Working for Free?

July 22nd, 2014

It isn’t easy to make a living as a photographer, and certainly I don’t think it is getting easier. As the basics of photography get every more simple there are more and more people who can and are doing it.

Not in the main doing it very well, though some of the worst photographers I know are probably among those who make the most money. And some of the work given away for free by ‘amateurs’ is often visually and technically of a very high standard, while the media is full of routine clichés by professionals – who produce these because the media demands them.

I’ve seldom if ever “worked for free” for commercial media. A few features about myself and my work where I’ve thought the publicity was worthwhile, but otherwise I’ve always asked for normal rates or let agencies do so on my behalf.  There are a wide range of borderline publications which I know are run on shoe-string budgets, some with those publishing them dipping into their own pockets to do so where I’ve accepted reduced fees and even – for causes I support – worked as a donation to the cause.  But I regularly get requests to use me or my work for nothing – and equally regularly either simply ignore them or turn them down.

This blog – and my own web site, My London Diary, is largely a labour of love. There is no direct financial return as I decided to keep both free of adverts (I think there is one – or perhaps 2  – sponsored links somewhere on the thousands of pages where I succumbed to a little easy money which seemed to come totally without strings.) When I started both of them I was writing for a commercial site where intrusive advertising annoyed many of my readers – or at least those without the nous to install pop-up blockers and the like and it was something I wanted to avoid.

Of course you will notice on both sites there are links through which anyone can buy prints, books and licences to publish images, but these result in relatively few sales, though there certainly have been other benefits from my work on the web. But essentially it is a way to reach an audience – the last time I checked the statistics around 10,000 viewers a day across all of my web sites – rather than to make money.

I’ve been thinking for some time about writing a post about the economic realities for photographers, and have just come across an article Surviving in the New Economy by Joey Terrill on PetaPixel (originally published in Terrill’s The Penumbra Project) which says many of the things I’ve been thinking  (and more) and puts them rather better.

It’s unfair to summarise a long, well-crafted and thoughtful post in a few words – better you go and read it.  But central to it is the truth that photographers are not going to change the media business by moaning.  If you are standing shoulder to shoulder with 19 other photographers all making basically the same picture photography becomes a commodity that sells largely on price, but if you produce unique images that people want you will be able to command sensible rates for them.

Many of the best photographers in the past failed to make a living from photography, and others didn’t really try.  Some taught, others relied on family or friends to keep going, or took part-time jobs. Some made money from weddings and social photography (or fashion) to be able to continue to photograph the things that really interested them.

G4S, NHS & Colombia

July 20th, 2014

I’ve been away for a few days taking a holiday, and although I made a few posts while away, wasn’t able to keep up with my normal schedules. So it’s been a little longer than usual since my last post. I’m now back and working, and keeping rather busy – so many protests now in London. In the week I was away there were at least 20 I would have liked to have covered.

June too was a busy month, and although Thursdays are not usually very busy for me, on 5th June I went out with four events in my diary, spread across London, the first at the Excel Centre on Victoria Dock in Newham, East London. I arrived as the protesters were setting up on a paved area outside the centre where G4S were holding their AGM, and the protesters were hoping to lobby the shareholders coming for the meeting.

Quite a few of the protesters were familiar to me from a number of earlier protests outside the G4S offices on Victoria St, where there have been regular protests, but there were also some other groups involved, including  War on Want and Right to Remain as well as another group I’ve photographed at many events, Global Women’s Strike. G4S’s involvement in Israeli prisons where Palestinians are held without trial and tortured and here in the UK where they have run detention centres and done the dirty work for the UK Borders Agency – including killing Jimmy Mubenga while forcibly deporting him – have rightly enraged many.

You can see more pictures at GG4S AGM Protest Against Human Rights Abuses.

I didn’t stay very long although I knew that things might get more interesting later on inside the actual AGM because I knew that I had no chance of photographing inside there. I knew the security would be very tight – and in the event when shareholding protesters were physically ejected from the meeting they even managed to stop those who tried to take pictures on their phones.

I’d been a little worried before I arrived that there might be problems outside with security, as the whole area is I think part of one of London’s many areas open to the public which is actually a privately owned estate. But although there were a few minor words with the protesters who strayed outside the area that had been allotted to them, I had no problems at all in taking photographs.

Fortunately it was a direct journey on the Docklands Light Railway to Tower Gateway and then a ten minute walk to the St Katherine’s Dock Practice where the ‘Nye Bevan’ march to ‘Keep Our NHS Public’ was starting its tour of the surgeries in Tower Hamlets. The removal of the minimum practice income guarantee (MPIG) for practices threatens the future of high quality health care in deprived areas – and is designed to put quality practices out of business, replacing them with surgeries on the cheap operated by large healthcare companies on the behalf of shareholders rather than patients.

The march stopped briefly at each surgery for short speeches and collected a few more people. The bright sun made for some very contrasty lighting in some pictures and I often didn’t use fill flash when I should. I was also getting uncomfortably hot marching around the city streets but stayed with it for around a third of its long route to a final rally.  You can see my pictures at Tower Hamlets – Save our Surgeries.  Possibly the surgeries will be able to hang on until after the election, when if Labour are elected there is some small chance that they might reverse some of the more blatant privatisation of the NHS as they have fewer vested interests in healthcare companies.

I left the march as I had planned at at a surgery close to Whitechapel station. I should have had plenty of time from there to take the Underground to either of the two remaining protests on my list. Both were in west London, at the Columbian and Egyptian embassies. But the NHS protest had taken a little longer than they had planned to get to Whitechapel, and I was running a little late on my schedule.

I knew I should go to the Egyptian embassy first, as the group at the Colombian Mines – World Environment Day protest would I knew be slow to start, but I chose this first as it was only a short walk from Knightsbridge station, while if I went to the Egyptian embassy I would have a longish walk there and back to the tube to go on to Knightsbridge. It was hot and I was tired and I took the easier route, and then went back to Hyde Park Corner station to walk to a protest against the Egyptian regime.

This final event in my diary for the day had been scheduled by the organisers to run from 4pm until 6pm. I arrived at 5pm, meeting a familiar face who had just arrived struggling with a large and heavy trade union banner and we were both disappointed to find around 20 protesters packing up and leaving an hour early. So I had nothing to photograph. Though by then I was hot and tired and wasn’t too upset to have a little less work to do when I finally got home. It did mean I got to bed before midnight.

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Arles Disaster?

July 15th, 2014

You are almost sure to be aware that there is a photo festival every year at Arles. I’ve never been to it, though I’ve occasionally commented on what happened there, and have written about why I’ve not gone on several occasions. But rather than do so this year, I just want to refer you to a post on l’Oeil de la photographie Arles 2014: An Off Year? Worse—A Disaster!.

I should have gone to Arles perhaps 20 or more years ago, but then I was always busy with my students’ photography examinations at the time it took place, early in July. Since then the nature of this festival – and many others – have changed, as the article puts it “it’s becoming a buyer’s festival, that galleries and collectors and agents are crowding in, that deals are being made, that guys and girls from all over are bringing an astounding creativity to the “off” and “off-off” sections of the festival.”

That this is happening to the fringe is good in some ways – and particularly good for those photographers taking part. If you look at my reports on the several Paris Mois de la Photo I’ve attended I’ve written for this site you will have hear my thoughts that the activities on the fringe are generally much more interesting than the relatively few shows of the actual Mois, and certainly from the delear’s festival few days at Paris Photo.

In his editorial, Jean-Jacques Naudet writes:

we’ve had enough of these veterans: enough Martin Parr, enough Raymond Depardon, enough Christian Lacroix, enough Erik Kessels. They’re all great, but their ubiquity has become unbearable. At this rate, if Hébel and the festival weren’t parting ways, then next year’s edition would have featured Martin Parr’s cookbook, Raymond Depardon’s garden gnomes and Christian Lacroix’s children’s toys.

and he talks about the wild passions and outsized egos of recent years.

I’m not sure I agree when he says that one day we will want to revisit these – perhaps we will want only to revisit some aspects of some of them, and there are other parts we will want to bury our memories of. Well there are some of Depardon’s images I’ll be glad to see again, the garden gnomes are perhaps not among them, and although I admire some of Parr’s work, too often he appears to be trading on his reputation rather than than producing anything of great import. I’ve yet to see anything by Lacroix I’d want to revisit, but hopefully he will in time prove me wrong.

But somehow I hope that festivals like Arles which have such an important place in photography would become in some way more democratic and more varied – perhaps with the official festival becoming more like the fringe.

As well as the editorial there are of course other reports on Arles, both on the l’Oeil de la photographie and elsewhere, so you can read these and make up your own mind. The Guardian has a video review which seems to me to underline the vacuity of the event, and a set of the ‘finest shots on display in Provence’ which suggest that the best work was from the 1950s in Chile or perhaps a little later in with John Davies’s Elf Services, Autoroute A26, Nord-Pas-de-Calais (1988). It’s hard to believe there has been so little of worth produced in black and white (the theme of this year) since then. Actually we know this isn’t true.

Though perhaps it is worth asking why anyone should work in black and white now, when so many of the reasons we chose to do so in the past have gone. It’s perhaps relevant in this to point out that Peter Hugo’s slightly odd heads and shoulders images were actually taken in colour, then converted to bring out the melanin to black and white in Photoshop. And most of today’s black and white images were actually taken in colour, their conversion to monochrome more a stylistic fad than anything else.

I spent over 30 years working in black and white, thinking in black and white, as my primary medium. I worked in colour too, often only doing so for images where colour seemed particularly significant or indeed the subject of the image – I was certainly a colourist at heart in my colour work. Few if any photographers now seem to think in black and white. My own approach to colour has changed too, and I’m not sure I could satisfy myself with monochrome except for the very occasional image.

 

A Lesson for Gove

July 14th, 2014

I was not sure what I was going to find when I arrived at the Department for Education. A day earlier I’d read an invitation from some London teachers to a protest there against the political interference by Education minister Michael Gove in the teaching of GCSE English, where he had called for changes which resulted in the removal of some of the more popular works from the syllabus – and the exam board had danced to his tune.

The works that have been removed were 20th century works written by Americans, and included ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘The Crucible‘. Gove’s changes called for a syllabus that centred on British English writers and avoided these more recent and more political works.

I was late for the party, having waited for some time at another event for more people to arrive, and by the time I arrived at the DfE there was no sign of the protest I had expected outside the building. But a man I thought I recognised as one of the protesters was being interviewed for TV outside the building, so I thought that something must still be happening,

I looked through the glass doors, and was surprised to see a group of people sitting around in the foyer, many with books in their hands and taking part in what appeared to be, as I went inside to join them, a very well disciplined English lesson, intently discussing a book (though I couldn’t tell which book.)

I’d come with a colleague who I’d met up with at the previous event and had told him I was going to the DfE. He walked in after me, and while I made my way into the group he stood by the doorway. I was a little surprised that the security men at the back of the foyer had taken no notice as we walked in, but after I’d been taking pictures for half a minute or so saw that they were ushering my friend outside.


The two security men by the desk have not yet noticed me

The lesson was then interrupted by one of the security men shouting across in my direction that photography was not allowed. There didn’t seem any good reason to stop, and I was sure there was a clear public interest in reporting the event, so I ignored him. After all, it’s rude to shout, so I just felt a little selective deafness occuring. The floor was crowded with the people sitting down for the lesson, so it took him a little while to reach me as I continued to take pictures.


but now they have and are advancing towards me

His senior colleague came at me from the other direction and together they ushered me out very politely. They had done their duty, though I don’t think their heart was in it, and I had done mine and it was all very civilised. I would have liked to have had a few more minutes to work – time to think more about the pictures – to get some where the ‘banned’ books were more visible (one is rather small in one image) but they were enough to show the event.


And they shut the door in my face as I’m still taking pictures.

You can see the set I took at Gove “Read-In” protest in DfE.

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Muslim Extremes

July 13th, 2014

I’m never really sure if I want to photograph the events organised by Anjem Choudary, to give publicity to his small group of Muslims with deliberately provocative views. I’m not sure I believe the wide- spread story that he is backed by MI5 to attract the wilder elements of the Muslim fringe so they can more easily keep tabs on them, but there must be some reason why he has been allowed to continue his activities as he has while various organisations with which he has been involved have been banned.

Choudary is certainly a clever man, though some of his supporters rather less so have got into problems with the law. But the main problems in covering this protest were not from the protesters who are happy to be photographed but from the police. The protest was taking place on a fairly narrow pavement on a fairly busy road, and police seemed to have an obsession about keeping it clear. They were objecting to me standing in various places, although I was careful not to be causing any obstruction – by standing behind trees, police officers and other things that were already obstructing the path.

What annoys me isn’t that police tell me to move if I am causing an obstruction (though it would sometimes be nice if they were more polite about it) but that they refuse to engage in any sensible discussion about the matter. Police at times just do not have a sensible or reasonable mode, and this was one such time – though there seemed to be no reason for it.

Keeping the pavement clear was in the event rather pointless as very few people were choosing to walk down it, with almost all of those coming out choosing to cross the road immediately to get away from Choudary. He isn’t generally very popular with Muslims of any persuasion.

It is easy to scoff at these people, though the threats he has made about Sunni armies coming to establish a Khalifa seem significantly more real now that ISIS have been taking control of large areas of Iraq.

As usual there were also women at the protest, taking rather a back seat a few yards down the road, holding posters and joining in the chanting, but as  always it was hard not to feel they were being treated as second-class citizens.

Of course these women may not feel this,  though I suspect some of them do. When they have had an all-women protest (carefully supervised by a few men) they showed themselves capable of speaking at least as well as the men.

More pictures at London Mosque protest for Sunni extremist.

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Garden Halls Protest at Senate House

July 12th, 2014

There is a kind of controlled chaos that I like about this image, which I think is typical of the protests by the IWGB, the small grass-roots trade union that has been far more active – and far more successful – than the large trade unions in promoting the rights of London’s lowest paid workers, and in getting many of them the London Living Wage.

The Garden Halls are three intercollegiate halls of residence – for students for any of the various colleges that make up London University – which are on a street in Bloomsbury called Cartwright Gardens. The university is renovating and enlarging them – or rather handing them over to a private firm (with a name that makes it sound like it is a part of the university) who will do so and then run them, increasing the fees to students to get their money back. It doesn’t look like a good deal for students, and it certainly isn’t for the various staff who work in them, who are all being made redundant. Of course their jobs will not be there for the year or two years while the building work is taking place, but there are other sites where they could be found employment during that time, but the employers have refused to look at this possibility.

Although many of the cleaners, porters, catering and maintenance staff have worked for the university for years (decades in some cases) they are not employed directly by the University by by private firms who the university contracts. The university gets their labour on the cheap and the firms shareholders get profits while the workers get low pay, poor conditions of employment and often spectacularly bad management practices.

 

Pressure over recent years by the workers at the Garden Halls and some other colleges, backed by the IWGB, students and a few college branches of larger unions has led to some improvements in conditions and pay for them. But these gains will be lost even if the redundant workers are offered alternative employment at other workplaces by the contractors. The IWGB tried to negotiate to get better treatment for the staff but both the contractors and London University refuse to recognise them or engage in proper talks, and at the time of this protest they workers (the great majority members of the IWGB) were balloting for strike action.

The workers in the halls and in the colleges have received considerable support from students and the student union in particular – to which London University have responded by deciding to close down the University of London Union.

As on several previous protests at Senate House, the protesters made an attempt to go inside the building, but this time the security staff were ready, and after a brief tug of war managed to close the doors. My pictures are a little blurred, partly because it was fairly dark in the doorway, but also because in the confused situation I was getting pushed around quite a bit.  But even at ISO3200 I was working at 1/25th of a second with the 16-35mm wide open at f4.

More pictures and about what happened at Defend UoL Garden Halls workers.

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G4S Protest

July 11th, 2014

I was pleased with this image, taken at a protest outside the London HQ offices of security firm G4S  – you can see the others from the set I made at Support Hunger Strike in Israeli Jails. There have been regular protests outside the offices on Victoria St, and it was difficult to think of some different way to show them, having covered quite a few.

I’m just slightly annoyed that I wasn’t working with the zoom lens just a little wider – it would have been good to have the word ‘TORTURED’ under the pictures of the boys from Hares – the ‘Five Palestinian Children’ who have been held in solitary confinement in small empty underground cells in a prison where G4S provides their support.

It was a cool, dull and slightly wet afternoon, and the tall buildings along the street channel the wind, turning the area of pavement where the protest was held into a wind tunnel. I made some more general images of the protest, and there was no problem in getting the Palestinian flags flying.

But I decided to concentrate on people handing out leaflets, using the 70-300mm to zoom in on the actual leaflets in some images – like this:

So for the top image, I was at the widest focal length the lens goes – 70mm – and really would have liked it to be just a little wider. It would have been a little better if I had been working with the 18-105mm.  The longer lens is fine for what it does, but very much less flexible than the 18-105mm.

The long lens worked for a number of images. I particularly liked a rather athletic pick-up of a leaflet by one man walking past – here is one of the two images of his. It’s an image I think I could improve by a little more post-processing to bring out more shadow detail; the pictures on My London Diary are usually from the fairly rapid editing that I do to get pictures to the agency within a few hours, and this was a very busy day. This story was my third of the day and I had to rush several miles across London after the half hour I spent there for another protest.

I’m only aware so far of one image from this set having been used, and it was this image of a man walking with his bike past the stall – and taking a leaflet from the woman at the right. This was taken with the 18-105 mm at 18mm. As with the other images, I tried to concentrate on the protesters, showing those taking the images either only as hands or arms or working from behind them.

More of my pictures from the event – and more information about the protest at Support Hunger Strike in Israeli Jails.

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Photofusion Loses Arts Council Support

July 9th, 2014

I heard a few days ago that Photofusion, the gallery and photography centre in Brixton, South London, has lost its Arts Council England NPO (National Portfolio of arts Organisations) status and that its funding was to be cut. I found it hard to believe, but you can now read a little more about it on the British Journal of Photography on-line. There it makes clear that the annual £150,893 revenue grant will end in March 2015.

The BJP quotes Peter Heslip, director of visual arts at ACE as saying “Photofusion did meet the criteria we set, but there were other applications we considered to be stronger.” He does go on to state “we will be exploring with the management and trustees what other options might be available to them in terms of Arts Council funding in the coming period.”

The decision would appear to be a part of a continuing attack by ACE on photography in England. In 2011 they withdrew funding from Side Gallery in Newcastle, arguably the only truly world-class photography organisation in the UK – and Side has failed to get this restored in the current round, though lottery funding for its parent organisation has kept it going.

There are still a few grants to what ACE regards as photography-specific organisations around the country, including in London both the Photographers’ Gallery and Autograph ABP . I certainly don’t begrudge Autograph its grant increase, and though I’m no great fan of the PG, it is something we obviously need – though as a long-term member (I think my membership has possibly just lapsed yet again as they are so incompetent in their record-keeping – or perhaps they just don’t want my money after what I’ve written about them) I feel they are failing photography.

Heslip says “Photography-based projects do really well on grants for the arts” and goes on to give some figures, as well as saying that most of the galleries they fund have at least one exhibition each year that features photography. But it’s a statement I can only view with utter derision.  There may be shows that have some photographic element (if only a photograph of the artist or some artistic works0 but that is not encouraging or showing photography.

I’ve had some association with Photofusion since before it started, with its pre-cursor a couple of miles away in Battersea, the Photo Co-op in Webbs Road. I’ve had my criticisms over the years but also praise, and it has played an important  role in photography in London and the South-East for many years, and I do hope it will find the resources to continue its programmes. I’ve written perhaps 20 posts about shows and events there here on >Re:PHOTO over the years – such as and contributed work to its library for many years.

The withdrawal of support from such a vital organisation supporting photography is yet another example of “the lack of any real photographic culture or support for photographers in the UK” which I last wrote about only a few days ago in Who Speaks for Photography?

 

Fuji Problems

July 9th, 2014

Every May my wife takes part in a sponsored walk, and as well as sponsoring here I sometimes walk around with her (and usually a few others she has persuaded to take part), as the walk is a church crawl in the City of London. It’s pleasantly deserted on a Sunday and the selection of churches at which she has to get her walk card signed and stamped varies enough each year to keep the walk interesting.

Of course a lot of the city churches are open much of the time to visitors in any case, but there are usually a few places on the walk which Christian Aid has persuaded to open specially for the event. Mostly they are Anglican churches, but each year there are a few exceptions and these are often of particular interest. This year we went into Bevis Marks Synagogue which is an interesting place to visit (and I’ve visited once before) but unfortunately photography inside is not allowed. But everywhere else we were free to take pictures.

Most of the City churches were designed shortly after the Great Fire of London in 1666 by Christopher Wren, but the fact that the plots of land on which they are were of differing shapes and sizes gives them some individuality. Some have suffered more at the hands of restorers than others, and some were severely damaged by bombing in World War II, but overall they are a remarkable collection. Probably my favourite as a building is not by Wren but by Hawksmoor.

And as well as the churches there were also the walks between them. The city streets we walked along were all familiar, though its a while since I’ve worked there on a Sunday and had the place so empty. I took the opportunity to take a few pictures in between the churches as well, including the one above of seeing a double Gherkin.

Taking pictures when out with others is often a problem and you often have to rush what you are doing and then run to catch up with the rest of the group. But I was really going to keep Linda company (and make sure she didn’t get lost) rather than take pictures.

I was just going to take the Fuji X Pro1 and a trio of lenses – the 18-55mm, the 14mm and the 8.5mm Sanyang semi-fisheye. I could have managed without a camera bag, with one lens in each of my jacket side pockets and the third on the camera around my neck. Of course I’d need at least one spare battery, but that could easily tuck away in one of my inside pockets. But in the end I decided to take a small bag so I could also easily carry a bottle of water and a book to read on the journey. And since I was carrying a bag I might as well also take a second body, the Fuji XE-1

I suffered from a few problems using the Fujis. I was already aware that although the 14mm Fuji lens is superb, and it’s a very nice idea to be able to change from auto to manual focus by a push/pull on the focus ring, it is all to easy to do by accident. And while the signs are pretty obvious when you take pictures, it’s also easy not to notice them. I think I’d like it to be just a little harder to make the change.

The 14mm also has an ‘A’ setting on the aperture ring. It works well, enabling you to work in shutter priority or program mode, depending on whether you set a discrete shutter speed or ‘A’ on the camera shutter speed dial.  But what it lacks is some way of locking it to A, or a least a rather firm detent. It is ridiculously easy to accidentally move away from that position and find you are working at f22.  And f22 is a setting you would be better without on any such lens, with its ridiculously small physical aperture cutting performance by diffraction.

Most cameras I use need little bits of black tape on them to prevent me making unwelcome accidental changes to settings. But the aperture ring is too vital a control for this to be viable.

Doubtless I’ll get used to these things in time, and remember to check for the obvious warning signs. But one thing that happened was more worrying. On the way home I turned the cameras on to look through the pictures. No problems with the X-Pro1, but with the X-E1 all I got was a message telling me the card was empty and did I want to format it? I didn’t.

At home I put the card into my computer – which found nothing on it.  My copy of Sandisk Rescue Pro which once came free with some Sandisk cards (it now needs an annual subscription) was more successful, and recovered around 600 files it claimed were TIFF files. Unfortunately no software for reading TIFF files agreed, but by renaming them to .RAF files Adobe Bridge gave a fleeting view of the thumbnails before only showing them as black rectangles – though it could read the metadata. By using ‘IJFR‘  I managed to recover the 1920×1280 preview jpgs  but found no way to get the larger RAW images I had taken. Better than nothing, but hardly great.  I tried various other file rescue programs, but nothing else worked at all, or wanted me to pay to recover the files – without any guarantee it could actually do so. Worst of all were those programs that pretended to be free, scanned the disk and found some entries and then told you to pay up to recover them.

Some of the jpeg images were fine – like the architectural image above, but others where the lighting was rather difficult or the auto-exposure had been rather out were trickier.

Inside the churches, the Samyang 8.5mm was very useful, both with and without the partial correction of Fisheye-Hemi. (I’ve recently had to buy a new 64bit version of this plugin to use with Photoshop CC 2014.)  They really need to update the software to work with the Samyang’s unique projection, though it does still improve many images – such as that above.

These two pictures inside Saint Sepulchre-Without-Newgate,  taken from almost the same position, give a good idea of the relative views of the 14mm and 8.5mm lenses. I think had I taken the lower image with the Nikon 16mm semi-fisheye the plugin would have removed all curvature from the vertical pillars.

There are more examples in Christian Aid Circle the City, where you can also see that I had some problems in getting proper colour correction from the pictures taken outdoors in bright sun from the Fuji images. Although people often praise Fuji cameras for their colour I have more problems with this than when using Nikon. Perhaps this is a problem with Lightroom.

I do like using these two Fuji cameras, though from the reviews the Fuji XT1 might well suit me better. I’ll let you know more about that in a month or two.  But the card problem with the XE1 really has me worried. Though I asked on a Fuji facebook page and I don’t think anyone else had experienced a similar problem. But I’ve only had to try to rescue files made on other cameras when I’ve deleted files or formatted cards in error, and have managed to get these back fully unless they have been overwritten.
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Stanley Greene

July 6th, 2014

Although I’d undoubtedly seen photographs by Stanley Greene before then, it was only early in 2004 that I really became aware of him as a photographer, and my immediate reaction was to sit down and write an essay of over 2000 words, ‘Stanley Greene: Witness to the World‘, which I published on the web site I was writing for shortly after.

It is no longer available, but it is perhaps no great loss, being more a telling of the major phases of his life and work to that point than offering any real insight into his photography, and is really too long to include in a post here. Like much of what I wrote then it was cannibalised from the available information from a number of sources on the web and some in print, and I have no complaint that parts of it have in turn been recycled by other web sites (though often rather more lazily well on the wrong side of the borderline between research and plagiarism.)

Here at any rate is how I began the story of his life (with a reference to links removed):

Beginning

Harlem

Stanley Greene was born in Harlem, New York in 1949. His father, also Stanley Greene, had been a part of the ‘Harlem Renaissance‘ of the 1930s, an actor and an activist, who was blacklisted as a communist in the 1950s. He kept in the business only through minor roles in movies, his name not listed in the credits. Although his father encouraged the young Stanley to think of a career in acting, he decided he wanted to become a painter. His parents gave him a camera when he was 10 and he used the camera to photograph material for his painting.

Gene Smith

The teenage Greene also became politically active, joining the Black Panthers and taking part in the anti-Vietnam movement, refusing to serve there. In 1971 he met the famous photojournalist W Eugene (Gene) Smith, who encouraged him and offered him space in his studio. Smith advised him to study photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York to get a grasp of the technical side of the medium, and later to go to the San Francisco Art Institute where the focus was on aesthetics.

California and New York

In California, Greene photographed the music scene, sending pictures of new punk and rock bands to the music magazines. In the mid 70s he helped to found the Camera Works Gallery in San Francisco, and it was while curating a show for this that he made his first visit to Paris in 1976. Dissatisfied with his life in California, he moved back to New York in the early 1980s, taking a job with Newsday, one of the larger regional newspapers in the USA. He hated it, being constantly sent to cover such minor events as delicatessen openings.

Paris Fashion

Eventually, in 1986, he was fed up enough to decide more or less on a whim to go back and live in Paris, where he had met a group of photographers who styled themselves ‘poets of photography’. Greene became a fashion photographer. Despite his success and easy lifestyle – including a taste for heroin – he was not content, haunted by the ghost of Gene Smith and the nagging of his example and his advice to photographers “You have to give something back.”

I was reminded of this by a set of Greene’s early pictures, (Never Quiet) on the Western Front, published by Lensculture,  none of which I’ve seen before, which set me off on revisiting much of his work around the web. As well as photographs there are also a number of articles about his work and interviews, and I thought again about the piece I had written in 2004 when I read in Stanley Greene’s Redemption and Revenge published by Lens in 2010 the photographer’s comment to the question of why he had brought out an autobiographical work:

I wanted to set the record straight. I kept hearing people say, “Chechnya was when you really started to be a photographer.” And that’s not true. I was shooting back at the Berlin Wall, but nobody knew about it.

And I thought, well those who read my piece a few years earlier certainly did – and knew too that you were a photographer before the Berlin Wall. And given that we were looking at around a million page views a month there were probably quite a few who had read at least the first few paragraphs even if they didn’t all struggle to the end of page 4.

So far I’ve only got halfway through the 25 minute interview with him in 2013 on Italian Vogue – though I’ll watch the rest later today, as he makes some interesting points. Including his observation “When you shoot film you really have time to think“.  I don’t entirely agree with this, and perhaps he also weakens his own point by going on to say he seldom ‘chimps’ when working on digital. I try to remember to take a test picture at the start of each event I photograph to check things are working properly, but seldom look at the pictures again until I’m sitting on the train on my way home. Digital does give you the choice of  being able to work differently – and in a way that I think as he does – divorces you from the situation, but you don’t have to take it.

There is a shorter interview with Green on PhotoRaw in which he also talks about digital and the attraction of film to him as well as about “Brains, guts, humanity” and the problems of being a photographer nowadays. It’s perhaps an interview that would have been better with just audio, or accompanied by a few stills, as I find the image of the photographer gets rather annoying after a minute or too.

You can of course view very many fine stories by him on Noor, the agency he was one of the founder members in 2007, one of several agencies that seem to be continuing the Magnum tradition rather better than Magnum.