defensive-sounding title ‘Protective Edge‘ for the English speaking international audience) on 8 July, although the ground invasion only began on the 17th, so ‘Stop the War‘ had some time to prepare its first major national protest in London on the 19th July.  And it was a large protest, with thousands filling Whitehall at the start and more at Kensington High St for the final rally, if not on quite the same scale as the truly huge protests before the invasion of Iraq.

Like most people in this country, I was appalled by the hundreds of innocent civilians who had been killed in Gaza, and the huge imbalance of power and destruction between the two sides. Of course I’m against attacks on Israel, but looking at the coverage by world news channels – and even some reports from BBC reporters, even if the BBC at times seemed to be an Israeli propaganda channel – the attacks seemed entirely disproportionate. If I’d not been at the protest as a photographer and journalist I would have been there as a protester.

I’ve had a long and slightly fraught relationship with Stop the War. Back in 2002, as well as photographing marches and rallies in London, I was also out in my local area most Friday evenings holding a placard or handing out leaflets to workers on their way home. A dozen or so of my images were included in the the book ‘Stop The War: A Graphic History‘ published to mark 10 years of its protests, and some of these are among those I published here in a post when this came out.

But there are some issues over which I’ve disagreed with Stop the War – in particular over Syria, where I felt our government should have given much more support to the Free Syrian Army while their opposition supported the Assad regime with its long and bloody record of oppression of the Syrian people. I’d also felt, back in 2003, that they had lost their nerve – or had been so dominated by outdated political thinking – that having won the arguments and gained such widespread support across the British people, they had failed to take advantage of this. So while I support – and admire much of what they have done, I’m not uncritical.

And, as a photographer and journalist, it’s my job to be critical. I’d heard many accusations that those protesting against the Israeli army attacks were anti-Semitic. Was there any evidence of this on this march at at the rally. Plenty of Jewish marchers, some of them, along with many others on the march calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. A few Israeli flags on a painting, on placards. So far as I tell none were being used in an anti-Semitic manner, but were calling for an end to the bombing of children and other war crimes by Israeli forces. Placards and speaker after speaker making clear they were not opposed to the Jewish people or the existence of Israel but against Zionism and the criminal attacks on civilians in Gaza, calls for Israel to respect international law and UN resolutions.

Of course there was considerable support for Hamas, who were elected as the majority party in Gaza in the 2006 elections, taking complete power there later in the year after a misguided US-backed attempt to unseat them. Israel’s response was to impose a blockade on Gaza, a form of collective punishment on the whole population of Gaza which is almost universally considered illegal. And many if not all of those taking part in the protest were calling for the lifting of the blockade.

I also saw – and made sure I photographed – four people carrying Hezbollah flags (and one with them a Lebanese flag.) This is a group widely regarded around the world as a terrorist organisation and who consider Israel to be an illegitimate state. Although officially they distinguish between Judaism and Zionism, many leading members are recorded as having made anti-Semitic statements.

I managed to sneak in and take a picture of Jocelyn Hurndall, Kamel Hawwash, Garth Hewitt, Ismail Patel, Andy Slaughter MP, Rushanara Ali MP , Diane Abbot MP & Lindsey German holding the main banner

As a photographer I’ve often had problems with the stewarding of ‘Stop the War’ organised protests, with some over-officious stewarding.  I’ve on occasion been assaulted by one of their stewards and narrowly avoided possibly serous injury by their disregard for my safety.  At this event the stewards made it very difficult to photograph the people holding the main banner – mainly the speakers – at any stage during the march, and failed to provide any working space for the press at the pre-march rally.

Back at one Stop the War march in 2002, photographers sat down on Park Lane in front of the march bringing it to a halt because we were not allowed access – and negotiated five minutes to take photos before the march continued. Perhaps we should take direct action more often! Though it’s perhaps better to work through the NUJ (see later.)

George Galloway MP

Things were a little better at the rally following the march, in the main road close to the Israeli embassy, but failed to give any real space in front of the speakers for photography. A narrow two foot gap between the front of the stage and the crowd barriers was not really enough, and those photographers who managed to get access (myself included) were crowded  at one side, hoping that the speakers would occasionally glance in our direction.

Although there were all sorts of people in this small area – including many taking pictures on their phones – many of the press were refused access. The stewards controlling the entrance asked who people were working for and refused entry to photographers with UK Press Cards who told them they were freelances  – as the great majority of photographers now are, while allowing others without proper press cards in to the area. I  was admitted because I gave the name of the agency I send work to rather than saying ‘freelance’.

Following this protest, representatives from the NUJ London Photographers Branch met with Stop the War, and at the next Gaza protest we got some extra space and the stewards controlling entry recognised the UK Press Card.  Good relations between protesters and press are in everyone’s interest.

See a rather large selection of images from the event at End Gaza Killing Now.

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Devon/Dorset Holiday Snaps

September 14th, 2014

Not London, but its convenient to post my holiday snaps in My London Diary, and there were some London connections. We were staying just a few miles from Lyme Regis, and one of its more famous sons was Thomas Coram, the founder of the Foundling Hospital in London’s Coram’s Fields, and there is a window for him in the parish church.

But for most people Lyme Regis means fossils and possibly (largely thanks to the French Lieutenant’s Woman) The Cobb, a slightly odd shaped harbour wall.  We did go looking for fossils – and found quite a few small ammonites – but none were really worth photographing, and the rocks they were on were either far too large to move or too crumbly to keep, though we did take a couple of lumps back to show the friends we were sharing an ex-hotel in the middle of nowhere with.

The slope is handy to allow the waves to run back off, though the sea was pretty flat when we were there, and most of the time there were quite a few people walking along it.

The only really good fossils we saw were in shops and the museum – and the museum also has quite a few interesting local photographs, including some taken by Roger Mayne (1929-2014), best known for his work on children playing in Southam St and elsewhere in North Kensington between 1956 and 1961. When I met him he complained that people never realised he had ever taken anything but these pictures, but looking at the work on his own web site these pictures do seem to me to stand out.

In 1974 he moved together with his wife, playwright Ann Jellicoe to Lyme Regis, where she developed the idea of community plays and became, along with John Fowles, co-curator of the Lyme Regis Museum for some years – and later both Jellicoe and Mayne were patrons of the Town Mill, rescued by volunteer efforts over ten years from dereliction to become both a working watermill and to house various artisanal businesses. You can see a couple of Mayne’s images of Lyme in the Landscapes section of his web site.

If you look at the pictures in Devon/Dorset Holiday you will find that we did quite a lot of walking – not least because where we were staying was a little over three miles from Lyme and further from anywhere else, and although we were close to a bus stop, the first bus into Lyme came at 10.59 and the last bus back was timetabled for 16.59, though it was always late when we took it.

So I was very pleased to be carrying a couple of Fuji cameras rather than my more usual Nikons. I was going to take just one camera, the Fuji X-T1, but in the end decided the Fuji X-E1 was so light and petite that I might just as well take that along as well to save me having to change lenses so much. I took three lenses, the Fuji 18-55mm zoom and 14mm, and the Samyang 8mm fisheye, which at f2.8 was a stop faster than the others.  All three lenses are fully usable wide open, though like all lenses they improve a little a stop or two down, and both bodies performed well.

Its actually an advantage that the 8mm is a manual lens, as you hardly ever need to focus. Both the click-stopped aperture ring and the focus ring are commendably firm, and even clumsy fingers like mine seldom knock them from position. Set the lens at infinity and f5.6 and you never need to touch it again.  I did miss the level indicators of the Nikon D800E when using this lens, as any up/down tilt in the camera gives you a curved horizon, and while the unusual projection used by this lens is better when using the images uncorrected, correction software doesn’t quite work as well with them. Its a lens I love using, and as you can see I probably used it too much!

I have two problems with the 14mm, though optically it is fine. Firstly it is quite easy to shift from manual to autofocus mode or vice-versa by pushing the focus ring – great when you want to, but can be disastrous if done by accident and not noticed. Of course you should notice, as the viewfinder shows quite clearly when you have autofocus by giving a green square outline. But if you get absorbed in making pictures you can miss this.

More annoying is the very loose aperture ring, turning with only a slight detent on every 1/3 stop. Not so bad if you set the aperture manually, but if you set it to A, that slight touch takes it to f22, which is a disaster. Of course a 14mm lens should not have an f22 setting in any case – far too much diffraction – and it would be better limited to f16.

The 18-55mm has no real problems that I’ve noticed. As with most zooms these days the performance is more or less on a par with fixed focal lengths. I sometimes turned off the optical image stabilisation by accident when changing lenses, but most of the time it makes little difference in any case.

The X-T1 viewfinder is amazingly good and I only notice it is electronic when there is a slight delay moving to an area with very different light intensity. I’ve fitted the accessory larger eye-cup, which perhaps makes it a little better when wearing spectacles, as I now need to.

For the kind of holiday photography I was doing the only real problem with both cameras was battery life. I needed to carry at least one spare battery for each body and to charge both the spare and the one from the camera every night. On at least one fairly long day I had to change the battery in the X-T1 twice. It would doubtless have helped if I kept turning the cameras off after taking a picture, but with Nikons you don’t need to. I can only remember once this year I’ve had to change a Nikon battery I put in the camera fully charged before leaving home before I got back to put it in the charger again. And Fuji batteries seem to take longer to charge too. It’s a problem you can live with, but annoying.

I’m also having a problem with the combined dial on the left of the top-plate of the X-T1, which alters the ISO. You have to press down the centre to change the ISO, which is fine, but this dial is now very stiff, and usually turns the lower surrounding mode dial with it – the lock button unlocks the ISO but seems to lock the ISO to this. Unless I remember to check  and return the mode setting I find myself taking a panorama or bracketing when I want a single shot.

Devon/Dorset Holiday

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Russet Landscapes

September 11th, 2014

Tuesday night I was at the opening of WE ARE THE LANDSCAPE at The Russet in Hackney, and it seemed to be well-appreciated by those present. The Russet describes itself as a ‘restaurant, cafe and creative space‘ which ‘ is part of the Hackney Downs Studios family: a centre for creativity and collaboration in East London.’

Certainly the cakes on sale there looked delicious (but probably quite unsuitable for diabetics).  The site was converted from an old print works, and the venue still has something of the feeling of an old industrial interior, though with some comfortable seating rather like a loft apartment furnished from the better stuff people’s parents were throwing out. If you are into local, fresh, seasonal, artisanal and artistic this is a place for you. Here are the details:

THE RUSSET 07733444421 17 Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT

10 Sep – 05 Nov Mon-Sun 9am-10pm

Paul Walsh – Kajsa Johansson – Dominik Gigler – Arnau Oriol – Susan Andrews – David Boulogne – Alessandra Chilà – Chris Dorley-Brown – Peter Marshall – Mike Seaborne – David George

The show is a part of

photomonth - The East London photography festival

For obvious reasons being one of those involved I’m not going to write a review of the show, which was curated by David Boulogne and Tendai Thomas Davies. But I was pleased to read this, posted by David on the show’s Facebook page this morning:

First review “Well curated and executed exhibition. The work on itself is a proof of a clear vision, commitment and passion. The result , a compelling piece of art-filled with cultural, socio-economic and historical weight – 10/10

You can also read some short texts about the eleven photographers who have work in the show on the 2012pics blog. I’d not met Tendai who organises the gallery space at The Russet before, but I find we share a taste in music, and I’m listening to some Archie Shepp he linked to as I write.

But what I can do is to post the five pictures of mine in this show here. They are already on-line along with many others on my London Photos site, which is now two books out of date, and they come from London Dérives, a series of almost two hundred images on-line and are among the 73 pictures from this included in the book/PDF available from Blurb.

All five pictures were taken in 1979, and all at locations within a fairly short walk of The Russet.

In the book description on Blurb is the following – including a quotation from the French situationist Guy Debord, best known for his ‘Society of the Spectacle‘, influential on many of us involved (if peripherally in Manchester rather than Paris) in the student protests of the sixties, though this comes from another work, and is a fresh translation for my book.  The single short passage there – longer than this below, but still only a couple of hundred words – took several days of agonising and consultation with French speakers as well as the expert services of the ‘in house’ translator I married back in those times. Here it is:

London Dérives
ISBN 978-1-909363-08-3

People well know that there are gloomy quarters and others that are pleasant. But they generally convince themselves that the smart streets give a sense of pleasure and that the poor streets depress, without any nuance. In fact, the the variety of possible combinations of ambiances, like the solution of chemical substances into an infinite number of mixtures leads to feelings as different and as complex as arise from any other form of spectacle.

Pictures from numerous walks “without goal” through London in the mid 1970s and early 1980s which aimed to capture some of the nuances of that city.

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Rotherhithe & Surrey Docks

September 10th, 2014

Surrey Docks entrance, Rotherhithe St, 1984

It’s always exciting when I get the first copy of a printed book of my photographs delivered, and I ripped open the parcel and was pleased to find that as usual Blurb had made a decent job of ‘Rotherhithe & Surrey Docks: 1975-85‘, the fourth in my series on London Docklands.

Of course I’d seen it all before, when I’d spent days scanning and retouching the images, and then selecting and putting them in some kind of order (not an easy task) and designing and preparing the book using InDesign. Being the fourth in the series, much of the design had already been done for the previous volumes, though there are some minor tweaks. And, no matter how many times you check, there are always some minor errors that you miss., though in this case nothing that I feel really needs a reprint to correct.

The printing of the black and white images is as usual good, though not perfect, and certainly not as good as with the PDF version, which I recommend. As with my other recent works, this book is published as a digital version, ISBN 978-1-909363-12-0, downloadable from Blurb, with the print version available for those who would like a convenient hard-copy of the PDF. You can also view the whole book in the preview on the Blurb page.  The PDF costs £4.99 and a printed copy will currently cost £31 plus postage. Incidentally buying the PDF also gives you a licence to print out a single copy of any (or all!) of the 90 or so pages of the book, though to print the whole book at comparable quality to the print version on my home printer would cost me around £70.

The scans for the book were mainly made with a Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro scanner – one of the best film scanners ever made, particularly when fitted with a purpose made light diffuser and specially machined holders to ensure flatness across the whole negative. Some of the scans needed considerable retouching in Photoshop, mainly because of some insect infestation of the negatives, but also in some cases because of uneven development. The scans were converted to high-quality CMYK files using Photoshop, and saved with the Blurb supplied ICC profile. Black and white images tend to be printed slightly off-neutral and the images were given a slightly warm tone which I’ve always preferred for my work.

The printed copy I have is a good match to my originals (and the PDF), though prints are always a little duller, but seem very close to neutral. But as this is ‘print on demand’ there can be small copy to copy differences. I use Blurb’s premium lustre paper which prints black and white better than the standard, and the print quality is quite acceptable. Of course it doesn’t match the superb quality of the duotones and tritones of some photographic books, but is generally good enough.

When I first cycled through the area in 1976 I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but then you could walk down the ventilation shafts to go under the river in the Rotherhithe tunnel. By the time I took the photograph at the top of this post in 1984 they were locked, presumably to discourage people using the crossing, though you can still walk or cycle through the tunnel from the vehicle entrances although at some risk to your health.

Later I went back on foot, walking over the footbridge across the entrance to South Dock, next to which was then the Surrey Docks Farm, one of several ‘city farms’ across London. I took several pictures of a young girl on a bicycle as she went across the lock gates to the farm. Some years later on another visit to the area I was mystified, as both the farm and the footbridge had moved to different locations in the area.

In 1984 I spent a couple of days wandering the area and taking pictures, including a little to my surprise a wharf still handling timber, which used to be the main business in the Surrey Docks, where there were once large ponds in which it was stored, as well as huge open timber sheds, some of which were still around, standing empty. Some of the timber would then be taken on barges up Bow Creek to timber yards on the Lea Navigation to be sawn up.

The redevelopment of the area had been started by the London Borough of Southwark and the Greater London Council, but progress had been slow, partly because they were kept short of money. The Conservatives once Mrs Thatcher had come to power saw docklands as a great opportunity for developers (and many Conservatives were developers or invested in them) to make money and set up the London Docklands Development Corporation 1n 1981 to speed up the regeneration and pour public subsidies into private pockets.

While the results have not been entirely disastrous for the area, the developments have not served the people who were living in the area as well as they might.

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Fair Pay Now!

September 9th, 2014

It’s always hard to estimate the numbers taking part in large marches, and this was certainly a large march, with perhaps around 15,000 being a reasonable estimate. At the start, as people gathered outside Broadcasting House – fast becoming a popular starting point for protests as more and more groups get tired of the way that the BBC ignores or marginalises most UK protests, it was certainly very difficult to move around for the crowd in the road and to find the space needed between camera and subject. Most of the pictures from before the start of the march were taken around the edges of the packed crowd, and as usual I was looking for things that would tell the story, as well as meeting people that I knew.

Sometimes the two things came together, as in the picture of Jasmin Stone and her daughter and others from Focus E15 Mums in front of Broadcasting House – and there are other faces in some other pictures that regular visitors to My London Diary will recognise.

Another view of Broadcasting House, where reporters were careful not to really notice what was happening outside

But there were many here who are not regular protesters – and some told me this was their first protest march, and others that they seldom take part in such things. A number of trade unions had called a one day strike, and groups like the teachers are so fed up with being ‘Goved’ that they had turned out in force for the march, though I was surprised that only the NUT were supporting it.

‘Education – cuts never heal’ – ‘Guck Fove’

I always find  the large balloons that some unions like to take on their marches are a problem to photograph,so high that they are difficult to connect with the people on the ground. Designed to be visible from a distance, they aren’t ideal for photographers like me who like to work close, where even with a wide-angle they are hard to include. The NUT Scissors with their message ‘Education – cuts never heal’ are rather more interesting,and I was pleased to be able to combine them with a strong message about Mr Gove, who shortly afterwards lost his job, not because of the havoc he has wreaked destroying what system there is in our education, but because of his silly squabbles with Teresa May.

There was just so much to photograph while the march was forming up, and it was so crowded that although I’d been keeping an eye on my watch, I actually just missed the start of the march, which I’d intended to photograph with Broadcasting House in the background. But by the time I made it back to the start, they had started very  punctually and already moved a couple of hundred yards down the road. It isn’t a great picture, but it does show the flags (and balloons) of some of the main unions involved, GMB (just), NUT, Unite, PCS and Unison. There is also what seems to be a Portuguese flag (and I think I know who would have been carrying it) but more important to me in framing the picture, on top of Broadcasting House, the Union Jack.

This was a fairly short march, only a little over a mile to Trafalgar Square, but marches usually go fairly slowly. I waited until the end had gone past me close to Oxford Circus, around a quarter mile from the start (it took 50 minutes), then rushed along the route to the end, only stopping a couple of times to take more pictures and arriving before most of the marchers more or less as the rally was starting.

Workers from the Ritzy cinema in Brixton who are striking for the London living wage

As well as photographing the speakers, there were also people in the crowd to photograph, including those responding to the speeches in the picture at the top of this post. I managed to photograph the Ritzy strikers in front of one of the lions just before too many other photographers arrived and started walking in front of them.

The London Fire Brigade Union banner, standing against the plinth of Nelson’s column to one side behind the speakers made a splendid backdrop for the FBU leader Matt Wrack, although it was perhaps less appropriate for some of the other speakers. I was also careful to frame so as to get the message on his FBU t-shirt ‘We rescue people, not banks – Stop the cuts‘, the first part of which is a quotation from Spanish fire-fighters when asked to assist in the eviction of people unable to keep up with their mortgage payments.

I was also pleased to see and photograph Mark Serwotka of PCS who I knew had been ill, but was certainly in fiery form at this event. It wasn’t until almost two months later that we all heard how great his health problems are, and how remarkable he has been in coping with them.

More pictures from the march and rally at Public Service Workers Strike for Fair Pay.
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Save Our Surgeries

September 8th, 2014

I left the ‘Housing for All‘ march at East Ham station and took the District Line to Aldgate East, in the neighbouring borough of Tower Hamlets. Like Newham, this also has a directly elected mayor, but a very different character. For a couple of years Lutfur Rahman was the leader of the Labour council here, but was replaced by the party when he became controversial over media allegations about his links to the Islamic Forum of Europe, a group with an important place in the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets. IFE supporters say it works actively to oppose extremist groups, while the right-wing press accuses it of extremism.

After much infighting among various groups in the Labour party Rahman was finally elected by Tower Hamlets Labour Party as their candidate for the first elected mayoral elections by a large majority. But the Labour National Executive Committee removed him, replacing him by the man who got the least votes of the three candidates, a decision that, along with the published account of what actually happened in the meeting, puts the party in a very bad light.

Rahman considered legal action to get reinstated, but then decided to stand as an independent candidate instead and got elected – and this year elected again for a second term. But his ‘Tower Hamlets First‘ party are a minority on the council, with around half of all councillors still being Labour. A great deal of ill-feeling still appears to exist between at least some of the Labour group and the Mayor, with non-cooperation and allegations of malpractice being fed liberally to the media, most of which have been only too pleased to report and distort it.

To an outsider, Rahman appears despite the problems to have done a very good job as mayor and to be very open to the people of Tower Hamlets – and indeed to put them first. He has turned up at several events I’ve photographed (and sent along others with his apologies and a message of support when unable to come personally) and seems to have supported projects across the many communities in the borough. I’ve not known another mayor who is as visible and accessible to local people and wish other mayors were more like him at least in this respect.

Like most people in Tower Hamlets the Mayor is greatly concerned to the threat to the surgeries in the area (and in other deprived areas) of the withdrawal of the support they currently get because of the extra needs of the area. They fear these will be unable to continue, and will be replaced by cut-price services run by large health companies and providing only a low level of health care. The date chosen for the Save our Surgeries rally and march was the 66th anniversary of the founding of the NHS.

Of course the Mayor was just one of a number of speakers, including the local Labour MP, Rushanara Ali as well as doctors and other health professionals and a patient. I tried to photograph them all, but it mainly their audience that attracted me, very much a reflection of one of London’s multicultural boroughs. The placard too is one of the more decorative I’ve photographed, though rather less graphic than most, and reflects something of the diversity of the area, with its small island of business wealth at Canary Wharf, old buildings and the recent mosque, though it does rather lack the bustle of its streets.

It is perhaps a reminder that when taking photographs we too need to be aware we are creating representations, and we need to be aware of the message that our pictures convey, not just of who or what we see as the subject of our photograph. At the end of the march as it went past the old Royal London Hospital building were an elderly couple, walking slowly and with some obvious difficulty. I took several pictures, including the one above, including some showing their faces, taking care not to disturb them, but this is the one I chose to use. At first I wondered why I had deliberately chosen to include that disturbing red light which to me looks like a distorted mouth sliming its way across the rear of the car so prominently in the frame. But now I’ve grown to rather like it, though I’m not entirely sure why.
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Housing for All March

September 5th, 2014

Focus E15 Mums began almost a year ago as a campaign by a group of young mothers living in a hostel in Stratford to fight eviction when Newham Council cut the hostel’s funding. They started a weekly protest stall and made their fight to stay in the area a very public one, asking questions at meetings and staging protests, some of which have featured here before.

Their campaign has meant that so far they have managed to stay in London, close to families, support services and jobs, when Newham was trying to move them out to Birmingham or Hastings or anywhere rather than Newham.  It isn’t that there is no housing available in Newham, at the centre of one of the largest areas of regeneration in the country, with new blocks of flats appearing every time I go there and of course huge developments on the former Olympic site.  Not to mention the many vacant properties on the Carpenters Estate close to the centre of Stratford. More that these young women are not the right kind of people for Newham’s new vision; to put it simply they just are not rich enough.

Newham is of course a Labour-run council. Entirely. All of the 60 councillors now in office are from the Labour party. Unusually it also has a directly elected mayor, Robin Wales, Leader of Newham Council from 1995 to 2002 and Mayor since then, elected for a fourth term in May this year. You might think that this should mean a council that cares for the poor and the disadvantaged in the community, but it appears you might be sadly wrong.

One of the placards being carried in the protest had a picture of Sir Robin on it, along with the text  ‘Olympic Legacy = Evictions and Social Cleansing – Robin the Poor – Robin Wales Mayor of Newham’.  His policies are built around the ideas of ‘resilience’, which seems to mean helping those who help themselves, rather than any care or concern for those who are weak or who face problems they are unable to deal with. To me they seem to have abandoned the key ideas of the Labour movement, and would readily fit with those of the Chamber of Commerce and the Conservative Party.

I was disappointed not to get a better picture with that placard, and it wasn’t for want of trying. Perhaps I was mistaken, but just occasionally at protests there do seem to be people who go to considerable effort to evade the camera.

Four members of the Counihan family came with the Brent Housing Action banner

Of course there were many people at the protest who were happy – if not keen –  to be photographed and many that I knew from other events. I’ve photographed the Counihan family who started a campaign about their own housing problem with the London Borough of Brent – and who like the Focus Mums have gone on to campaign over housing on behalf of others in their own ‘Housing for All’ campaign, Brent Housing Action.

It was also good to see another friend I’ve photographed on various occasions, Tamsin Omond, who was handing out leaflets for a protest against the expansion of London City Airport, also in east London as well as carrying a placard in the protest. Some of the events I photographed her and the other Climate Rush activists at 5 years ago were against the building of a third runway at Heathrow  – and it now looks increasingly as if we will be protesting there again before too long.

Climate Rushers and local residents lead the ‘NO THIRD RUNWAY’ procession at the Heathrow perimeter fence
I had to leave the ‘Housing for All’ march as it passed East Ham Station as I wanted to photograph another event. You can read my report on the march and see more pictures at Focus E15 March for Decent Housing.

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25 Years of Drik

September 4th, 2014

Hard to believe it, but there are still people with an interest in photography who haven’t heard of Drik, the innovated photo agency set up by Shahidul Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh 25 years ago. As he puts it in his blog, “Tired of being pitied for our poverty, and do-gooder attempts to ‘save’ us, we had decided to become our own storytellers.”

Shahidul Alam talking in London in 2011

It has been a difficult journey, starting on shoestring resources, and for which they also had to create much of the infrastructure, including setting up Bangladesh’s first email network using Fidonet. The government did their worst to close them because of their support for human rights, sending police to shut down some of their shows, and they were “stabbed in the street, arrested, and generally persecuted.”

The photographic school set up by Alam and those working with him, Pathshala, the South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka is now widely recognised as one of the leading schools of photojournalism in the world, and many photographers who have studied there have become well-known, and its former students increasingly feature in the major international photojournalism competitions.

On my table downstairs, until now unopened, is the September issue of ‘New Internationalist‘ magazine – which I’ve subscribed to since its inception (and before it became ‘New’ in 1973, when it was the magazine of ‘Third World First, a student group now known as ‘People and Planet’) though I don’t always get around to reading every word – and I’m still reading the previous issue. It’s essential reading if you want to know what is really happening around the world – and why – and not just what Murdoch and his like want you to know. Over the years they have published a number of articles by Alam, including The Majority World looks back in 2007, as well as making use of images from Drik and Majority World, another of his initiatives.

The latest issue of the magazine has a double-page spread, ‘Telling our own stories‘, celebrating 25 years of Drik, which you can see and download from Alam’s post. I’m pleased to add my small voice to the congratulations.