Central Hill

September 27th, 2016

One of the best post-war estates in London, but surprisingly unlisted, Central Hill is on a slope from the road of that name going down towards the north with extensive views of Central London. Architect Rosemary Stjernstedt (1912–1998) working for Lambeth Council made great use of the site, with large areas of open space, play areas, community buildings and a district heating system. and it was well-built by John Laing, the 374 homes being completed in 1974. Like most council estates it suffered over the years from neglect, though it has been freshed up considerably since I first photographed there in the 1996.

1996: The graffiti and this car park area and subway were removed when the estate was renovated

It is now threatened with demolition – though still a very popular estate with residents. You might ask why Lambeth council want to knock all or most of it down, and the reason is really that it is a well-planned estate – and thus at what is now considered a low density. I think there is also a feeling – not just in Lambeth – that council tenants shouldn’t be allowed to live in nice houses.

This site is certainly one that makes developers and estate agents salivate; those views across London will gaurantee high prices for private properties here, along with decent local shops and transport links. Its a short walk (or ride) to Gipsy Hill and Crystal Palace stations, and to one of London’s nicest parks, Crystal Palace Park.

I’d heard about the plans to demolish the estate from friends, and at the end of January The Guardian published a piece about it by Rowan Moore, and I thought about going to look at it again for myself. And on Feb 2nd the weather forecast was good and I had nothing else pressing, so I took the train to Gipsy Hill and walked up. All of the colour pictures here come from that visit, and there are many more at Central Hill Estate on My London Diary.

Many of the pictures I took were with the 16mm Nikon fisheye – and then converted to a cylindrical view with the Fisheye-Hemi plugin to make the verticals more or less vertical. This gives a horizontal angle of view of around 147 degrees. Except in the centre of the view, non-vertical lines remain curved, and this may sometimes look disturbing. It’s usually best to avoid photographing buildings ‘square on’.

But on this occasion I took rather a lot before realising that I was using the lens only on the 16Mp DX format, which isn’t really a great idea.  I usually use D810 as a DX camera with the 18-200mm, which gives me the equivalent of a 27-300mm zoom but at around a quarter of the wieght. For this I have to set the camera into DX mode manually, and I’d left the camera on that setting when I changed to the fisheye. The difference in the viewfinder is of course obvious, but I’m so used to seeing a masked area around the image it just didn’t occur to me anything was wrong.

I walked around the estate taking pictures at the DX setting with the 16mm fisheye before I realised and set it back to FX. You can still use the plugin to straighten the verticals, by putting an appropriately sized ‘canvas’ around the image, using the plugin and then cropping the blank area off, but it’s something of a pain, and not normally worth doing, as you can get a wider view more easily with the 16-35mm. The curvature isn’t always very noticeable – and is visible in the uncorrected image at the top of the post.

Once I realised I switched to the 32Mp FX mode, and went to retake some of the earlier pictures with a much wider view.  Fortunately I had taken quite a few pictures with the  16-35mm, usually at the 16mm end. But I did have to rush around a little to be sure to catch my train home while my ‘Super Off-Peak’ ticket was still valid.

When photographing events I usually don’t bother to correct the geometric distortion on these images in Lightroom – my default has distortion correct at zero. At 16mm, where most of these pictures at Central Hill were taken, there is considerable pincushion distortion visible unless I’ve remembered to change the distortion correction to 100%.

More of my pictures from 2016 at Central Hill Estate.  You can read about to save the estate from demoition at Save The Central Hill Estate, and sign their petition. There are also alternative plands for increasing the density of the estate while retaining the original from Architects of Social Housing.
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Guilty Court

September 26th, 2016

I’ve never been a morning person. Never liked getting out of bed early. Never at my best until  after breakfast and perhaps another mug of coffee mid-morning.  Hated early mornings when I had to start work for a short while at 8am, and later leaving home to go to work shortly afterwards found it something of a strain. Changed jobs so I could leave a little later and go to work on a bike to avoid travel. Now there is an added incentive against early morning starts, with travel costs to London excessive if I want to arrive before 10am.

Cleaners don’t normally have the option. Some can’t afford to live anywhere close to where they work in the centre of London, and working at or close to the minimum wage often means they can’t afford tube or rail, but face long bus journeys while most of us are still snoring peacefully. When they go on strike, pickets sometimes start at 6am, though the one outside Southwark Crown Court was a little more civilised 9am.  I’d had a few things to do beforehand and only arrived around 1pm, just in time to be handed a box of lunch, which I didn’t really deserve, but ate with thanks before getting down to taking pictures.

Getting the London Living Wage – then £9.10 rather than the minimum £6.70 per hour that they were being paid to clean the court would make a real difference to these workers. The London Living Wage is an official figure which the GLA thinks is needed to live in London – and currently they were only getting paid less than three-quarters of that.  Most cleaners need to do several jobs to keep going, often working 60 hours or more a week.

When I was in employment rather than a freelance, I often worked many more hours than I was contracted for, but at least I got a decent wage, if not a very large one.  Many people now work a 37.5 hour week; on minimum wage that comes to around £250 a week, £13,000 a year.  In June 2015 the average rent in London was £1500 per month, which comes to £18,000 a year.

The cleaners felt let down by the traditional unions who seemed sometimes more concerned with maintaining pay differentials than with improving the lot of those at the bottom of the pile. So they formed their own grass roots unions like the IWGB, grass roots organisations with no paid officials but which have acheived official status as trade unions and have made gains for their members by noisy and assertive actions like this one.

But even where these unions are successful, the successes are sometimes short-lived. Cleaners seldom work for the companies and organisations whose premises they keep clean, but are employed by cleaning contractors. And when contracts come up for renewal, they often go to the lowest bidder – who puts in the lowest bid by cutting wages and increasing workload. And even large companies in the cleaning business seem to be cowboy employers who don’t much care how badly their managers treat staff. These disputes are as much about dignity and respect as they are about wages, vital though these are. ‘We are NOT the dirt we clean’ insist the IWGB posters.

Photographically there was one little problem. The protest was taking place in a rather restricted area, the pavement in front of the court. Photography isn’t permittted inside the grounds of the court, so I couldn’t move back in that direction, and the court is on land owned by a private company, More London, whose secuirity insisted that what looks like a public road in front of the building is private and harassed me when I stepped on it to take pictures, insisting it was not allowed and standing in front of me until I got back on the pavement. There are now many such areas of ‘private’ public space in London and they are growing.

IWGB Picket Southwark Court

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Provoke at Le Bal

September 24th, 2016

If you are going to Paris in the near future – perhaps a trip before we start having to pay for a visa after Brexit – a visit to Le Bal should be on your agenda. The show Provoke, Entre contestation et performance: La photographie au japon 1960-1975 continues until  December 11, 2016 at the gallery at 6 Impasse de la Défense.

You can read more about the show on L’Oeil de la photographie as I did – and there are links on that page to several posts about this and related events such as Daido Moriyama’s installation Scandalous at Gare de l’-Est (aka Paris Est), just a few yards from where – if you are coming from London – the Eurostar will deposit you at Gare du Nord. Le Bal is a short walk from Métro Place de Clichy, and entrance costs 6€ with various concessions – you might get in free as a journalist if you have a UK press card. But be warned that like many things in Paris it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

I’ve written a couple of things here about Provoke and the other photographers included in the show earlier this year at at Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland  and also about the brick of a book of the same name in the post . I’ve also been expanding my views a little for a lecture later this year, which will doubtless feature here at some time, though I’ve still around a month to finish it.  My presentation will start with a selective overview of the history of photographing protest from the daguerreotype era to the 1960s and then look at some of my own contributions to the genre.

The latter is proving harder to write, not least because of the wide range and large number of events I’ve covered, both those in My London Diary and in the years BD – before digital. It’s so much easier to go through digital images than to look through those many files of negatives and contact sheets and boxes of old 10x8s.

Apart from a few exhibition prints, over which I will have laboured long, with many test strips and reprints to get the dodging and burning and other darkroom tricks right, prints to send off to the library or agency were largely routine. The enlarger I used had a meter which generally got the exposure about right, and experience of working in the darkroom meant one was able to spot when negatives really needed some waving of the hands to dodge or a little extra through a gap between them.

Normally you could get it right first time,  perhaps giving some prints a little longer in the developer than others. In theory I made a print for myself too, but when time or cash was short I often didn’t, so only have the few where things were far enough out to force a reprint but not so pathetic as to end up in the bin.

Probably I should have put more of those I’ve kept in the bin too – and certainly other better-known photographers would have been advised to do so in the past. Too often going around the large events like Photo Paris you see prints which are clearly second-rate being sold at high prices as ‘vintage prints’, and sometimes you feel that dealers have been raiding the photographer’s rubbish bin. One day I mean to go through all those old boxes of prints and have a clear-out, just in the unlikely chance I should find some fame after my own final career move.

Housing Despair

September 23rd, 2016

I despair over housing. It has become a desperate problem, particularly in and around London where I live, but one with a simple solution which no government will adopt. We need a crash programme to build more council housing.

Of course it is the disastrous legacy of Thatcherism, though carried on since by successive governments including Blair, Brown and the coalition, although the 2016 Housing and Planning Act is set to take the housing crisis to an entirely new level.

It’s appropriate that the image at the top of this post should feature Class War standing in front of Parliament, because the 2016 Bill is quite clearly an act of class war by a dogmatic Conservative goverenment, aimed at getting rid of our remaining social housing.

Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing (ASH) heckles the Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Housing

Less appropriate was the participation in the protest of some of the leading Labour councillors in London boroughs who are so involved in the selling off of public land for private development and the uprooting of existing council estates.

Richard Livingstone, Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Housing spoke at the rally before the march, not that far from the site of the former Heygate Estate, an award-winning development which Southwark Council spent some years deliberately running down and employing PR consultants to denigrate so they could sell it off for demolition with the loss of over a thousand socially rented homes – with many of those who lived there being forced to move well our of the area or even outside London in a deliberate act of social cleansing. It was done so incompetently that the council failed to benefit financially as it had hoped, though some individuals and the developers grew rich.

Its a policy that Southwark are currently extending to other estates, including the neighbouring Aylesbury Estate, a process bitterly opposied by the majority of residents, and where the government minister recently rejected the council’s application for a compulsory purchase order to get rid of some of the leaseholders on the main ground that it would be “a disproportionate contravention of the leaseholders’ human rights” as well as having “considerable economic, social and environmental dis-benefits”.

When even a Conservative minister thinks a council is screwing its residents, something is very seriously wrong. Southwark’s response hasn’t been to try and find an acceptable solution, but to announce they will appeal the decision. The Aylesbury redevelopment will mean a loss of almost 800 socially-rented homes, though the number may well rise as developers lodge the usual faked accounts against having to provide social housing.

Jasmin Stone of Focus E15 Housing For All campaign

Class War were only one of many housing campaigns on the march, including Focus E15, but they did inject a little interest into the march which took a rather curious back-street route towards Westminster (I think to go past a Lambeth estate threatened with demolition) which also took it past a branch of Foxtons, where Class War led others in peeling off for a short and noisy protest outside.

It was Class War too who took the march on from Parliament to finish with a protest outside Downing St, where the Housing Times set up a picture with the woman above posing in a t-shirt with the message ‘The Conservative Government has declared WAR on Social Housing’.

Government policy is currently to give huge subsidies to landlords through the payment of Housing Benefit which has hugely raised market rents, as well as vast amounts in various incentive schemes to enable people with middling incomes to buy their own properties. If these huge subsidies were instead put into the building of council housing the housing crisis would soon be eliminated.

Though there is another government-created problem. The closing of many of the apprenticeship and training schemes through succesive underfunding of vocational education and furtther education in general means we have a massive shortage of skilled workers who could build the new homes we need. And Brexit is likely to make it harder for workers from central and eastern Europe to continue to fill the gap.

Housing and Planning Bill March
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City of Greed

September 22nd, 2016

The UK remains one of the world’s richest countries, 9th in GDP according to current IMF stats, though on a per capita basis we rank rather lower at No 27. Though at $42,041 that’s still around twice that of Turkey, three times thatt of Colombia, four times that of Indonesia and sixty-five times that of the Central African Repulic who come in at number 185. And London has yet again won the international rankings as the city that matters most to the world’s wealthy – to “live, invest, educate their kids, run their businesses”

Possibly the most hateful of acronyms I’ve ever come across is UHNWI. It stands for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, who may well be totally worthless parasites but have at least $30 million hanging around doing nothing but earn them more money – and there is a huge industry out there hoping to grab a percentage of their almost certainly ill-gotten wad for helping them spend it and make more. It’s sometimes laughably called ‘global wealth’ when their annexation of the great majority of it is a clear cause of global poverty.

Although a small proportion enjoy appearing as philanthropists, giving away some of the vast amounts that exceed what anyone could ever sensibly need, most are in my experience incredible tight-wads – its part of how they (or more often their families) got where they are today. So it comes as no surprise to find that many of the employees at the companies they control are paid the absolute minimum and get sacked if they agitate for even their legal rights – such as the right to join a trade union.

Back in 2006 I photographed the launch of a movement that was meant to fight this, the London Citizens Workers’ Association, a new organisation to support low-wage and migrant workers across London, backed by faith organisations, trade unions and social justice organisations, now widened in scope and known as Citizens UK. It’s still working away, but hasn’t been able to make a great deal of progress. Inequality continues to increase and Britain is now one of the most unequal of European countries in terms of income, with only Greece and Spain worse, and inequality in London is almost beyond measure.

Support from the trade unions has perhaps proved rather disappointing, with some seeming to prioritize the interests of their higher paid members over those at the bottom. More successful at the workplace have been a number of small grass roots unions, owned and run by the workers themselves and with no paid officials, strongest among groups of migrant workers, with whom the traditional unions have perhaps had communication difficulties. And one of the more active is the IWGB, the Independent Workers Union which has organised cleaners to demand respect, decent working conditions and a living wage.

Their noisy public protests are an embarassment to companies, and exert a lot of pressure on them to settle. Unfortunately the rich don’t give up easily, and have developed ways to fight back. Cleaners are employed not by the companies whose offices they clean but by separate cleaning contractors. And when one contractor has been forced to offer its workers a better deal, the contract can simply be put out to tender again, with a new cleaning contractor undercutting the old by cutting the wages and benefits of the staff and increasing workload.

Lutyens House at 1 Finsbury Circus is one of the grandest locations in the City of London, built in the 1920s for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (known more recently as BP). Later tenants included the Nat West Bank, but in 2005 the interior of this listed building was remodelled for multiple occupants. It seems now to be owned by Ivesco, but let to house restructuring specialists, Alvarez & Marsal and leading international law firm, Stephenson Harwood and appears to be the address of over 180 private listed companies. But the cleaners are employed by CCM, a privately owned contract cleaning and maintenance company based in London who work for the commercial property firm CBRE that manages the property.

It’s CBRE who drives down the contract prices and puts pressure on CCM to keep its workforce docile and working to the bone for peanuts, and the IWGB protest was directed at these two companies. The workers say the managers are running a campaign of intimidation and provocation against long-term employees, trying to deny them their employment rights and force them out of their jobs so they can be replaced by new workers with reduced working conditions.

It was a dull day with a little light rain, enough to give some reflections in the city pavements as the protesters walked around in front of the main entrance, watched by a few City of London police and officer workers going out to buy lunchtime sandwiches. Quite a few of the workers stopped to take a leaflet, and some clearly sympathised with the cleaners, though this seemed less common with those who were more expensively dressed. IWGB President Alberto Durango and several other cleaners spoke briefly to let people inside the building and passing by why the cleaners were protesting, and between these speeches the protesters blew horns, shouted slogans, banged drums and made sure everyone in the district knew they were there.

Photographically the only real problem was the rain, and it was light enough to give me little real problem. The lens hood on the 16-35mm in particular offers little protection against rain, and I walk around holding a microfibre cloth balled up in front of the lens filter to keep it dry, removing it only for as long as necessary to take pictures, and checking for any drops after each exposure. I worked at ISO 640 on the wide angle and ISO 1000 on the 28.0-200.0 mm (in DX mode, so 42-300mm equivalent).

Shutter speeds on the longer lens were on the low side, around 1/100th second but few were spoilt by camera shake. The 16-35 has image stabilisation which might have helped, though I often find I’ve managed to turn it off. With this lens I often work quite close to the nearest part of the subject, and even though wider angles give greater depth of field, at f4 to f5 it can still be quite limited, and there are a few pictures where a higher ISO and thus smaller aperture (larger f number) woul have been an advantage. I sometimes miss those depth of field scales on older prime lenses.

IWGB protest victimisation by CCM/CBRE

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Education, Education, Education

September 21st, 2016

One of the many things I hold against Tony Blair and his New Labour government was bringing in tuition fees and replacing maintenance grants by loans in 1998, ending 36 years in which higher education in the UK had been essentially free.

I was fortunate not only to have benefitted from free higher education personally, but also for my two sons, who just about squeezed in at the end, the younger being in the final cohort who got maintenance grants rather than loans.

The grants of course were always means-tested, which greatly benefitted students from less well-heeled families. I got a full grant, and emerged from university debt free – even if I only had £5 17s 4d remaining in my bank account. And later I was happy to pay the relatively small parental contribution to their grants for which, as a teacher whose partner mainly engaged in unpaid charity work, I was assessed.

Of course it wasn’t the only mistake New Labour made in education – the whole crazy idea of Academy Schools was another – and there were some positive acheivements in raising test results, if perhaps made at the expense of teachers and narrowing the education that schools could deliver. I was pleased to be able to edge my way out of state-run education both by working inside it on a ground-breaking industry-sponsored computer-based learning scheme (when Ofsted inspectors came to college one would always ask me politely if he might come and take a look, but they couldn’t ‘inspect’ it) and also moving into full-time photography, though I’m still a ‘retired member’ of the NUT as well as a current member of the NUJ.

And of course outside of education… I’d better not start on Iraq and the rest of the disasters – though of course a few Labour MPs did vote against them, notably Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell…

It wasn’t just that the introduction of fees and removal of grants was clearly a backward step, one that disadvantaged students from less well off families, but that once done it gave a carte blanche to later governments to increase fees and take similar measures. And this January, a small parliamentary committee – the Third Delegated Legislation Committee – with votes by a handful of MPs brought in the final scrapping of maintenance grants for the poorest students that had been announced by Geoarge Osborne in his July 2015 budget – but never properly debated in Parliament. It’s the kind of back-door way that the current government has increasingly used to bring in legislation without proper debate. The committee voted on party lines, with 10 Conservate MPs outvoting the 8 from Labour and the SNP.

The protest outside parliament took place as MPs inside were debating an opposition day motion condemning the axing of the grants, which was lost by a fairly narrow vote.

The students, at the NCAFC ‘Grants Not Debt’ Rally, some wearing red or red cloth squares to show their opposition to student fees and maintenance cuts, met opposite Parliament. Called at short notice and on a Tuesday afternoon numbers weren’t huge, but some of the posters and placards showed their anger clearly. There was also a rather difficult to photograph group of four carrying  posters that gave – when they stood in the right order – the David Bowie lyrics from ‘Changes’: ‘And these children that you spat on as they try to change their worlds, Are immune to your consultations, They’re quite away of what they’re going through’

One of Labour’s new rising stars, Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South and Shadow Minister in Department of Energy got a great welcome when he came out to speak at the protest, and other speakers included NUS Vice President (Welfare) Shelly Asquith.

Shelly Asquith  was among those who led the protest onto Westminster Bridge and blocked it with a number of banners, and showed a remarkable ability to ignore a police officer who tried to talk to her.

Police surrounded the protesters and the protest continued, with the traffic stopped for some time – and I left as the numbers seemed to be drifiting away

NCAFC ‘Grants Not Debt’ Blocks Bridge
NCAFC ‘Grants Not Debt’ Rally
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Busy Saturday

September 15th, 2016

Saturday January 16th was one of those days when a lot of things were happening in London.  The main event for me was the action at St Pancras over the people held at the camp on our Calais border that I’ve already written about, but when that finished I had several other things to attend to. I knew that I’d missed the start of the march from Cavendish Square to the Japanese Embassy against the Taiji dolphin slaughter, a barbaric practice in which fishermen herd a school of dolphins into a shallow cove and then bludgeon most of them to death, but hoped to find them on the march.

March against Taiji Dolphin Slaughter

I guessed that the march would have started an hour after the published event time and be moving fairly slowly, as they were going to march on the crowded pavements of Oxford St and Regent St rather than go down the road, which perhaps rather lessens the impact, but helps to get cooperation from the police, who have an overriding obsession with maintaining traffic flows.

You don’t actually have to get permission for a march from the police, but to be legal you have to tell them when and where you want to march and they can impose restrictions. In this respect marches differ from static protests, where there is no duty to tell anyone they are going to take place, though increasingly public space in London is becoming privatised – and on this privatised land – which includes Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square – you sometimes seem to need permission to even think differently.

So I took the underground and made a guess they would still be on Regent St. Getting out at Piccadilly Circus I could see no sign of them and decided to walk up Regent St, and several hundred yards later saw some placards in the distance, eventually meeting up with them as they waited to cross Conduit St and walking back with them the way I had come. It was a little tricky taking pictures, walking backwards as they made their way along a pavement which was rather full of tourists and shoppers, and I did bump into a few while getting my pictures.

At Piccadilly Circus I saw that another protest had set up around Eros, and left the Taiji protesters, thinking I might go on to the Japanese Embassy later.

Vegans ‘Awakening Compassion’

I’d not known about the vegan protest by an internet-based group who call themselves ‘Awakening Compassion’. They stood silently in a circle surrounding the base of the statue (which of course we all know isn’t Eros but his bother Anteros, but we still call it that) holding posters showing pictures of farm animals with messages such as “We are animals – We can think and feel – We want to stay alive.

Obviously these people are sincere and have strong feelings about animals, and I try to respect these as I photograph their protest. But I can’t help feeling that I don’t agree – and that I don’t think the animals in the pictures are actually having those thoughts. I’m entirely opposed to cruelty to animals, and in particular to farm animals but have no problem with being ‘speciesist’. The animals in the pictures are not just farmed animals, but are farm animals, bred over hundreds or thousands of years to produce food for humans, and exist only because their destiny is to be consumed by us. We wouldn’t have any cows at all in this country if they did not supply us with milk and meat; aurochs would simply have become extinct.

For environmental reasons I think we should eat less meat – and I do eat rather less than the average Briton, though I still enjoy the occasional lamb casserole or chicken or fish dish – as well as vegetarian meals, where possible using some of our organic home-grown produce – though most this year has been consumed by squirrels, pigeons, blackbirds and slugs. But while beef production is generally ruinous to the environment, it’s worth remembering that so too is the modern agricultural production of many vegetables.

By now it was time I was in Trafalgar Square, where Syrians and a few friends were calling for the world to Drop Food Not Bombs on Syria, a protest prompted by the siege mounted by the Assad regime and Hezbollah militias on Madaya, where no food has been allowed to enter for more than six months in a deliberate attempt to starve the civilian population and defending forces into submission or death in an international crime that breaches human rights conventions. Similar sieges are also taking place in other cities and towns in Syria, and the situation has been worsened by Russian bombing in support of Assad.

By around 2.30pm I’d finished photographing the Syrians and decided to take a look at the Japanese Embassy, but by the time I arrived there was nothing left to photograph, and I was left in London with around four hours until my next appointment.

I can’t remember exactly how I filled in those 4 hours, though I know I took no photographs. It takes too long for it to be worth my going home and coming back later – and of course would add to my travel costs. Usually I go and check up on the other places where protests frequently occur – particularly Downing St and around Parliament – and sometimes a likely embassy or two. Often I’ll go and visit an exhibition, or visit the National Gallery to look at some of my favourite paintings that they look after for me (and the rest of us.)  On a nice day I might go for a walk, or sit somewhere pleasant to read; if the weather isn’t too great, or after the galleries have closed I have been known to go to a pub, though I don’t often do so without friends.

International Times new ‘Issue Zero’

A little after seven o’clock I was on Fleet St, for the launch, or rather re-launch, party of the International Times, the notorious London underground paper first published at the height of psychedelic counter-culture in 1966. Closed down in 1973, it reared up a few times in later years, and its 50th anniversary was marked with a new resurgence, Issue Zero of what is intended to be a continuing magazine.

I’d been invited to come by the new young editor, who had probably guessed I would take a few pictures to put the event on record, and I obliged, as well as helping out in drinking the free wine. I rashly promised to write something for a future issue (and repeated my promise at the launch of issue 1) but haven’t yet got round to it.

As well as the new team who had worked on Issue Zero, the event included a number of those who contributed to the original magazine, as well as other leading figures from the left underground past and present, many of whom I was introduced to and forgot their names almost as quickly as they will have forgotten mine. There were a few old friends, and one who spoke was Alberto Durango, President of the IWGB union, whose protests to get a living wage for cleaners I’ve often photographed.

The party pictures were all taken on the Nikon D810 using the 20mm f2.8 prime but with the camera set in DX mode. This gives the equivalent of a 30mm lens – close to my favourite focal length, and the visible area outside the frame makes the experience rather like working with a rangefinder camera. It’s relatively fast – with an entry on ‘My Menu’ to switch to FX mode for a wider view when needed, though I didn’t on this occasion do so. At5 f2.8 the lens isn’t superfast, but any wider aperture wouldn’t give sufficient depth of field for most pictures. Working at ISO 2000 typical exposures were around 1/80th f4.5, a fast enough speed to avoid camera shake and motion blur. And at ISO 2000 you have the quality to allow a little cropping if necessary.

The 20mm f2.8 is a relatively compact lens, considerably less aggressive than the bulky 16-35mm f4 which is my standard wide-angle. Combined with the fairly unobtrusive shutter sound of the D810 it has a fairly discreet presence. I didn’t even bother to use the camera’s quiet shutter mode – and in fact I never do. It is initially quieter, but by delaying the mirror return until you take your finger off the release it spreads the sound out over a much longer time, and I find it more obtrusive.
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Vote Now

September 14th, 2016

The Greenpeace Photo Award, sponsored by them together with GEO magazine, gives photographers production grants to enable photo projects which take a fresh look at environmental themes, and publishes the finished projects in GEO and the Greenpeace magazine.

As well as two awards of 10,000 Euros selected by a jury of international experts there is a third of the same value which is chosen by the general public through an online vote, and you have until the end of the month, September 30th to cast your choice.

I’m finding it very difficult to make up my mind, with 11 projects by photographers from Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, Latin America, and the US to chose from including several whose work I already know and admire as well as some which seem equally deserving from those who are new to me. As well as the importance and freshness of the projects and the quality of the photographic work, I’m also wondering who the jury are likely to chose and which photographers are probably most in need of the money. Of course all photographers need money, but some more than others.

In the order they are presented on the site, the projects are ‘To Live and to die for the rainforest’ by Marizilda Cruppe, ‘The True Cost of Meat’ by Robin Hammond, ‘Excessocenus’ by Christina de Middel and Bruno Morais, ‘The Profit Corner’ by Mário Macilau, We are dying’ by Rafal Milach, ‘Pollution and Food Safety’by Lu Guang, ‘Drowning World’ by Gideon Mendel, ‘Glaciers’ by Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger, ‘The 11th prophecy – Eling’ by Fabrice Monteiro, ‘The Melting of Greenland’ by Daniel Beltrá and ‘Omeede’ by Karen Miranda.

I did download the press images, but with 11 photographers taking part it seemed too many to include in a post here – and you can after all see their work on the Greenpeace Photo Award page where there is a presentation by each of them and if you want to see more use the links at the bottom of each project to go to the photographer’s web sites.

When you have made up your mind there is a large button at the bottom of each presentation, and you can vote on just one of these to register your choice. After you have voted you will be told how many others have voted for the same project as you – but not the votes for the other photographers. When I voted, around 5,500 others had already made their choice. If all the readers of this post voted – usually a similar number – it could really make a difference, but I hope you will look at the projects and make up your own minds – I’m certainly not going to tell anyone who to vote for or who I voted for, at least not until after the results are announced.

Gum and More

September 13th, 2016

Unless you are a gum printer or thinking of taking up gum printing, Christina Z Anderson‘s Gum Printing – A Step-by-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practice, recently published – here in the UK by Routledge (ISBN 9781138101500) – might be a rather expensive purchase at £34.99 in paperback or a ridiculous £120 Hardback, but for many of us the more interesting section may be the first chapter ‘The History of Gum Printing‘ which you can ‘Look Inside‘ to read, all except some of the notes.  Perhaps the other part of the book of great interest would be the second section which looks at the work of around 50 contemporary artists.

Anderson’s own work in gum and other alternative processes can be seen in depth on her own web site (and probably most of the others among that 50 – and there is a list in the preview – have work on the web.) The short history chapter has some good illustrations too, and covers the early years of the process well, though there are perhaps some omissions from more recent years, and perhaps just a little American bias.

Although gum – or gum bichromate – was in its heyday in the pictorialism of the years before the ‘Great War’ with the work of Demachy and others, it never entirely died out in the UK and I suspect in other countries around the world. The photographer from whom I learnt of the process and who inspired me to try it was a man called Steinbock, an advertising photographer from Maidenhead who regularly contributed a small gum bichromate print each year for many years to the Royal Photographic Society annual exhibition.  His prints weren’t exciting, but the process he briefly described was intriguing, and he told us it was all very simple, and a few minutes of his talk was enough to send me and two colleagues, Randall Webb and Terry King away seperately to make prints.


My very first attempt, seen above, a roughly 10×7 inch print of an agave, wasn’t too bad, though many years later it has developed some nasty brown spots. Theoretically gum prints are archival, but in practice this isn’t always so, particularly if stored carelessly. Though I think in this case the problem is with the kallitype I later coated on top of the blue gum.

I made a few more, largely to see how to do it and to have an example or two, including several rather bad versions of a tri-colour print, for use in my teaching, but soon decided gum wasn’t for me.  Terry King, who sadly died last year, went on to work commercially in the medium and to teach a whole generation of printers in this and other alternative processes, running courses both at his own Hands-On Pictures workshops and at colleges and other venues around the UK and internationally. He was for several years the Chair of the RPS Historical Group, organising a number of conferences and in 1997 he founded APIS, the Alternative Processes International Symposium in which has since taken place in alternate years since in either the UK or US.

I suspect that elsewhere in the book there may also be a mention of the Alt-photo-process-list to which Anderson has for some years been an important contributor, as in its early days (it began in 1994) were both Terry King and the late Judy Seigel, who founded the The World Journal of Post-Factory Photography –  you can still download the first issue. Both were opinionated in a medium where there is no right way to do things, and sparks often flew between them – and I got caught rather in the cross-fire.

If you are thinking of printing using alternative processes, I’m sure this book would be a worthwhile investment, as Anderson has made herself a master of these techniques, and has always been ready to share her expertise generiously on the list (and many of those 50 names I also recognise as list contributors.) I’m sure this book will be the best manual available and will probably save you much trial and error and swearing. But you can do what I did, and just play around a little, really almost anything works, and, who knows, you might just find something worth doing that even this volume doesn’t cover.

There are of course different styles of gum print, and if you want to print like King you will find fairly full instructions on his site, though I think several of the suppliers he lists are no longer in business. Elsewhere on the web you will find others who have shared their methods. Most – but not all – those involved in alt-processes are happy to share.  King decided to make a small charge for the details of some of his ‘improved’ processes – though you can find some comments in Mike Ware’s Cyanomicon of how these had been anticipated in the early days and the ‘Rex’ processes seem similar to some I also experimented on with Terry for kallitype and platinum, using a common ferric oxalate sensitizer with a development bath. Though his chrysotypes were considerably better than my rather poor attempt.

There were several reasons I gave up printing using alternative processes. One was simply time –  and I was far more interested in taking photographs than in making prints. More important was that I decided that processes like gum bichromate did not give the kind of results that suited my work, though platinum and carbon printing were far more to my taste.

But then I found I could make better prints using an inkjet printer, as first using John Cone’s remarkable Piezography inks, and later, because I wanted to print colour as well as monochrome, with Epson’s own K3 Ultrachrome. And, if I wanted, I could print on papers very similar to those I had been using for alternative processes.

Die-in for Calais

September 12th, 2016

I don’t like to travel. Perhaps when I was younger it might have been a little different, but now I always like to get back home at night, preferably in time for dinner and a glass or two of red wine, but certainly in time for bed, though when I’ve been out taking pictures I often find myself still working on them into the early hours of the morning.

When in 1983 the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone fought the  Tory government to bring in zonal fares and the travelcard, it made it possible for me to work in a sensible way all over London. Even when victories like this led to the Thatcher government plunging London into chaos (from which it still hasn’t quite recovered) by abolishing any London-wide government, these transport initiatives remained – while London’s seat of government was sold off as a luxury hotel.

I sometimes tell people that I turned down a job simply on the basis that I couldn’t get to Letchworth on a travelcard; it isn’t quite true – I really turned it down because I wasn’t offered enough to make the extra time and cost worthwhile.

I do occasionally work outside the capital, but only when things interest me enough and when I feel I’m up to it. Even in London I often get tired after a few hours of work and come home missing an event later in the day – when twenty years ago I would have kept going all night. Now I need to get home, take pills, rub on the cream, eat regularly on a suitable diet and keep up the injections.

This is all a very lengthy preamble to cover up me feeling a little guilty about not having been to Calais to photograph the people camped there in the ‘Jungle’. I’ve signed the petitions, made the odd donation, but never actually gone there, though I’ve had the opportunities and invitations. But of course there has been no shortage of photographers who have done so, and sometimes I wonder if it has been too much of a media circus, with some of those living there feeling they are in a fish tank.

I was very pleased to be able to support a protest by some of those who have been going to Calais and taking positive action to support those stranded there – who include several hundred unaccompanied children who actually have the right to come to the UK as they have family members here.  Our government is refusing them entry – and nine months later and after Parliament has said they should be let in is still dragging its feet. A few have now been allowed to come here, but many more remain in the Calais mud.

Government policies under Theresa May at the Home Office and now Prime Minister are quite clearly racist, and driven by pandering to the racism of our right-wing press.

Police stopped the protesters from entering the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras International, and tried to move them away from the entrance, although the police were far more of a barrier to passengers trying to enter than the protesters who made no attempt to prevent them entering.

After a number of short speeches the protesters marched down to the Euston Rd, and then rather surprised the police by rushing down into the Underground, where police again stopped them from entering the main shopping area under St Pancras.

The protesters then staged a ‘die-in’, led by a group with a colourful banner, ACTUP London, a group I’d not met before who describe themselves as “a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the HIV pandemic, along with the broader inequalities and injustices that perpetuate it”. Others sat down around them, while speeches and chanting continued. After around 10-15 minutes everyone got up and the protest ended.

Photographically the protest presented few problems, although at times it was difficult with other photographers rather getting in the way – and you can see a few cameras on the edges of some of my frames.  Light levels in the Underground area were reasonably high and unlike most night scenes the lighting was fairly even. I was working at ISO 3200 and ISO 4000 and getting exposures around 1/80 or 1/100 at f5 (with exposure compensation at -0.3 or -0.7 Ev) and the results seemed remarkably good, with relatively low noise and decent colour.

Artificial lighting is often rather a problem with some light sources giving eerie effects, and often scenes have various different colour lighting, often producing rather unnatual effects, but here it seemed very consistent, with a colour temperature around 3700K and needing just a small magenta tint, typically +9 in Lightroom.

You can read more about the protest and see the rest of the pictures at St Pancras Die-In for Calais refugees.
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