Clients and Pricing

November 25th, 2014

I don’t write much about the commercial side of photography, realising my limitations in that sphere. Of course I try to quote sensible rates when asked, usually taking a look at my union’s recommendations, or if I can’t find anything helpful there looking at what others might charge.

Petapixel has an interesting article on pricing by Don Giannatti, When Pricing Your Photography, Focus on the Value of Your Images which seems to contain some good advice over pricing.  Giannatti has written a couple of books about creative and financial success and also two and a blog about lighting.

I’m no longer greatly interested in making money myself, though a bit comes in handy and I’m usually disappointed at the low fees the agencies I submit work to charge (and the low percentage of that which comes to me.) And even more disappointed that one of them seems to have stopped doing the basic business of checking up whether the companies it sends work to actually get around to paying for it. It’s one of the various services they get their 50% or more for, and certainly in their interest to do so as well as in mine.

But in a situation where fees are generally dropping to uneconomic levels for photographers it’s important to try and hold them up for my colleagues and not to undercut them. Occasionally I will work for free, but only for organisations without money and without any paid staff and whose work I admire and support – if organisations can pay people to work for them they can pay me too.

Another recent article on Petapixel is the cautionary tale of a wedding photographer who found himself at the wrong end of a $300,000 lawsuit. Poon vs. Tang (really) is a tale that seems to have finally come to a happy end for the photographer but there are several morals that one should draw. Firstly, never work for lawyers.

But more importantly have a clear understanding of exactly what you are agreeing to provide, preferably in the form of a written contract. I’ve seldom had a formal contract, except those sent me by a few large companies (which I’ve sometimes amended before signing to remove the silly stuff) but perhaps a clearly stated e-mail (or in the old days letter) is as good.

Second, you have to be mad to supply every RAW file you take to a client. Personally I don’t supply RAW files as I don’t rely on anyone else to process my work as I want it done. But not even removing the ones that are out of focus or blurred or where you pressed the shutter accidentally is just ridiculous. I don’t even upload these to my own computer let alone anyone else’s.

If you’ve not already got an application that lets you quickly look at RAW files and select the ones you need to keep – one of the few things Lightroom is hopeless at except with very small groups of files – then I suggest you invest in  Fast Picture Viewer Pro. It claims to be the fastest image viewer ever and certainly knocks spots off of Lightroom. They claim that if you have 1000 raw images you can deal with them in around 20 minutes, selecting and copy the 100 you want to keep and importing them into Lightroom, while using Lightroom itself would take around 1 hr 10 minutes. If anything I think they understate the time advantage.

The only small downside is that I could set up Lightroom to import the whole lot, then go and have a leisurely meal while it did so. Now I have to spend around 15 of that 20 minutes before going to eat!

Lewis Baltz 1945-2014

November 24th, 2014

I met Lewis Baltz when I went to a workshop led by him at Paul Hill’s Photographers’ Place in Derbyshire around 1979, having been greatly impressed by his work in ‘The New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California which I had seen in books and magazines from the US. Along with Robert Adams and Stephen Shore his work has had a great influence on my photographic practice.

He brought the page proofs of ‘Park City’ with him to the workshop and we were able to compare them with his original prints, and I rather put my foot it in when I told him I felt that some of the book versions were an improvement on his original prints. He had only just received these and I think would probably have rather spent the time looking through them on his own than with us. I got even more into his bad books when I commented on the tonal problems of using the ultra-slow b/w films he was working with that were not designed for pictorial photography. They were problems that I experienced too. Then he had been using some ultra-slow Kodak recording film, but later he moved to Technical Pan, and that was a beast I spent some years trying to tame to my satisfaction. When it was good it was very, very good, but…

I don’t think he looked at the work of any of us taking part in the workshop – rather unusually, but it was a short workshop, certainly if he did I remember nothing he said about the work I had taken from my Hull project, but he was very generous in showing and talking about the work of the other ‘New Topographics‘, including some who were hardly known in the UK. I think it was him who got me excited about the work of Robert Adams, as well as that of Anthony Hernandez and also Chauncey Hare, with whom I later had a brief correspondence. I’ve not met Baltz to talk with since that workshop, but his death still came as something of a shock; someone I’d once spent a few fairly intensive days with and a man a few months younger than me.

I well remember standing in a London bookshop a few months later with Park City in my hand, looking though the images and trying to steel myself to buy it. But here in the UK it was I think £50, roughly a week’s pay for me, and I reluctantly put it back on the shelf.  Perhaps I would have gone without food for a few days, but it would be hard to explain to my wife and two sons. Of course it would have been a good investment.

I still have the signed copy of ‘Nevada’ he sold at the workshop, and I did buy Chauncey Hare‘s Interior America, which was going cheap in a sale at the Photographers’ Gallery shortly afterwards, perhaps I was almost the only photographer here who appreciated his work. I wrote about him and the book perhaps 10 years ago on About Photography, and was pleased when a new and larger book of his work was published in 2009.

Baltz remained very much in the eye of the photographic public and I followed his work in the pages of some of the more expensive photographic magazines and at exhibitions such as Paris Photo, but there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of his later work on line.  George Eastman House  has a largish collection of his very early work and there is more information on American Suburb X. There is an interesting related note at SFMoMA, who also have the best on line collection of his work up until 1979 I’ve found, although only around a quarter of the 81 works listed have images available.

You can also find some quotations from him on the web, including this:

I believed it was necessary to investigate photography, dismantle it, jettison all the non-essential components, and begin again with a stripped down but more powerful idea of what is, or could be “photographic”.

and

I’ve thought that when people appear in a picture, they automatically are perceived as the subject, irrespective of how they are represented. I wanted the only person in the picture to be the viewer.

Perhaps once you have stripped it down it isn’t too easy to know which way to go. The second quotation was a point of view in my own mind for years, though perhaps I have got over it now, and was perhaps behind my thinking for the photographic show I curated back in 2001, Cities of Walls, Cities of People.

Focus E15

November 23rd, 2014


Jasmine and Sam of Focus E15 Mums hold the pot plants they have been given for moving into the Carpenters Estate flats

Housing is fast becoming a really major issue in the UK, and particularly in London, where property prices and market rents have risen so much that most of those who work there can no longer afford to live there. The current minimum wage is £6.50 per hour,  which works out to roughly £1050 per month for a typical worker without overtime. Those who get the London Living Wage are a little better off at around £1400 a month. Newspapers have recently been reporting on the tenants of the New Era Estate, a fairly typical inner London estate, currently paying rents of around £600 per month who are threatened with a rise to ‘market rents’ of around £2400 per month.

People may qualify for the misnamed Housing Benefit, (it’s really more a benefit for landlords), but the benefits cap introduced by the government (including an overall benefits cap of £500) make this totally inadequate in London. The only viable solution to the problem of keeping London running is a crash programme to build low-rent social housing, but neither of the major political parties is seriously proposing this, and while there is considerable building taking place in London, the vast majority of it is high rent private properties, many of which are being bought by overseas investors. Some simply leave them empty while property values soar, others rent them out to companies for employees here on short-term visits or as holiday lets.

Some Labour councils are among the worst offenders in this process, getting rid of social housing and profiting from sales to developers. Some have even made a mess of this, with Southwark Council reported to have lost millions in the costs of emptying the Heygate estate came to more than the bargain deal the developers made. Of course some individuals – both on the council and the developers – do nicely out of these schemes.


Jasmine and Sam in one of the Carpenters Estate flats while the Focus E15 MumsFirst Birthday Party continues outside

Newham Council, 100% Labour and with an elected Mayor have for ten years been trying to empty out and sell the Carpenters Estate, next to the centre of Stratford with its excellent transport links. It is truly a prime site, but unfortunately an earlier Labour council which had the interests of the people of the area in their heart built a well-planned council estate on it.  One that people liked living in, and despite ten years of harassment, that some are still living in.  In a borough with one of the worst housing shortages – and particularly of social housing – some properties there in excellent condition have been boarded up and empty for ten years.

Newham is also where one of the most vital campaigns over housing has been taking place, led by young mothers from a hostel for which the council decided to cut the funding to the housing association for a little over a year ago. The mothers, with some help from political activists, decided to make a stand together and fight, forming the Focus E15 Mums campaign.  They refused to move away from London to be rehoused in Birmingham or Hastings or elsewhere, away from jobs, family and support systems as the council suggested. They set up a weekly protest stall on the high street every Saturday, protested at the housing association, at the council and elsewhere, and turned the insights they developed from their fight into a more general ‘housing for all’ protest against what they had come to realise was a policy of ‘social cleansing.’

I’m pleased that I’ve been able to photograph some of their protests and help through my pictures in gaining public attention to their fight, though I regret not having done more – but there are so many calls on my time. I was sorry, having been there to take these pictures of their re-occupation of a block of four flats at the centre of the Carpenters Estate, not to have found the time in the following couple of weeks to go back and record some of the events they staged there in what was always intended as a short-term occupation of the properties.

Photographically it was a little tricky in that there was little light inside the flats, and not enough for the pictures I took as I first went inside them, in the hall and on the stairs. Most of the metal grilles were still in place, with a little light coming through the pattern of holds in them, but parts were still very dark.

I’d anticipated this, and together with the knowledge that I’d be in a crowded and confined space had switched to the 16mm f2.8 while waiting to go inside – it was a long wait and I’d had plenty of time to think about it.  One thing I often feel the lack of with my Nikon cameras is fast lenses. Back when I was using film one of my favourite Leica lenses was the 35mm f1.4 (it had cost me about a month’s salary when I bought it second-hand around 1980.)  That aperture makes it 8 times as fast (3 stops) as the 16-35mm f4 Nikon lens.

The two fastest Nikon lenses I own are the 16mm f2.8 fisheye and the 20mm f2.8 – and I’d left the latter at home. For many purposes not having fast glass doesn’t matter – particularly when we can know work at ISOs that were not viable in the days of film. You get the same shutter speed with an f4 lens at ISO 3200 and an f1.4 lens at ISO400.  But this was a time when the f1.4 at ISO 3200 would have been rather better.

It doesn’t matter so much when your subjects are static. Even handheld with wide-angle lenses its quite possible to get sharp results at half a second – just not every time. The 16-35mm has image stabilisation, but I’m unconvinced it is of much significance with wide angles, though it certainly helps on longer lenses.

As we went in it was also quite crowded and the physical size of the 16-35mm can be a problem – the 16mm fisheye is a nicely compact lens.  Once we got into the actual rooms things were easier, and I was able to take pictures with both the 16mm and the 16-35mm, and to lower the ISO, even down to ISO800 for some pictures.

This was one of my favourite interiors, taken with the 16mm fisheye, processed with the Fisheye Hemi plugin to make the vertical and near-verticals more or less straight.  The woman at the left looking into the room is in the darker corridor, but lit be light through the doorway (with a little help from Lightroom.)  Stopped down to f5 makes everything sharp (the near objects at right just slightly less so), and even at ISO 2500 the quality is pretty good. Of course noise reduction, removal of chromatic aberration and fringing in Lightroom help. At 1/100th second there is perhaps just some very slight blurring of parts of the people as they look around, something that I like. On the original it is easy to zoom into the image and read the year 2014 on the calendar on the far wall.

When the protesters moved in they found the flats in good order, and the water was still connected. The council soon turned it off after the occupation began. The picture above shows one of the perils of using the 16mm fisheye – and that large 16-35mm on the camera hanging down from my neck with its lens hood intruding into the image.

September 21st, when I took these pictures, was the second day of the London Open House Weekend (a week later than the rest of this country) so although it hadn’t been listed in the official catalogue, this was of course the Focus E15 Open House Day and there are many more pictures both of the party and the occupation of the flats in My London Diary.

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Reflections on Paris Photo

November 20th, 2014

I fell a lot better about having missed Paris Photo 2014 since reading 11 Must-See Works at Paris Photo, an editorial in Artsy! If you’ve never heard of this – and it had previously passed me by – it is a New York based site with a mission “to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

But unlike Piaf, I do have regrets, and there are certainly things in Lensculture’s mini-feature Paris Mois de la Photo-OFF 2014 that I’m sorry to have missed, and yet more in the full programme of the fringe festival. Its a festival with a buzz that we just don’t get in London, though photomonth does try. And there is also the Mois de la Photo itself.

I’ve still got until February 8 2015 to get over to see “Garry Winogrand” at the Jeu de Paume and I may just make it, though having spent some time studying the book (a really heavywieght 61/2lbs of it) I’m not sure seeing the actual prints would add much.

It is a show that does raise questions, many of which Arthur Lubow explored a few months back in the New York Times Lens blog in relation both to Winogrand and Vivian Maier, about the idea of posthumous production.

You can watch the video on which Winogrand makes the quotation with which Lubow ends his piece on Lensculture. When asked if he didn’t wish to make choices (I think he is talking about whether or not to take a picture rather than about which of his frames to print) he says “That I never do. All I do is say yes.”

The video is rather painful to watch, a question and answer session with students who had expected a lecture. Winogrand often doesn’t really answer their questions, and at times rather plays with them, sometimes seems to be refusing to examine his process or stone-walling, but he does come out with the occasional insight. In some ways it’s rather like his photography.

At one point he says something relevant to the piece I wrote yesterday:

“Is the photograph more dramatic than what was photographed? It has to be.”

 and later :

“I don’t have anything to do with what I’m photographing, ….I’m not running for mayor, I don’t get to know people when I’m photographing.”

Thinking about Winogrand and the show in one of Paris’s finest art galleries reminds me of Flat, soulless and stupid: why photographs don’t work in art galleries, by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian last week, where although to some extent I agree with him I think Jones perhaps seems to miss the point about photographs. Of course they seldom have the presence of great paintings, but to write:

A photograph, however well lit, however cleverly set it up, only has one layer of content. It is all there on the surface. You see it, you’ve got it.

suggests that he fails to understand the essential mystery of the photograph, a different nature of relation to reality than a painting or drawing. Not to mention my conviction that the best photographs – like those of Winogrand – gain their power essentially from not being set up.

Jones is clearly right about those large empty colour images that have covered most of the wall space at Paris Photo in the years I’ve attended and sell for large sums on the art market because they are trying to do something that photography doesn’t do well. He’s right too that photographs are often better seen in books than on the gallery wall (and possibly about iPads, though I think I’d prefer my larger computer screen), but “A photograph in a gallery” is certainly not always “a flat, soulless, superficial substitute for painting.”  Good shows are are good shows, and poor shows are poor shows whether they are made with paint or photography.

Winogrand is I think a photographer whose work is more suited to books or perhaps a box of prints or a portfolio; he wasn’t concerned with the photograph as object, though his work is better if well printed than if badly done. But for me good printing means that when you look at a photograph you don’t notice the printing, only what is depicted.

Where Jones dives to the extreme depths of silliness is in his last paragraph, where he suggests the experiment of looking at the Taylor Wessing Portrait show and then going around and comparing this rather bland photography with the National Gallery’s Rembrandt exhibition. “If“, he writes, “you can really see even a millionth of the vitality of a Rembrandt portrait in any of the NPG’s photos, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.” But that is a test that would also write off the great majority of the art works in the rest of the National Gallery.

WPP and WPO

November 19th, 2014

The 2014 World Press Photo exhibition is currently showing at the Royal Festival Hall in London until Wednesday 26 November 2014, open every day from 10.00 to 23.00 and free. Perhaps surprisingly it doesn’t get a mention on the front page of their web site, but it isn’t too hard to discover on an inside page. Of course you can also see the entire collection of winning images online at World Press Photo, along with the previous versions.

It’s easy to knock WPP and other similar contests, but in various ways I think this is probably the best of the bunch, and there are some surprising images in the 143 on show, as well as a few others that made me think “oh no, not again.”

Another ‘World’ organisation in a similar area is the WPO, or World Photography Organisation which appears to be largely a Sony marketing exercise, though it does have something to offer to non-Sony users too. I’ve not thought too  highly of their

They have videos on YouTube, some of which are more than disappointing. I watched one, and then saw the second comment on it, “There’s 18 sec of my life I’ll never get back” and could only agree. Except I think it was 21 seconds as there was an advert you had to watch for 3 seconds before you could click to close.

But I did find one that I thought was worth watching (and there may be others), IMPACT: Photographers share the most impactful moments of their photographic careers, though I shudder at the word impactful (see Common Errors in English Usage.) You can find the video here, and it isn’t surprising it is worth watching as the 8 photographers who talk and show pictures are from Panos Pictures,  a “photo agency specialising in global social issues, driven by the vision and commitment of its photographers and staff. Panos is known internationally for its fresh and intelligent approach and respected for its integrity and willingness to pursue stories beyond the contemporary media agenda. ”

It’s all true too, except it should perhaps that second sentence should start “Panos is nothing like as well known internationally as it should be” and that it does a considerably finer job than some of the better-known names in photography. I’m not entirely convinced either that it is a good thing for them to be “proudly partnered with Sony through their new Global Imaging Ambassadors programme” though their participation will undoubtedly raise Sony’s game.  It is actually a very interesting venture and the web site is worth exploring.

EDL and Pictures

November 18th, 2014

These two men were posing for a photograph in Trafalgar Square, not posing for me, though I’d photographed the man on the left several times earlier, but for a picture being taken by a man with a phone – I think the elbow seen at the right of image is his. The man in the centre is looking at me and may be aware that I’m taking a photograph, though I’m a short distance away using the 18-105mm at 62mm (93mm equiv). He is wearing an EDL sweatshirt, with its motto ‘No Surrender’ and holding an England flag. He probably isn’t aware of the raised hand salute the man with an arm around his shoulder is making for a photograph. Its something most who come to EDL marches have learnt to avoid, preferring to raise two fingers, as you can see in the image below, taken a second later with the same lens in wide-angle, but there are almost always a few who stick to the old ways.

The EDL have often accused photographers of misrepresenting such gestures, of catching someone waving to his friends. Here I think it is clear that this is not the case. It wasn’t the only such gesture that I saw during the event, but was certainly atypical. And gestures are often easily misinterpreted.

This was one that perhaps left little room for misinterpretation, with one of the EDL stewards holding both palms in front of the lens  of another photographer who like me was attempting to photograph the public rally that came after the short march.  Again taken with the D800E and 28-105mm, at 26mm (39mm eq) and perhaps just cropped a little too tightly in camera. with the top of the speaker’s head cropped at upper left, and the lens hood just not quite pushing far enough into the image.  Perhaps it could also be made a little clearer in post-processing. Like around 99% of the images I use this is the un-cropped frame – I try hard to crop in camera and sometimes perhaps do so too tightly.

I don’t know why the steward felt he wanted to stop one of my fellow journalists photographing the event. There might well have been a good reason for trying to stop anyone recording the speaker, but I suspect the EDL will themselves have put videos of his speech on the web.

The EDL did seem to be making an effort to improve their image. Early in the day I’d heard a steward tell someone to put their can of beer away when he started drinking in the pen opposite Downing St, and there was certainly less drinking than at earlier events. The meeting point for the march wasn’t this time at a pub, but in the traffic island at Trafalgar Square with Charles I on his horse.  And although some groups were drinking, most people were simply standing around and talking. Some posed for photographers and others were happy to be photographed. I had a few polite conversations, including some with people who recognised me from earlier events (and hostile comments on the web) and was able to wander freely without harassment.

Again the man carrying the pink pig was posing for a friend of his to take a picture, being held by the man in the E.D.K. Rotherham Lads shirt and pig’s head mask.  I was a little too far away to get the picture exactly how I would have like, and by the time I had moved closer the picture had gone. Again I perhaps could have framed a little less tightly, but I didn’t have a clear view. I did take some other pictures of the man in the mask a minute or two later, some with a wide-angle, which are graphically stronger, but perhaps this one is a more truthful images of the event.

There are always dilemmas. Does producing strong images glorify the activities of the EDL? Do photographers inevitable sensationalise groups like this? Do we always pick on the atypical but photogenic?

Of course we have to dramatise, to make pictures which will interest the viewer – or else no one is going to look at them event when they do get published. And while I may disagree with the politics of the EDL and other extreme right groups, they do include some visually interesting individuals. But I try hard not just to photograph these people but to show the events in the round, to tell the story through my pictures.

Back in the days when reproducing images was difficult and expensive there was perhaps some justification for the way that newspapers handled images, with those that used photographs (and some of the more serious press didn’t) generally picking a single image. Magazines would perhaps use a few, but even with the ‘illustrated magazines’ they were seen as subservient to the text.

Economics and production have changed, both in print and of course on the web, but the major media still largely stick to the old mould. Where they have embraced images it has largely been as video. Some publications will occasionally add an ‘image gallery’. But I can think of no major publication that has ever seriously engaged with Moholy-Nagy’s 1930s statement ‘The illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the use of the camera and pen alike’.

I’m not sure what the results of taking this seriously would be, though of course there were some attempts in those illustrated magazines, both back in the 1930s and since. Occasionally there are article which effectively mix text with pictures on the web, but not I think that really go far enough.

My own My London Diary for practical reasons largely separates images and text – site design and time constraints don’t allow me to go further in this direction. It’s also not possible for one person to effectively cover almost any event both as a photographer and as a writer; the two require different approaches. Combining videography with writing  is rather easier, as the video provides a continuous stream which records the event, while the still photographer has to concentrate on moments.  And for us the sounds and speeches are often a distraction while for the writer they are essential. A video camera can act as a notebook for the writer (particularly those ignorant of shorthand) in a way a still camera cannot.

Giving journalists a camera and sending them to events to write and photograph is to sideline photography, and some of the results that we have seen show this clearly. But it is also true that the media have seldom managed to use images effectively.  And perhaps photographers have played some part in this, with the willingness to play along with the clichés, often in the name of professionalism, particularly in the UK.

Any publication that tried to do so would of course be accused of ‘dumbing down’ in our logocentric culture, but there is no reason why this should be the case. Images can add to understanding and appreciation of events without in any way compromising the written text, while the current emphasis on getting writers to take photographs will undoubtedly damage their writing.

And were publications to serious use photographs, both online and in print, they might just become more popular, reaching a wider audience. Which would be good news, and even perhaps reverse the current financial bankruptcy of photographers, as repro fees continue to plunge. If the papers used ten of my pictures in place of one to help them tell the story effectively it would just about compensate for the lower rates compared to twenty years ago.
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Mitie’s Heathrow Prison

November 17th, 2014

On September 13th I was back again at Harmondsworth, but things had changed, not for the better.  There was a new sign up in front of the buildings, and a new name, ‘Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre‘, combining what had previously been the Harmondsworth detention centre on the left of the road with the Colnbrook centre, a high security unit to its right under the very dubious ‘Care and Custody’ subsidiary of Mitie, one of the private contracting companies our government uses to distance itself from the shameful neglect and maltreatment that immigrants and asylum seekers are subjected to by our immigration laws.

And, as you can see in the picture, the police were waiting for the protesters, and a couple had come to talk with those who had arrived early to begin the protest, telling them that they would not be allowed onto the site along the road next to those tall fences, where those inside the prisons would be able to see and hear them.

Police blamed the change in policy on the new management, although protesters suspected it was perhaps motivated by the increasing tension inside these and other immigration prisons following the death of Rubel Ahmed eight days earlier in Morton Hall immigration detention centre in Lincolnshire after he was refused medical treatment for chest pains, despite being heard by other prisoners screaming in agony. The prisoners took over the centre in protest and their resistance was brutally suppressed.

When I arrived protesters were arguing about their right to protest around the prison with one of the police officers, and I moved close to photograph this. It was easy to photograph either the police officer or the protesters, but rather harder to get a picture which shows both in a meaningful way, and I think the image above was the closest I came to it – there are a few others of the situation in Close UK Immigration Prisons on My London Diary, so you can make up your own mind.

Photography is very much a matter of making judgements, both when taking images and editing them. I’ve photographed the man below with his rainbow hat at several protests, and obviously he is a pretty colourful subject.  I took quite a few pictures of him, particularly when he was blowing the bright red horn, and again this is the image that I think works best.

Firstly there is the framing of him, cutting that horn neatly at the left edge and the red edge of his hat just at the top edge of the frame. But the background is also important, showing the crowd of people. The two women’s faces at each edge help, but it is particularly the various texts that made me pick this frame. Going around the frame there are words like Justice, Racism, Fight, Shut and the complete placard, just tangential to the red hat band, the well known protest refrain ‘Money for Jobs & education NOT for racist deportations’.

That red band also just touches the man’s right eye (on our left) – had my camera been an inch higher it would have been lost. It’s partly a matter of luck that all these things came together in this frame, but also a matter of working on the subject and feeling for the it until luck happens. What perhaps this picture doesn’t on its own shown is the incredible dynamism of the protest, though I think the colour and composition gives some indication. Again there are other pictures on My London Diary.

The next two images show a former prisoner in the centres talking about the conditions inside, and I was quite please with both of them.

I wanted to photograph him speaking, and was attracted by the similarity of the colour in the flag and that of  the Mitie sign and worked from a low position to combine the two.

Standing up and moving very slightly I could show him speaking with the prison building more clearly behind and the police officer watching him. Despite both having the same man and flag, I think these images have a very different feel to them. I think I prefer the lower one, mainly because of the greater animation of the speaker.

I tried hard and in several ways to show something of the dynamic nature of the protest and am not completely happy with any of my images (not that I ever am, though a few I feel quite please by.) One that does have some appeal, largely because of that wide open mouth and grinning face so close to my wide-angle lens perhaps show something of the energy of the protesters. Many of them have suffered inside these prisons, some still face the agony of reporting and knowing they may be locked up and deported, and others have lost friends or relatives sent back to uncertain or dangerous futures, imprisonment and worse.

I’ve written on previous occasions about the issues involved and the attitudes that lie behind (and too often politicians and others do lie) the shameful treatment this country hands out, particularly to those from countries that we grew rich from in the days of the British Empire, and continue to exploit through multinational companies.  It’s important that people learn more about what is actually happening behind the high fences and locked doors of centres like this and the whole mindset that allows it to go on in what is still claimed to be a civilised and democratic country. And that they are closed down.

More at Close UK Immigration Prisons

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Save the NHS

November 14th, 2014


Marchers at the rally before the final stage – Craig Farlow in cap centre

The fight to save the NHS continues, though many parts of it have now been taken over by private companies. It is very big business, and one in which many of our leading politicians have a financial interest. And although the Conservatives are the worst offenders, Labour and Lib-Dems are not far behind. And of course UKIP – or at lest Nigel Farage –   would be even worse. But one of the things I find it hard to forgive Labour for was the introduction of PFI, the scheme under which they got large capital projects – like new hospitals – built but shackled the NHS to huge repayments – and at interest rates which now seem ridiculously high.

I’m fortunate to have lived almost all of my life while we had the NHS. When I’ve needed it, free health care has been there – and without it I probably would not be here. It’s not a perfect system, and has particular problems from a governments that keep making unhelpful changes, but generally delivers a high standard of service at a much lower cost than – for example – the US system which has so attracted Conservative health ministers.  It’s had to see any reason for this attraction other than the huge profits that healthcare companies make from it.

There are good clinical reasons for wanting to concentrate specialised clinical care in fewer well equipped and staffed centres, but it isn’t this that lies below most hospital closures. It isn’t even the need to make economies because of the financial situation – even if one accepts that.  The main driver is the huge repayments of PFI loans, that has led to the pressure to close solvent and clinically successful hospitals such as Lewisham.

The People’s March for the NHS began in Jarrow, up in the North East, and was based on the Jarrow March (Jarrow Crusade)  of 1936, when over 200 unemployed men marched to London, petitioning parliament for help for their town. All they got was a pound for their fare home. And that same amount, though in this case a pound coin, was included in the medals awarded to this year’s marchers who had gone the whole distance when they arrived in London on September 6th 2014.

The 2014 Jarrow March, the People’s March for the NHS NHS, came about from a suggestion by Craig Farlow, one of those who marched the whole distance – the ‘300 milers‘. I think they took the same route, and like the original marchers were supported by local people along the route, staying in churches and other buildings. One big difference was the presence of the ‘Darlo Mums‘ rather than the all-male event of the 30’s.


The march leaves on its final stage led by Rehana Azam, GMB National Organiser for the NHS and the 300 milers

The march appeared to receive relatively little support from the left establishment, though unlike in 1936 the Labour Party and the TUC didn’t actually oppose it. There were indeed many trade unions and union branches who supported it, and the main organiser, Rehana Azam is the GMB National Organiser for the NHS. On the platform during the final rally in Trafalgar Square there were at one point the Shadow Minister of Health and half a dozen other Labour MPs holding the large poster listing the marchers demands, and during his speech Andy Burnham pledged that the Labour Party would repeal the Health and Social Care Act which has opened up all of the NHS to privatisation.  But it is the same Labour Party that is backing the TTIP treaty which will have the same or greater effect.

The main problem I had taking pictures was simply the crowds and space to work. Crowds of supporters and marchers at the rally in Red Lion Square before the final short march, and crowds of photographers in the relatively small press area in front of the stage at Trafalgar Square. Space there was restricted with part of the area in which press usually work being fenced off up for the official video crew and roughly half as seating for the disabled, most of which was unoccupied while I was there. It was difficult and at times impossible to get a good enough view of what was happening on stage, not helped by the sun shining directly towards us.

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Prize Portraits

November 13th, 2014

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the London National Portrait Gallery has often proved controversial, and this year is no exception. The show opens today, Thursday 13 November 2014 and is at the gallery until 22 February 2015, and entry is free. I’ve not seen the actual images, and don’t feel a great compulsion to rush to the gallery, but doubtless I’ll find myself with a free half hour in the Trafalgar Square area in the next couple of months and will pop in to have a look.

From some reproductions on-line, the winning entry, by David Tatlow, described as an “intimate portrait of his baby son being introduced to a dog” is certainly rather disappointing, the kind of picture that if I’d taken it I would have kicked myself for not having done it rather better. As the photographer comments “Everyone was a bit hazy from the previous day’s excess’ after a midsummer party”, and on-line at Taylor Wessing it does seem to me to be more a portrait of a photographer’s hangover than of his baby son. Reactions I’ve heard from other photographers have been largely unprintable. But then the reproduction of it on the Taylor Wessing page is a shocking travesty – and I hope they will quickly replace it. Seen in the Evening Standard – as I did last night reading it on the top deck of a bus in a London gridlock – it is actually a far better picture!

The contest this year attracted 4,193 pictures from 1,793 photographers. At £26 per picture, that brings in a considerable sum of money, my calculator makes it £109,018.  The prizes add up to £19,000, and either my maths is wrong or this seems a pretty poor bet to me. Far better take your £26 to a roulette wheel.

You can see more of the 60 selected images on-line at the NPG, along with some technical details, and also, thanks to Portrait Salon, a slightly larger selection from the 4,133 rejected images made by Christiane Monarchi (Photomonitor), Martin Usbourne (Hoxton Mini Press) and Emma Taylor (Creative Advice Network). Overall their choices seem a little more interesting from what I’s so far been able to see. And I am sure that there would be work from many of the other over 1,600 photographers who entered that was at least as worthy of showing as that in either of the shows. It really is a lottery.

Portrait Salon was at Four Corners Galley in Bethnal Green from 6th-11th Nov and has future showings at Fuse in Bradford (Dec 4-27), Oriel in Colwyn Bay (Jan 9 –  Feb 9), Napier University Edinburgh (19Feb – 16 Apr) and Parkside Gallery Birmingham (6-31 July) and also in Bristol.

It’s a competition I’ve never thought seriously of entering, in part because although I take very many pictures of people I’ve never considered myself a portrait photographer. More importantly I’ve never been a great believer in photographic competitions, and after a few in my early years (some of which I even won) have generally avoided them. I reject the idea of treating photographs like the Eurovision Song Contest or Miss World or prize pigs. Though of course there are some bad photographs, some incompetent photographs and a great many more that have little or no interest for me.

And it’s that last phrase that is important. Judging such competitions will always be a very personal matter and any different group of judges would have picked a different set of images. It’s a shame that two of the five judges for the Taylor Wessing prize were ‘in-house’ from the NPG and a third came from the sponsoring law firm; the prize would certainly have greater credibility from a more independent panel.

In some past years, the NPG prize has been criticised as a competition for who can produce the best Rineke Dijkstra rip-off. Some years so much so that it rather seemed misleading if not even fraudulent not to have added this as one of the contest rules. At least this year’s winner, whatever one thinks of it, has broken that mould.

It’s certainly always been a contest dictated by whatever was the current fashion, and run in an organisation that really seems to have little understanding of photography. They do have some great photographs in their collection, but every time I visit I find myself appalled by some of the other work I see on the walls, tired, vapid and often highly fashionable.

But I also feel the whole idea of the photographic portrait questionable, though I can think of some great examples – such as Stieglitz’s portrait of Georgia O’Keefe, though of course here I’m not referring to a single image. But relatively few photographic portraits seem to me to have much more significance that the small rectangles we have on our passports or ID cards, and it is only when they are subsumed into some greater project – such as August Sander‘s – that they gain depth and greater meaning.

Remembering the Dead

November 12th, 2014

A few months ago, late on Sunday evenings, I lay in my hot bath listening to BBC Radio 4’s weekly omnibus editions of a series of programmes about the events that led to the start of the Great War in 1914. It was a remarkable series which illuminated how the pride, stupidity and greed of a few rich and powerful men can lead to catastrophe for millions, and made evident the strength of anti-war feelings prevalent in Britain in the months leading up to the war, something which seems to have been largely overlooked in our national myth.

It was a war both my parents lived through, though my mother was only just finishing her school years when it finished. My father worked in a munitions factory, then joined up and went to both France and after the war ended to Germany, but was rather more at danger from the British authorities than the Germans, not being good at keeping his mouth shut and obeying obviously nonsensical orders.

By 1918 there were many Germans who were also getting fed up with nonsensical orders, and the Great War ended not because of a military victory,but because German sailors mutinied, setting out from Kiel and Wilhelmshaven to Germany’s industrial centres where they gained the support of the workers and then on to the capital, with the Kaiser being forced to abdicate on 9th November 1918 when the streets of Berlin were taken over.

Like many workers in the UK, German workers had actually been opposed to the war at its start, with hundreds of thousands of socialists going out on the streets in August 1914 against it. As Paul Mason writes in his Channel4 blog post, How did the first world war actually end?

‘We know now, thanks to the publication of records and memoirs, that it was entirely possible to have stopped the first world war. Key members of the British cabinet were against it; large parts of the social elite in most countries, including Germany, were stunned and appalled by the unstoppable process of mobilisation.’

The ‘War to end all wars‘ sadly didn’t, despite the experiences of those who survived and the work of war artists and poets which vividly depicted its horrors. Perhaps nothing in history is inevitable, but the settlement at the end of that war certainly created the conditions for the next great war twenty years later.

So while we remember and celebrate the bravery of those who fought and the sacrifice of those who were killed, perhaps we should do so with a sense of mourning and of the futility and horror and one that includes those on both sides.

I’ve already published some pictures and thoughts about the field of poppies around the Tower of London, a spectacle that has caught the public imagination and dominates the front pages of many papers. I didn’t file my own pictures,  as I did not want my work to be used to glorify war. On my own sites I have control over how my work is used.

On Friday, another memorial sculpture was unveiled in Trafalgar Square, Mark Humphrey‘s brass ‘Every Man Remembered‘, a brass figure of an ‘unknown soldier’ standing on a block of Somme limestone, caged in a perspex enclosure and cradling a huge agglomeration of poppies in his arms, with hands resting on his rifle butt, another pile of poppies fixed around his feet. As I watched it and the tourists photographing it for around half and hour, every five minutes I saw a cloud of poppies being blown into the air around the figure.

There are I think far better figures of men who fought on war memorials around the country – at which many as I write (on Sunday morning on the 9th Nov) will be marking the occasion with services and military parades. The perspex canopy looks cheap and temporary (which I assume it is, but that isn’t a reason why it should so obviously look so), while the plinth lacks character. I rather like the poppies ‘blowing in the wind’, if only for the possibly unintended reference to Bob Dylan.

Almost all of those present around these memorials will be wearing red poppies, though a few may also wear a white poppy. In the past I’ve bought a red poppy and worn it, the ‘Poppy Fund’ providing income to support injured ex-services personnel, a good cause – if one that should perhaps be met by government rather than charity. There is a red poppy, with its rather strange green leaf, on our living room table as I write, where it will stay so far as I am concerned until recycled after November 11th.

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