One of the things that attracts me to Class War is that their actions are unpredictable – and that usually they are fun. It’s a kind of agit-prop street theatre designed to attract attention, and a different world to the rather dour marches and pickets that usually pass unnoticed and have perhaps often failed to attract support even to the most worthy of causes.
And while they are sometimes accused of being frothy opportunists, they have demonstrated a remarkable tenacity in following up various issues – which the over 30 protests over ‘Poor Doors’ adequately demonstrated.
Gentrification is of couse a key issue for Class War, and I’d gone with them in December when they had ‘opened a new front’ on the issue in Bermondsey with Class War at Gilbert & George ‘Banners’. So I was keen to be there for another round of the protest on Bermondsey St with Class War Footy at White Cube.
You can read more about the actual protest at that link on My London Diary, but it turned out to be rather difficult to photograph. People playing football tend to be some distance apart and the ball often moves rather quickly, and many of my pictures turned out to be rather empty. And unlike real football games there were no goals, though the police and security standing in front of a wrapped sculpture at one corner of the yard did get to field a few balls.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only art-lover present who felt that this particular sculpture was rather improved by its protective wrapping – certainly something the White Cube should consider on a permanent basis.
There were some highlights – including Ray Jones performing a new song written for the occasion, ‘any chance of a sub?’ dedicated to Damien Hirst, as well as a spirited rendering by Jane Nicholl of an old favourite, a traditional English bawdy song which could be the Class War Anthem, ‘The Finest F***ing Family in the Land’ (various partial versions of the lyrics appear on the web; Oscar Brand recorded a version which totally lacks the élan of Jane’s delivery around 1970) – and of course there was the appearnce of Rita the Raven.
But the highlight was undoubtedly the fire-breathing, and it was this that caused the greatest photographic problem.
It was a dull January day, and a bright ball of fire presents an enormous challenge, with a dynamic range well outside that of film or sensor.
In the frame before the image above, without the ball of fire, matrix metering gave an exposure (At EI 1600) of 1/320s f7.1, while with the fireball, the metering changed to give 1/500s, f9, which I think is around one and a third stops less, but the fire was still highly over-exposed (I had set my usual -0.3 stops compensation which I find gives better results in most situations.) Careful work in Lightroom brought it down to give the result shown, where there are still some areas without detail where the sensor was simply maxed out. In bringing it down I’ve also increased the saturation, and taken it rather too far, which gives an exaggerated effect, particularly with the rather subdued background colour. I rather liked the effect when I did it, a kind of comic-book look, but would probably tone it down if I had to output another file.
With many of the exposures, there were much larger totally overexposed areas of the flame – even though the background was seriously under-exposed. As might be expected, the worst results were those where the sheet of fire was largest, and those where it was just starting or had died down were best. Fortunately I’d taken enough that I could simply delete most of these and still have a number of usable images. As well as the extreme exposure range, a second issue was that of colour temperature, with the flame generally giving a far warmer light than the cold winter gloom. Although this generally adds to the image, some corrective work was needed.
As I walked away with Class War, some stickers began to magically appear on estate agents and other suitable surfaces along the road. My only regret was that I had to leave them outside the pub to visit a party at an old friend’s a short train journey away, and missed photographing the after-protest celebration with Rita.