Indian summer & Lala Deen Dayal

August 21st, 2014

I read the article India’s 10 best contemporary photographers you should know on World Photography Day and it set me thinking about Indian photography, and also about lists such as this. World Photography Day may have passed you by – it almost did me – but it is a project started by a young Australian photographer in 2009, “with the dream to unite local and global communities in a worldwide celebration of photography.” The day chosen was August 19th, the anniversary of Daguerre’s patent being purchased by the French government and announced as a gift “Free to the World” in 1839. Except for Britain, where Daguerre had separately acquired a patent for it 5 days earlier. So it isn’t perhaps a very suitable date for those of us in the UK to celebrate.

But there were a number of events to mark World Photography Day, although I could only find five – and those rather obscure – marked on the world map on the web site. One not listed was at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts in Mumbai, where Drawn From Light, an exhibition of the early photographic history of India opened, with one of the ten from the list, Dayanita Singh, as guest of honour. There was also a display of 40 vintage cameras, including a daguerreotype camera, part of Dilish Parekh’s collection of 4,425 cameras. And I sometimes think I have far too many.

The exhibition is from the Alkazi Collection of Photography, which is extensive, and has formed the basis of a number of publications, but has relatively little material online.

Some years ago I wrote a series of articles on early photography in India, mainly covering the work of British photographers who worked there in the nineteenth century. Before working on that I had hardly been aware of the splendid work of Lala Deen Dayal. A few years later on this site I wrote a little about him again, including this paragraph:

Lala Deen Dayal (1844-1905) is one of relatively few photographers to have been honoured by a postage stamp issue, and I was very pleased to receive a commemorative album from his great granddaughter who runs the web site about his work containing examples of the 500 Rupee stamp issued in November 2006. Few photographers can claim an edition of 0.4 million!

There are still a number of links on the web to the pieces I wrote about him and several other photographers working in India, even though these have been unavailable for seven or eight years, for example at Harappa.com, which does still contain much interesting material about India and Indian photography.  So I thought I might revisit the article about Lala Deen Dayal, and try and bring it a little up to date. Mostly it is as I wrote it in 2003. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find some of the actual photographs I wrote about that were available on the web back then – please post links in the comments if you can do so.

Lala Deen Dayal

Part 1: Key Facts

Chronology

  • 1844 Lala Deen Dayal was born to a Jain family, following one of the ancient religions of India (dating back almost 3000 years) in 1844 in Sardana, near Meerut, a small town in north India.
  • 1857-8 Meerut was the scene of the first serious rioting in the 1857-8 uprising (the ‘Indian Mutiny’) and the events will doubtless have made a strong impression on the 13-year old Deen Dayal.
  • ca 1861 Dayal studied enginering at the Thomason Civil Engineering College in Roorkee (now the University of Roorkee), the first engineering college in the British Empire (and only the third in the world) set up in 1847 by to train Indians to provide the roads, railways and other infrastructure needed for the exploitation of the country’s resources.
    Dayal was apparently a brilliant student, covering the five-year course in only three years, emerging with a first class degree and an almost perfect mark. It was while here in 1863 at the age of 19 that he first learnt photography.
  • 1866 After graduating, he started working for the Indian Civil Service at the Department of Works Secretariat in Indore, as a draftsman and estimator. He continued to photograph and was encouraged by some of the British civil servants, in particular Sir Henry Daly, the Agent to the Governor General for Central India.
  • 1875 Daly commissions Dayal to photograph the royal visit by the Prince of Wales. Later he takes him with him to photograph on a trip to Bundelkhand.
  • 1882/3 Dayal returns to Bundelkhand with the new Agent, Sir Lepel Griffin.
  • 1885 Dayal photographs the Viceroy of India, Lord Dufferin, and his wife, Lady Dufferin. They are so impressed by the quality of his work that they appoint him as official photographer. Dayal resigns his civil service job to become a full time photographer. He moves to Hyderabad where he becomes court photographer to the Mir Mahbub Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam and opens a photo studio at the nearby military station of Secunderabad, the largest in India, where there was a great demand for portraits. The Nizam awards Dayal with a knighthood for his photographs of him, giving him the title of Raja Musavir Jung (‘Bold photographic warrior’), although Dayal only uses the first name, becoming Raja Deen Dayal.
  • 1886 Eighty-nine of Dayal’s pictures are printed by the carbon process to illustrate Griffin’s book ‘Famous Monuments of Central India’ (London, 1886)
  • late 1880s Opens studios in Bombay and Indore. His two sons, Lala Gyan Chand and Raja Dharam Chand both work for the business, Raja Deen Dayal & Sons, as photographers.
  • 1892 Opens Zenana (women only) studio in Hyderabad, supervised by the wife of the Times Correspondent, Mrs Kenny Livick.
  • 1893 his display of views of India received a special award at the World Colombian Exposition in Chicago.
  • 1897 Queen Victoria granted the firm a Royal Warrant.
  • 1902 Dayal photographs the visit of Lord and Lady Curzon to the Nizam. Lord Curzon was the Viceroy (governor) of India, and his wife was an American heiress, daughter of Levi Leiter, the founder of Marshall Field’s. Some of Dayals best-known images show their tiger shoot.
  • 1904 His son, Raja Dharam Chand dies.
  • 1905 Dayal dies. The business is continued by his surviving son, Lala Gyan Chand, and later his grandsons, including Shri Ami Chand (Amichand Deen Dayal.)
  • 1912 Nizam Mahbub Ali Khan dies.
  • 1919 Lala Gyan Chand dies. For the next 15-20 years the business declines until Ami Chand is old enough to turn its fortunes around. His work includes an extensive record of the era of Nizam VII Mir Osman Ali Khan.
  • 1987-92 Amichand’s daughter Hemlata Jain organises exhibitions of the work by Dayal using prints her father had preserved, in Bombay, London and Pune.
  • 1984 Amichand dies. His sons continue to run the photographic studio in Hyderbad.
  • 2002 The Deen Dayal web site, is put on line by his great grand daughter Hemlata Jain. Much of the information in this feature comes from this site.

Part 2: A Deserved Renown

His reputation

Although Lala Deen Dayal had an immense reputation in India as well as being recognised abroad during his lifetime, there are relatively few mentions his work in the main histories of photography. Only since the exhibitions around 1990 and in recent years with major shows on Indian photography in general has his work begun to get some of the recognition it deserves.

Part of the reason for this may lie in his identification as a photographer of the colonial era. Following the successful completion of the struggle for independence in 1947 there was perhaps a desire to forget the excesses of the past, some of which are evident in his work.

Foundations of success

Dayal’s success was founded on technical excellence and hard work. He was apparently a deeply devout and hard-working man, often putting in an eighteen hour day to ensure the success of his business. The evidence of the pictures very much shows him to have been a perfectionist, striving for every detail to be perfect.

Groups

The meticulous attention to detail is very much evident in the group photographs that he made. One of the more fascinating was taken on May 22, 1892, which shows Nawab Ghalib Jung and friends, including several European (or, most likely, American) women in white dresses with white hats, in a group of around twenty people gathering around and apparently listening with delight to that new-fangled state of the art American treadle phonograph, complete with long tubes to carry the sounds to the more privileged of their ears. It is a carefully posed group with a lively sense of animation.

The Nizam’s Palace

Dayal’s India was very much an India of colonial occupation. Many of his portraits were of the soldiers, civil servants and their wives who were in charge of the country. They were the ones who could afford his services. As court photographer to the Nizam, he was working for a man supported by the colonial administration, with a lifestyle that was very much modelled on the English upper classes. His palace (photographed by Dayal) was very much in a European style, both in architecture and in its furnishings.

His view of the interior of the Nizam’s palace shows a galleried sitting room with grand curtains and heavily ornate chandeliers, in the most extravagant of nineteenth century European taste. The decorated ceilings and walls, and ornate padded furniture all show the Nizam’s immense wealth. Dayal’s careful choice of camera position and the fine natural lighting, doubtless with some help in the darkroom as well as possibly the use of mirrors to direct more light towards the ceiling make this an impressive and very clear picture.

Of course there are Indian aspects in the photographs of the Nizam and his court, with some of the visitors in Indian dress, but at times it seems a parody of the excesses of a European aristocracy rather than an authentic nationalism. Dayal himself of course was simply the photographer, engaged to record the events, and whether the occasion was a soiree or a tiger shoot he did so with great care and precision.

Part 3: Indian Views

Street View of Ulwar (This image is no longer on line so far as I can see.)

Dayal’s ‘Street View of Ulwar’ is taken from a high viewpoint looking along a main street of the town the capital of Ulwar state (now known as Almar.) On the left side of the image is the shaded side of the street; Dayal is roughly at the level of the tops of the roof of the nearby building, perhaps a temple. On the right of the picture, the deep street is fringed by shops with taller light stone buildings behind them.

The sunlit street is busy with people, in its centre what looks like an early car, although the date of 1882-6 makes this impossible – perhaps it is a rear view of a horse-drawn vehicle. The shops have awnings to shade them from the sun and the street is busy with people. In the distance we see a fort, possibly the photographer and his camera are standing on top of a similar one. Further on, we see the mountains towering above the town, and, above them a dramatic cloudscape.

Chichai Waterfall near Rewalala, 1882 (see p140 Zahid R Chaudhary’s Afterimage of Empire- AE- which can be viewed on line)

Dayal choose a dramatic viewpoint for his picture of the ‘Chichai waterfall’ in 1882, making the most of a drop front on his camera to put the horizon very high in the view.

His viewpoint is actually from a slightly higher point than the top of the falls, giving a view back along the top of the plain along which the river runs until reaching this apparently enormous drop. The slow shutter speed used – probably something between 5 and 20 seconds – gives the water a blurred, almost ethereal quality that increases as it falls and perhaps spreads out giving more spray.

River at Indore (a similar image at p128 in AE)

In contrast, the river at ‘Indore’ is smooth and glassy as it flows through a grove of palm trees, languorously curving out over the placid stream (again an effect increased by the long exposure used.) The diffuse light emphasizes the near-silhouettes of the trunks and fronds against the plain sky.

Daulatabad Fort (This paticular image not on line, others of the fort here.)

The east scarp of ‘Daulatabad Fort’ rises steep and unassailable ninety metres from the stream below, and the photographer has chosen a viewpoint where he appears to be hovering in mid-air to view the scene. In the foreground, filling most of the right of the picture, it towers above the more distant plain in the left half of the picture, starting far below the camera and stretching into the distance.

The scene is a thrilling combination of horizontal and vertical, with an aerial perspective that enhances its effect, and creates a hovering bulk of distant mountain on the horizon below a radiant sky. The fort, built by Hindus in the 12th century in this imposing position, was one of the many properties belonging to Dayal’s employer, the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Part 4: Elephants & Tigers

Elephant Battery in Action at Fort Jhansi  (No longer on line.)

Some of the more engaging of Dayal’s pictures – at least to a western eye – are those of elephants in action. The broad sweep of landscape below the fort in his ‘Elephant Battery in Action’ at Fort Jhansi, with clouds of smoke, groups of men, elephants, bullocks and cannon create the effect of some the filming of some battle epic.

Shikar – the Tiger Shoots 

Dayal also recorded a number of the Nizam’s tiger shoots. These included one arranged for Lord and Lady Curzon in 1902, which shows the ‘shooting party’ of nine men and two ladies arranged across the base of a tree in front of the dead body of a tiger. Apparently Lady Curzon had minutes previously witnessed the death of the Nizam’s head tiger hunter, who had unwisely dismounted from his elephant and been leapt upon by a tiger. (Two different images from the shoot on the British Library site.)

Among the other pictures of this subject on the Deen Layal site is a picture of the Nizam himself under a wall covered with the skins and some heads of the tigers he had shot, probably around fifteen or twenty, standing proud with his gun under his arm.

Also on the Deen Dayal site are a number of fine portraits by Dayal, and in the ‘Heritage’ section, images of ancient monuments from various towns and cities in India. Fairly large numbers of some of Dayal’s pictures were probably produced, especially for those that he made for the Nizam, who apparently often presented his visitors with albums of them. He also sent an album to Queen Victoria, who was delighted to receive these images of a vital part of her empire she never visited. The largest existing collection of Raja Deen Dayal photographs is apparently housed at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Mumbai, having been bought by the Indian Government.

Dayal’s career as a photographer was long and distinguished, fully meriting the Urdu verse written about him by the Nizam, which – according to the Deen Dayal web site can be translated as:

In the art of picture making, Skill surpassing all, A master of masters is Lala Deen Dayal.”

Exit re-enters stage left

August 19th, 2014

Exit was the most significant single documentary project in UK photography in the 1970s (if not in the whole century), and although it gained some publicity – and a showing at the Side Gallery in Newcastle (home to most of the rest of significance in the genre in this country) in 1982, as well as publication by the Open University of ‘Survival Programmes in Britain’s Inner Cities‘ (ISBN-10: 0335101119) in the same year, it soon disappeared in the morass of theory than engulfed British photography in the lost final decades of the twentieth century.

Documentary was old hat. Seen as outdated, lacking in discursive mumbo-jumbo the project failed to be recognised and legitimised by academic flummery. And although the OU got some funding from the Arts Council, the two testimonials on its rear cover come from Peter Townsend, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Bristol, the leading sociologist of the era and Chris Hamnett, Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the OU. The academic photography establishment preferred to hold its nose and look the other way, largely towards its own navels.

This was work in a tradition that many – largely those who were ignorant of it and had failed to understand it had rejected. But it was also fresh, compelling and highly political. And it was probably most importantly the political nature – telling the truth about our inner cites – that made it too hot to handle for the major galleries that should have shown it.

There were notable images in the book, taken between 1974 and 1979, by all three photographers, Nicholas Battye, Chris Steele-Perkins and Paul Trevor, though for me it was particularly the work of Trevor in Liverpool that stood out. Steele-Perkins writes informatively about the group in Photoworks (via David Hofmann  who I thank for posting the link on Facebook) and includes this about how they divided up the country:

We all did some work in London as we all lived there, and we all did some work in Glasgow, but most of Paul’s time was spent in Liverpool, Nick’s in Birmingham and mine in Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Belfast.

His article also gives a good idea of the shoe-string nature of the project, and how the photographers worked, and of the importance of the interviews along with the photographs.  The first image on his Magnum portfolio is from Belfast in 1979.

I first met Paul Trevor in the’80s and went to several events where he showed and talked about his work, in Survival Programmes as well as in East London and in India, and I was highly impressed. But it was only in 1997 when I reviewed a book giving a very one-sided view of the magazine ‘Camerawork*‘ (not to be confused with Camera Work!) which Trevor had been one of the nucleus from its first issue in 1976 that I got to know him personally. I sent him my draft review for comments, and as well as correcting some of my misconception he also contributed his own review to the small magazine, LIPService, I was then editing for London Independent Photography. You can read the text of my review for ‘Visual Anthropology Review‘ on-line and the final article with illustration here if you have a Wiley Online Library account. Though why they should charge for accessing my work without giving me a share is something of a mystery.

The following year ‘Visual Anthropology Review‘ published a feature with 20 of my pictures from the Notting Hill Carnival with text by George Mentore (my name does not appear in the abstract – and again you pay but I get nothing) and also an article by Dale Newberry, ‘Photography and the visualization of working class lives in Britain‘  (same terms) in which Trevor’s work was featured, and I was rather surprised to find how little known his work was at that time in the USA.  I got the front cover of the magazine, with a rather better image by Trevor on the back.

More recently, I wrote about his work in Liverpool and the book and show there in 2011, Like you’ve never been away. It’s a nice book, with much better photographic printing than Survival Programmes, though with its portrait format some of the images disappear rather disastrously down the gutter.

Grain, the new Photography Hub and Network for the West Midlands at the also new The Library of Birmingham, has recently acquired a collection of over 250 vintage prints from Exit Photography Group as a gift from the the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation who funded the original project, although I think there are only 3 pictures – one from each photographer currently on line. There is a large collection – 125 pictures -  of Paul Trevor’s work from Liverpool – reproduced from his contact sheets in a rather strange sepia -  on Flickr.


* Camerawork is now apparently rare. I just found a bookseller offering a copy of a single issue for £32.95 (+ postage). I have an almost complete set and gave away some spare copies…   You will be lucky to find a copy of Survival Programmes for less than £100 too.

June comes to an end

August 18th, 2014


A good question from the World Naked Bike Ride – though the picture could be tighter framed

I finished putting my work for June on-line at My London Diary a couple of weeks ago, and have also now written posts here about those events I felt I had something to say of interest about.  But although as I write August is halfway over, I still haven’t found the energy to start putting July’s events onto my diary.  Perhaps it will happen today, perhaps later in the week.

I see My London Diary as a record of some of the details of my life here and the events I cover rather than just the day to day reporting.  It covers a wider range of posts – including some things which definitely aren’t news, like some of my walks and holidays -  and goes into more depth telling stories through pictures than the selected images which are almost always uploaded the same day – if never as fast as Demotix and other agencies would like. Its an archive of my work rather than news, and largely a record of particular subcultures in a city in a particular era, and one that reflects on wider world issues. So although I think it important to keep on recording events day by day, keeping up to date on my web site is less of a priority.

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Boots and the ILF

August 16th, 2014

It was a football-themed protest outside Boots by UK Uncut, but although Boots (or ‘Loots‘ as some of the posters called them in a nice version of their logo) have been dodging tax, I knew that the protest there was only a diversion.  UK Uncut were there to occupy the police while DPAC and Occupy London were getting busy with another protest somewhere not very far away.

Obviously the protesters wanted to keep what they were doing a secret from the police, and surprisingly seemed to have managed to do so, but I felt just a little left out of things in that they hadn’t trusted me more. Of course I wouldn’t pass it on to the police, and I think most of the protesters know me well enough to know that.

I could have gone to one of the planning meetings for the event – which I had known about – but there is a line between being a part of a protest and reporting on it that I think it is important to stay clearly on one side of. Not that protesters can’t photograph protests, but you can’t be a part of the protest and report objectively on it;  a little distance is vital. But it would have been nice to know what was happening and when – as I have done at some previous protests by DPAC – so as to be at the right place at the right time.

As it was, by the time the protesters from Boots had marched down to Westminster Abbey to join the others already there we were just a vital minute or two late. So I wasn’t able to photograph the initial stage of the protest, and I would have liked to have done so.

I had to make a choice quickly whether to go over the fence and join the protesters or stay with the others who were outside the fence. It wasn’t hugely high, and there were certainly places I could have managed to go over even despite my age and condition (I have a real problem now with balance if I take my feet off the ground.)  But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, and certainly was not convinced if I had done so that I would have been able to leave when I wanted, even by showing my press card. The police are not always helpful to the press.

There were a few things I might have been able to do better inside. Although my picture shows quite clearly the officer standing on the tent so that it could not be erected, a closer viewpoint with a wide-angle might have been better, and would have shown more of the abbey behind.

And while I was able to take some decent pictures of Paul Peters of DPAC speaking by leaning as far as possible over the fence, being able to move a few feet further might have been better. But at least I was able to get pictures, if rather more with the 70-300mm than I would have liked.

Using that lens should have had one big advantage. It was dull and raining slightly, and the long lens hood on that zoom is a great rain shield. Unfortunately I’d lost the lens hood a few days previously, and although the replacement I’d ordered arrived that day, it only came after I’d left home. So I was taking pictures using my left hand to shield the front of the lens.

It was raining enough for most of the pictures taken with the 16-35mm to have a least one area with some diffusion caused by rain on the filter, including a whole series where I got a little excited and didn’t wipe the lens until I’d taken quite a few frames.

I’d I had been inside I would not have been able to photograph the protesters who had been left outside, and would also have missed the pictures of the arrest, where the protester was pushed against the fence by two officers, nor to run around to photograph as the protester was put into the police van.

As more and more police arrived, it did become harder to take photographs as most of them formed a line around the area inside the fence a couple of yards away from it. Fortunately there were a few feet between each of them, and by moving around I was able to see through the gaps. At times there was quite a crush of onlookers and other photographers at the fence which made this difficult, but I was quite pleased with what I was able to do.

Among others outside the fence was MP John McDonnell, who spent a lot of time trying to contact the Dean of Westminster and get him to allow the protesters to set up a temporary camp in the area to protest against the ending of the Independent Living Fund. Unfortunately although the Church of England has made some principled statements against the loss of the ILF, the Dean wasn’t prepared to talk to the MP or the protesters, but simply wanted the police to get these people off his grass.

Being outside did have the advantage that when I got tired  I could simply walk away and catch the train home. But by then I’d decided there was unlikely to be much of interest happening.

You can see the pictures I did get both of the earlier protest, UK Uncut ‘Boot Out Boots’, and also the protest proper, Occupy Westminster Abbey – save the ILF

, and find out more about the protests there.

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Safeguarding Truth

August 14th, 2014

An excellent article published yesterday in Ochre, Safeguarding Truth in Photojournalism: Ami Vitale’s Survival Guide which looks at how the way in which some of Vitale’s images were appropriated and misused on the web, and how this hit the photographer:

It literally stopped me in my tracks,” she said in an interview with Ochre. “There was a week I thought this was enough: I’m quitting. And then I realized that this was actually just a call to action to try to educate people, protect yourself and the people you photograph as best you can.

The article goes on to explain the steps that she took, along with others who helped her to do this, and has a great deal of good advice and links to resources. (Ami Vitale is one of the photographers mentioned in the previous post, Inge Morath & Danube Revisited.)

I posted about the misuse of her images and her response here in May, in Image Abuse, and much of the advice in her survival guide has also been covered here in previous posts, though it is good to have it all put together in the Ochre article.

She says “I hated watermarks before. I thought they were so tacky.” I thought the same, and came very reluctantly to my decision to use a relatively discreet visible copyright message in 2010 after some very much more minor problems with the unauthorised usage of my own work, though I’d advocated their use in a post here a year earlier. Virtually every image I’ve posted on the web since then has carried this visible watermark,  though sometimes its been midway through the year when I’ve got around to changing the date.

Much earlier I made sure that every image carried my contact details in the metadata, though that too often gets stripped out. With my watermark along the bottom of the image that too is easily removed, but for anyone to do so would be clear evidence of guilt, and my experience is that most people who use images without consent don’t remove it. Most unauthorised use of images on the internet is by people who just aren’t aware of copyright or think it doesn’t apply to their use.

There are a few aspects of the Ochre article that relate to the USA and its peculiar copyright system, which makes the enforcing of copyright financially non-viable in the US unless photographers register their images with the US Copyright office, while permitting punitive damages for registered images. Its a system that non-US photographers can use as well, but the surprising fact quoted in the article is that “less than 3% of professional photographers surveyed by the American Society of Media Photographers in 2010 registered their work.”

There is also some information about the PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System) Registry which I mentioned back in 2008, and again three years ago in PLUS Makes Progress , and it is apparently still making progress – if it does seem rather slow. You can register for free – as I did in 2011 – and this enables you to be found in the registry from your name or some other information. But to get real benefit from it you will need to become a supporting member – and for individual photographers  -”small businesses with one employee, the contribution of $125 per year (reduced to $75 per year for members of participating trade associations)” may not seem worthwhile.

I was also very pleased to hear of yesterday’s US court judgement which affirmed the damages of $1.2m awarded to photographer Daniel Morel after AFP and Getty stole his images of the Haiti earthquake. The court did make one minor adjustment, ruling that there was insufficient evidence that Getty was guilty of half of the DCMA violations, which will same them just a few pennies.  I can’t pretend to understand all of the court ruling, but – as in the earlier trial – it is certainly damning. I’ve never understood why AFP and Getty felt the case was worth fighting and didn’t come to a settlement with the photographer as soon as they discovered what had happened.  Presumably they just thought they were big enough to bully their way through, though perhaps the award and presumably the costs they will have to pay might make them think differently.

I have posted before about the Morel case, but there is more information on Jeremy Nicholl’s The Russian Photos blog, and though as I write he has yet to respond to the latest news, doubtless he soon will. His last post in January about the AFP/Getty appeal estimated that the case will cost AFP and Getty to well over $10m, most of which will go to the lawyers – including those who presumably told them the case was worth pursuing. For the lawyers it certainly was!

 

Inge Morath & Danube Revisited

August 12th, 2014

I have to admit to something of a blind spot so far as Inge Morath is concerned.  I knew the name of course, and that she was one of the first women to join Magnum, a little after Eve Arnold, in 1953 (becoming a full member in 1955.) She had earlier met Capa when she went to Paris as a writer working with Ernst Haas in 1949 and had then worked for Magnum as an editor and researcher before coming to London.

She started taking her own pictures in 1951 and she worked for Simon Guttman at Report, first as a secretary and then as a photographer before returning to Paris and MagnumRussell Miller in Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History says she did the little jobs that the men didn’t want and that her first, of judges in rose contests, paid only $100.  That would be worth over $900 allowing for inflation, not a bad little job – how times have changed for photographers.

Looking at her work on Magnum, there are certainly pictures that I remember having seen and admire, but none that I would have looked at and recognised as her work; I might well have thought they were probably by a Magnum photographer but I don’t see any particular strong personal style.  Perhaps it might be more apparent if I’d ever owned one of the various books she produced.

After her death in 2002, Magnum established the Inge Morath Award, made annually to one or more exceptional young women photographers, and her family set up the Inge Morath Foundation the following year to preserve and share her legacy.

I’ve for some time been following the progress of Danube Revisited, the Inge Morath Truck Project, a photographic road trip taking a travelling exhibition of Morath’s work from the Danube area along by the river in a converted 7.5T truck, together with nine of the winners of the Inge Morath Award who have worked as a collective taking pictures and promoting “the power and potential of photography through night projections, artist talks, photo forums and engaging in cultural exchange with institutions and organizations along the route.”

The nine are Olivia Arthur, Emily Schiffer, Lurdes R Basolí, Claire Martin, Claudia Guadarrama, Ami Vitale, Jessica Dimmock, Mimi Chakarova and Kathryn Cook, and they hope ” to discover for themselves the region that meant so much to Inge Morath throughout her life” and see “the River itself becoming a metaphor for the kind of long-term, sustained international projects to which they have devoted their careers.Kickstarter was used to fund the project, with an appeal for $50,000 raising $59, 563 from 323 backers.

On the Danube Revisited site you can see a great portfolio of pictures by Morath, from the region where she began work in 1958, visiting again over the years but only finally being able to complete her project after the fall of the Soviet Union gave freer access in the 1990s – and her book ‘Danube’ was published in 1995.

The links at the left of the Danube Revisited pages currently show portfolios of earlier work by the participating photographers,  but you can see 60 pictures from Danube Revisited in a New Yorker portfolio, and you can also see pictures and many links on Tumblr.

Wet Pride

August 12th, 2014

I don’t like taking pictures in the rain. Not that I particularly mind getting wet, certainly not in summer when its reasonably warm. As I was going out a couple of weeks ago when the forecast had been for heavy showers, my wife said to me “Have you got something waterproof” and I replied “Yes, my skin.”  It’s what my father used to say. In summer, the light clothing I wear dries out in minutes once it stops raining.

But I also carry a small folded umbrella slipped into the back of my camera bag. It’s light and takes up no usable space, slipping between the outer bag and the protective shell inside. Although it’s there I seldom use it, and almost never when I’m taking pictures. I don’t really have a spare hand and holding an umbrella cuts down mobility, apart from too often wandering into the edges of pictures with the 16mm. Forget it with the fisheye.

I also have a cheap plastic Optech rainsleeve in an outside pocket of the bag, but I’ve yet to use it. I’m sure its a good idea, but somehow I’ve never got around to putting it on. I’ve never actually thought about it until the camera is so wet it seems hardly worth it.  I guess it would be worth it for extended periods of rain. It has a drawstring to pull it tight around the lens and a hole for the viewfinder. You are supposed to be able to unscrew then screw back the viewfinder eyepiece to hold it in place, but I’ve never managed to move this on either of my Nikons (even after unlocking by closing the viewfinder shutter) – and if I did manage it, I’d be sure to lose it!

Both the D700 and D800E bodies seem pretty waterproof, and the 16-35mm lens is also quite well sealed, though the 18-105mm definitely isn’t.  But I don’t think the sleeve or similar devices would help with my main problems.

I was photographing people getting ready for the annual Pride parade in London, and while there was the odd drop of rain they and I kept going about our business more or less as normal – and when it really pelted down they and I took shelter in doorways along Baker St, emerging as the rain eased off. The umbrellas at least make some of the pictures a little different.

Photographing in light rain, the main problem is with drops of water on the front of the lens – on the UV filter rather than the real glass that this protects. Lens hoods help to keep the rain off, but can’t be very effective for wide-angles.  If I’m wearing a jacket I’ll keep the cameras under this as much as possible, but in summer I’m usually just in shirt sleeves.

So its ‘wipe and shoot, wipe and shoot’, holding a microfibre cloth in my left hand, on my palm between hand and camera much of the time.  Most of the time I’m cursing myself for being a cheapskate and buying microfibre rather than chamois, which I think works better, but last time I needed a new cloth I didn’t have a lot of cash on me. I try too to wipe any water from the lens barrel too, especially with the 18-105mm which extends to zoom. That barrel changing its length is a pump which takes in moist air and minute water droplets to the lens. The 16-35 has internal zoom and focus, not altering its length at all and is much better in that respect, but in extended damp conditions the large glass surfaces inside tend to get steamed up, diffusing images. I’ve yet to find a solution for that.

But however much you wipe the 77mm filter on the 16-35mm has a terrific attraction for rain-drops, and a fairly high proportion of images taken in the rain are going to suffer from at least one diffuse area because of them. Sod’s law operates to its fullest, and those drops head for the most important areas of your best pictures – or certainly of mine.

Post-processing can save a few, particularly where the defect is in a less important area. Though I used to tell students that every area of their pictures was important and they were responsible  for everything in them (latterly I’d say ‘every pixel’) you can get away with more in some areas than others.  I’m sure I’ve posted this tip before, but to save you looking it up again should you need it, I have my own Lightroom preset for the Adjustment Brush:

Contrast: 22;      Highlight: -22;      Clarity: 32;
other settings at 0

Brush with this, then adjust the Exposure setting to suit the individual case. If it looks too contrasty of course you adjust that as well. It can’t entirely solve the problem, but does work wonders. Possibly you could fiddle with the numbers and improve it.

Rain also causes problems with using flash – and I think the picture above is the only one I made using flash fill, though several others would have benefited. But flash illuminates the raindrops and it is seldom a useful effect, and flash units are best kept dry – the high voltages they produce can probably fry the circuit boards if a little dampness helps them short – and if they leak to the hot shoe would be terminal for the camera too, though I’ve often used them in light rain without problems. You can get rainsleeves with room for a flash if you really need to work in heavy weather.

Having photographed the front of the parade starting off, I slowly worked my way back through those waiting to follow it, intending when I got to the back to take the tube and catch up with the front as it reached Trafalgar Square. But it took me so long to take pictures as they waited to leave that this year I didn’t have time to get back to the parade as I had another event to photograph. Some days there is far too much happening in London.

You can see more of my pictures – in which as well as the usual stuff I try to concentrate on the more serious aspects of Pride – at Rain on Pride Parade.

I usually put pictures on My London Diary at least roughly in the order they were taken, there are two sets of pictures here, the first two pages taken with the D800E/18-105mmDX and the rest with the D700/16-35mm. Minor computer problems meant these pictures did not get sorted in ‘Date Taken’ order as usual.
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More River Panoramas

August 11th, 2014


The Thames path goes through a gate open during daylight hours D800E, 16mm

I bought my first proper panoramic camera towards the end of 1991, having lusted after one for some years. I’d thought about the possibilities on offer – not all that many – but it was mainly cost which had stopped me getting one before. I’d played with panoramas a bit, taking multiple images, had used cheap single-use cameras that called itself panoramic and had investigated masking down wide-angle images taken on Kodak Ektar 25, but all these were a pain and not really satisfactory.

The single use camera did give images in a panoramic format, but didn’t have a very wide angle of view – perhaps around that of a 28mm lens. With a cheap lens and using fast colour negative film, the images were OK at the 4×10″ they were designed for, but decidedly soft and grainy when I took them up a little in size. Fixed focus meant they were not sharp at infinity, and a lack of aperture and shutter control limited use to bright sunny days.

Masking down the 35mm Extar X negatives taken in a normal camera to around 36x15mm certainly gave better technical quality (even better than Kodachrome 25), but was still limited in its field of view by the lenses I owned, the widest of which was a 21mm f3.5 Zuiko which fitted my Olympus OM4 bodies. There were wider lenses available – including a 16mm f3.5 full frame fisheye, but I didn’t own one and there was no simple way to correct the curvature that this produced.  The 90 degree field of view of the 21mm still didn’t seem quite enough to me.


The bridge for the Thames path across Limekiln Dock D800E, 16mm

I wanted a camera that was portable, gave a decent negative size and I could afford. I had no desire to make huge prints, and hated processing 120 film, so those producing longer than usual negatives on 35mm looked good. But the prices didn’t.  Eventually I saved around a month’s salary and bought a Japanese Widelux F8, and began my real work with panoramic images.   Later I replaced this by a cheaper Russian Horizon camera, which apart from a better range of shutter speeds also had a viewfinder (the Widelux just had arrows on top to indicate the angle of view) which incorporated a spirit level, making hand-held use for landscapes a possibility. And later still came the Hasselblad XPan, which, at least with a 30mm lens, gave rectilinear panoramas at around the sensible limit of angle of view.


This bridge was built to connect the council estate to a riverside park across a road then busy with docks traffic D800E, 16mm

When I took up digital photography serious with a Nikon D100 in 2002, it became possible to stitch together images digitally to make panoramas. But it was still much easier to take them on film, with a single press of the shutter release, especially when there were moving objects in the frame. So ten years after going digital, I was still – at least theoretically – using film for panoramas. Except that I wasn’t. Film had become just too much of a hassle. I was simply taking fewer panoramas – and making those from multiple digital images.

It was the high quality 32Mp files of the D800E that made me rethink and go back to making panoramic images from a single exposure. Using the Nikon 16mm full-frame fisheye I can digitally process the images and end up with panoramas 9706 pixels wide and a 146 degree horizontal angle of view.  The full vertical angle is actually larger than I want, and I crop the images down, usually to around a 1.9: 1 aspect ratio, which gives a little freedom about where to place the horizon – the digital equivalent of a rising/falling front.  The D800E also has built-in level indicators in the viewfinder, which are vital.


Riverside flats D800E, 16mm

Now my main limiting factor in making panoramic images is simply time to do so, with so many other things to photograph – as well as writing about it. And also the weather, as clear blue or evenly grey skies can ruin many pictures. Not to mention my legs, which no longer take long walks and standing around to make pictures without complaint.

Also important is the time spent in post-processing, which is considerably longer than for straightforward images. Adding a minute or two for each image would perhaps not be too vital, but where you can directly assess a normal image with a glance at the preview, for these panoramas you really have to process them to the end result before you can be sure if they work. Processing these images from a single afternoon held up my updating of My London Diary for some days.

Over the years I’ve watched – and occasionally photographed – as the Thames in London has turned from the post-industrial landscape that features in my London’s Industrial Heritage  into living space for the rich, with blocks of luxury flats now lining most of its banks.  In the process the river has lost much but not all of its fascination, and the rest of us have gained much greater access to a riverside that now has much less worth seeing.

The weather for my walk was London’s best – highly changeable. Spells of light rain, impressive clouds, grey skies and blue skies. Even on digital – usually far truer to life than film – it often looked too extreme, and I had to lighten some of the dark clouds. With open views like most of these you do get a lot of weather.


The view from Island Gardens D800E 80mm on 18-105mm

I’ve divided the pictures from the walk into two sections, largely for convenience of reference, with pictures from Limehouse and then from Millwall – Isle of Dogs. At the end of the walk – a pleasant mainly riverside stroll of perhaps 6km which took me two and a half hours with a camera but would have been half that without – I also took a few other pictures of Greenwich from the Isle of Dogs.  Arguably the view from Island Gardens is one of London’s finest, and at that time of day is at its best.
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Vanessa -no longer invisible

August 9th, 2014

New York Times Lens blog has a nice piece by Rena Silverman, No Longer an Invisible Photographer about Vanessa Winship and her current show at Madrid’s Fundación Mapfre; even if you can’t get to Madrid you can take a ‘virtual tour‘ on their web site from outside the gallery and go in and see the work on the walls. The audio is in Spanish, but the rest of the site is available in English, and there are excellent images of around 25 of her pictures on-line.

I’ve mentioned her work on this blog several times in the past, most recently in Singing about Vanessa and it really deserves the attention it is now eventually beginning to get even in the UK. She was the first woman to receive the Henri Cartier-Bresson award in 2011, and quite possibly the only photographer ever to make a project about Barton-on-Humber, the place she grew up in.

Of course you can also see her work on her own web site, and in the book she dances on Jackson, made with the funding from the Cartier-Bresson award. This was a book I recommended when it came out (actually I think before it came out in the UK) at the time I ordered my copy. I note on Amazon it now says:

Hardcover

  • 2 Used from £670.03          8 New from £130.00

although you can get it for less on Abebooks. Her ‘Sweet Nothings’ is still available at reasonable prices but the exhibition catalogue, as well as looking like a fine book may also be a good investment. You may need to order it from Spain.

No More Austerity

August 8th, 2014

It was one of those days when I spent rather a lot of time running around London looking for things that either didn’t happen or I decided there was nothing much to photograph. On top of which there was also one of London’s largest protests, the No more Austerity march and rally organised by The People’s Assembly, trade unions and campaign groups starting from outside the BBC.

Two groups had promised to hold protests on their way to the big one, and I did manage to find one of these, a protest outside the Regent St Tesco branch where earlier protests and direct action had led to the removal of ‘homeless spikes’, designed to stop rough sleepers resting there. The Call for Nationwide Homeless Spikes Ban was smaller than I had hoped, but there was a story and it’s demand for a nation-wide ban was reinforced by a protester from Cornwall – carrying a Cornish flag – and policed by a Welsh police officer. But of the beach party themed flash mob taking the underground to the more austerity march I saw no sign, though I did I think find them later on the anti-Austerity march.

I’d also planned to cover two unrelated protests, one at Downing St and the other at the US embassy. I went to both shortly after their advertised starting times; opposite Downing St there were a small group of people, but no sign of them beginning a protest. At the US Embassy there was a small protest taking place, but little to photograph. I took a few pictures, talked to the protesters, who told me there were more coming and I promised to return later when they thought there would be more. But when I returned to both groups later, neither were anywhere to be seen, and I didn’t have enough material for either to make a story.

No More Austerity was different. A large protest with perhaps 15-20,000 people marching from outside the BBC, who almost entirely failed to notice it (a short mention appeared belatedly on the local news.) The organisers claimed 100,000 on the march and at the rally, and some papers quoted that unrealistic figure as fact.

My main problem in covering the event was simply it was too large and too crowded, at least at the start, and there was just too much to photograph. Too many interesting banners – such as that carried by the ‘Class War Womens’ Death Brigade’ with its typically uncompromising quote from US anarchist activist Lucy Parsons (Chicago police called her ‘More dangerous than a thousand rioters!’) “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live”  as well as a rather fine crocheted less controversial ‘Tax the Rich’.

It was also rather warm, and I could have done without the extra rushing around central London for the missing protests I tried to find as the end of the march reached Oxford Circus, a quarter mile or so from the start.

When there are large protests in London like this, traffic is hugely disrupted, and the only ways to get around quickly are either on foot (or bike) and the tube. But underground stations are seldom very close to where you want to be, so that too involves a lot of walking or running. Often too, as on this Saturday, key lines or stations are closed for engineering works, and I found I had to do rather more on foot than I liked, particularly when carrying a heavy bag on a hot day. So when I finally arrived at Parliament Square, a short walk from Westminster tube – I was as hot and tired as the protesters who were just arriving having marched the whole distance.

Fortunately the organisers had arranged for a fairly large press area in front of the platform, unlike at some other events, which made it easy for us to work, and particularly to photograph the speakers at the rally. The microphone then became the main problem, with some speakers apparently trying to hide from my camera behind it, along with a metal lectern that almost completely hid some of the less tall.


Celia Mitchell reads one of her late husband Adrian Mitchell’s poems

What surprised me greatly about the rally was that there were no speakers from the most active group of anti-austerity protesters, DPAC and other groups of the disabled. I later learnt that this was because the event organisers had refused to provide disabled access to the stage, or rather asked that DPAC should pay for it. It seemed unbelievable that any left group should be so clearly anti-equality; had they known in advance I suspect many of those who did speak would have boycotted the event.


NUT General Secretary Christine Blower with a reflection of Big Ben in her sunglasses

Something I did find annoying were the continual announcements that Russell Brand was on his way to speak at the rally. I expected him on past performance to be the least interesting of the speakers, and while his support brings publicity for the cause I think the whole cult of celebrity is something that the left should try and oppose. When he hadn’t turned up an hour and a half after the rally started I decided it was time to go home. Of course it was pictures of him on stage that dominated the press coverage of the event.

I was quite pleased with some of the pictures I made of the speakers, mainly using the longer end of the 75-300mm zoom, though some were on the 18-105mm. It wasn’t too crowded in front of the stage and I was able to move around quite a bit, which makes a big difference. There were also relatively few large video cameras, which also rather impede movement, particularly as you try to avoid being in shot. And of course there was no sign of the BBC!

Pictures from the day at:
Call for Nationwide Homeless Spikes Ban
No more Austerity – demand the alternative
People’s Assembly Rally
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