October 26th, 2016


Protesters march from Sipson to Harmondsworth, June 2003

But the fight is far from over, and I think that eventually truth and reason will prevail, and that Boris and others who say the third runway is undeliverable will be proved correct. At least I hope so, and like many others will do my bit to make it so.

Rally against 3rd runway at Harmondswith, June 2003. In the background a placard is a newspaper report with Heathrow’s claim that T5 would be their last airport expansion

Heathrow has always been built on lies. It started as a ‘military’ airport for which there was no military need, but which in wartime allowed the airport’s proponents to get a civil scheme started which would have probably proved impossible in peacetime. The very name – that of the village it obliterated – was retained to suggest that it was a development on bare and barren land rather than, as the vast tithe barn at Harmondsworth attests, some of the richest agricultural land in the country.

Harmondsworth tithe barn, June 2003

Every major development at Heathrow has been accompanied by the lie that this would be the last – while at the same time the Heathrow bosses were already preparing for the next expansion.

I grew up and have lived most of my life in the area, much the same age as the airport. One of my late brothers at one time worked there, along with many others that I knew. I’ve grown to live with the noise and the traffic, though it can still annoy, particularly when conversation sitting in the garden during the summer becomes impossible, or a low-flying aircraft wakes me up during the times that night flights are banned.

‘Make Planes History – Plane Stupid at Heathrow, August 2007

My objections to Heathrow are not a matter of nimbyism – which the government is trying to make out, though I do believe that the airport should have been moved to a more suitable location at least 50 years ago – and that its current site could be put to uses that would be of more benefit both to London and to the national economy.

John McDonnell MP at T5 flashmob against 3rd runway, January 2009

The contribution that aviation makes to the national economy, another aspect stressed bv the government is yet another lie, conveniently forgetting the subsidies and associated costs – including those due to congestion and pollution. Also overlooked is the huge contribution that it makes to global warming.

Climate Rush and local actitivists at Heathrow against 3rd runway, September 2009

Cloud-cuckoo forecasts of growth in demand are no basis for national policy on aviation or any other huge national expenditure or infrastructure development. Sooner or later the realities of climate change have to be acknowledged – though it may already be too late.

Reclaim The Power T2 flash mob against airport expansion, October 2016

There are a number of reasons why I think the scheme will be undeliverable, dogged by legal challenges and by mass protests, including some which will take new forms. It takes very little, for example, to cause total grid-lock in the very overstressed road systems of the area, which includes the M25, M4 and M3, and entirely legal forms of protest could bring the whole area to a halt and effectively close the airport – even if the construction work for Heathrow has not already had that effect.

And in the unlikely future that the new runway is built, I forecast that its opening date – probably around my 90th birthday in 2035 – will be almost immediately followed by the closure of the airport on environmental grounds.
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A Bruised Bottom?

October 25th, 2016

There are some images that everyone with the slightest interest in photography know, and two of them were (almost certainly) taken by Robert Capa. Both have long been surrounded by controversy, and the ten or eleven pictures of the D-Day landings have been the main subject of a major series of posts on ‘Photocritic International‘ by A D Coleman and his collaborators.

We can now be certain that while Capa did land on Omaha Beach, he wasn’t in the first wave and was fortunate in that it was a relatively quiet area by the time he got there. ‘Relatively’ is an important qualification and though to the military who were getting on with the job of clearing the beach it was relatively normal, to you and I – or indeed Capa – it was a very scary place to be. So scary that he only managed to take those ten or eleven images before deciding to jump on the next boat out. And who could blame him – or feel they might have done any better?

Capa struck lucky with one of those images, though had it come out as he intended it would have been long forgotten. Imagine it as well-exposed, sharp and with excellent tonality; even if published, it would have been entirely unmemorable – rather like many of the images taken by military photographers on that and the following days.

Discarding the silly myths created around the picture actually make it more interesting. It’s a more human document and we can concentrate on the image and how it evokes what it does rather than think about unbelievable stories about darkroom abuse of film and mythical darkroom workers.

It’s a story I’ve dealt with here and elsewhere on numerous occasions and I return to it only because the latest post on Photocritic International, Alternate History: Robert Capa and ICP (6), from an e-mail by editor and author Jim Hughes has brought it back to mind, and also sent me back to read a contribution by Hughes to the earlier D-Day series, Guest Post 18: Jim Hughes on Capa’s Biographer.

Jim Hughes, as older readers will remember, was a consulting editor for the US magazine Popular Photography, a monthly which in the 1980s I read because it was so much better in its coverage of photography than any of the UK magazines (and I also read its rival ‘Modern Photography‘ for the same reason.) In 1985 he reviewed Richard Whelan‘s authorized biography of Robert Capa for the January 1986 issue.

I’m fairly sure that I will have read that review, in which he was the apparently the first to publish a clear statement that dismisses as myth “the oft-told story of Life‘s London darkroom having ruined the negatives of all but 11 of Capa’s 72 photographs by leaving the film in the drying cabinet with the heat on high and the door closed“. As Hughes makes clear, it just isn’t believable as film is just not affected by heat in the way the story claims.

So while I thought it was my own experience as a photographer (and one who managed to mess up film processing in every conceivable way over the years) that led me to the inevitable conclusion that the story was entirely fictional, perhaps I should now credit Hughes for alerting me to that fact.

Whelan responded to the review by suggesting that Hughes had only seen reproductions of the images in the book of Capa’s photographs, and that these somehow did not allow such conclusions to be made. Was Whelan claiming that the reproductions were so bad that we could not see the obvious? In any case Hughes responded that his conclusions came not from the book but from examination of the original prints.

It seems odd that although photographers such as myself were convinced by the evidence that the darkroom destruction myth was just another story in that great fund of Capa fiction it should have continued to hold such sway – and that even now it has been so comprehensively debunked it should still be published and supported by some leading figures in photography. Whelan simply lacked the photographic knowledge to realise it had to be wrong, but – at least once pointed out – it was clear to those of us who had toiled long in darkrooms.

But more controversial at the time was the discussion by Hughes of Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier‘, already the subject of the 1975 book, The First Casualty by Phillip Knightley. In the latest article, Hughes, who had mentioned the controversy over this image in his review, looks at some of the issues around this image and the attempts by Whelan and Cornell Capa to cover up the controversy.

The post also links to the more recent work by Spanish scholar Jose Manuel Susperregui, which appears to have established conclusively “that Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’ was staged by Capa at Cerro del Cuco, outside the town of Espejo, Cordoba — and that no soldiers died there that day.”

Painstaking research enabled him to determine the place where the picture was taken. He also establishes that the image was taken on a square format (6x6cm) camera that Capa never used to photograph combat, and was more often used by his partner Gerda Taro; the image characteristics lead him to conclude that this image was indeed taken by Capa although others have suggested it was by Taro.

He shows that the camera was deliberately set up (on a tripod) tilted at an angle to suggest it was on sloping ground rather than the flat field, and the two pictures of different men falling show they were performing for the camera. The post has a link to an English translation of an length illustrated article by Susperregui published in April this year describing his research and conclusions.

The picture does indeed show a ‘falling soldier’, but he is falling not to a bullet but to Capa’s directions, and rather than dying; his injuries will have amounted at worst to a bruised bottom.

Post in the Past?

October 23rd, 2016

I’m not against post-production. Certainly not, in fact I view it as an essential part of being professional about your photography. I still refuse to send off images without making necessary corrections just as long years ago I would have spent time in the darkroom carefully printing my images before delivering them to the library.

There are those who view professionalism as simply being about making money from your work, and it does slightly pain me to know – and to be often told by agencies – that I would make more if I sent my images in immediately, preferably within minutes or even seconds of taking them, and without what I consider to be essential care. Fortunately I can now afford to be more worried about my reputation than my income.

But I do have to agree with most of what Grant Scott writes on ‘The United Nations of Photography’ in his post ‘OPINION: Post-Production Should Be In The Past‘. In particular when he states “I have no issue with post production as a process but I do when that process leads, dictates and dominates the process of photography“, a mistake he sees in too many portrait photographers, who use Photoshop to impose their style rather than creating “an honest and truthful representation of the person being photographed“.

I take a lot of pictures of people, but have never thought of myself as a portrait photographer, perhaps mainly because I’ve never enjoyed employing the kind of artifice that many rely on. Though I can admire it in the work of others, in particular in the work of fine photographers such as Bill Brandt, Brian Griffin and many more, I’ve never wanted to work in that way. I prefer to simply watch people and to think about how I can use the elements of the situation they are in and their expressions to give what seems to me a true and accurate reflection.

But the raw file the camera saves isn’t yet a picture. It needs interpretation, some of which is provided by various computer algorithms (and rather more if you take jpegs.) My aim is always to produce a final image that I can look at and say ‘that’s how I saw it’ rather than make a striking picture. And it can take quite a lot of ‘post’ particularly on occasions when the camera has introduced its own peculiar view full of flare but otherwise treating everything in the frame with an equality that doesn’t match my vision.


October 21st, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn

I’ve seen rather less of Jeremy Corbyn since he became Labour leader, and at some events he has been surrounded by a baying crowd of photographers and TV crews that I seldom want to join.

At least when he was speaking on the platform at Trafalgar Square there was a clear view for all of us in the press area below the plinth the speakers use as a platform.

It isn’t an ideal viewpoint, and generally I like to stand some way back as otherwise you are looking rather steeply up at the speakers. Microphones also tend to get rather in the way, and sometimes the background can be rather messy. The obvious background for the speakers was of course the CND symbol on a number of banners. Depending on the angle I chose there was either a rather bright phthalocyanine blue or the mustard yellow which I chose for the image above. Mainly because of its position rather than its colour, but I do like the contrast between it and the blue of Corby’s shirt.

It’s at events like this I do and don’t wish that I had one of those military size telephoto zooms,  though Nikon’s versions are perhaps a little less impressive than their Canon counterparts. But the Nikon 200-400mm f4 G VR II AF-S ED would have been quite useful, though at only 14 inches long and around 7.5 pounds weight it is hardly in the major league.  Instead I had the 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G, working at its slightly soft 200mm maximum on DX format as 300mm equivalent in DX format on the D810. Taken at 1/500 f5.6 ISO 800 it isn’t bad – and the lens cost me – secondhand – around one thirtieth the cost of the 200-400 monster and weighs around a tenth as much.

I’d been standing around a couple of hours taking pictures of the many other speakers as we all waited for Corbyn to get back from Sheffield and rush from St Pancras station to speak. Even with my lightweight lens I was in pain from back ache, and I would never have lasted the wait with the heavy beast.

Tariq Ali in an ex-Russian Army winter coat

That lightweight lens is long obsolete, and back in 2003 was one that Nikon gear-fanatic snobs very much looked down on. But there is a lot to be said for a lens that covers such a wide range and is so light and compact. Looked at on screen at 50 inches wide (I only see around a third of the image width at a time) you can see it is slightly soft and would benefit from a little ‘smart sharpening’ but every one of Jeremy’s and Tariq’s facial hairs is clearly and distinctly visible. It would have been just a little sharper had I stopped down from full aperture, but it is still a usable lens for all but the most critical of applications (and I’m not sure what that would be – other than a reviewer’s cliché.) Although I took some photographs at these two events with the 16-35mm, all those in this post were made with this very versatile lens.

There were plenty of other faces to photograph, some very well-known and others less so, Kate Hudson, Vanessa Redgrave, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood, Caroline Lucas, Mark Serwotka, Bruce Kent, Giles Fraser, Christine Blower among them. You can see pictures of all of them and a few of the crowd at Stop Trident Rally.

It’s hard to find anyone outside the few who will profit greatly from the money spent on replacing Trident who would stand on any platform to support it. Most of the military see our so-called nuclear deterrent as an expensive and redundant side-show. It isn’t a weapon but a massive status symbol, and one we would be better off without.

On the march at Hyde Park Corner

There were (according to CND) sixty thousand people on the march, and it was certainly a large one, even if my guess would have been a little less than their. It was quite a struggle to get through the crowd that was packing Park Lane to reach the front of the march, where heavy stewarding made it difficult to take pictures.

A quick selfie

But there holding the main banner, were many of those who would later speak, including Nicola Sturgeon, taking a selfie with Kate Hudson.

On the march in Park Lane

But it’s generally the rest of the protesters that I like to photograph, like this woman with her dark glasses and others in the body of the march. It’s the 30,000 or 50,000 people that are the real story of the march, not the few that are well-known.

MPs Against Trident enter Trafalgar Square at the front of the march

I’m also not too good at recognising people. I think I’ve always suffered, though fortunately very mildly, from prosopagnosia or ‘face blindness’, which gave me some problems when I was teaching and sometimes when watching films and TV. Now I almost never watch  TV, which in itself makes recognising ‘celebrities’ something of a problem. Though I sometimes wonder if a touch of prosopagnosia might actually help when photographing faces, perhaps enabling you to see what is really there at the time rather than being misled by preconceptions.

Stop Trident Rally
Stop Trident March
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Safe Passage

October 20th, 2016

It seemed appropriate to photograph the banner ‘Borders Kill – Safe Passage Now’ in front of one of London’s larger gates at Hyde Park Corner, open when so many of the gates to Europe and between European countries are now closed to refugees.

The European March for Refugee Rights was organised and supported by a number of groups, including those representing Syrians from where many of the refugees come and the many groups which have been engaged at providing practical support on the Greek Islands, Calais and elsewhere. Many of those who marched had been volunteers working with refugees at these places, and they included a group of young doctors who had been volunteers with Medicins Sans Frontiers in Syria.

The march was to demand ‘Safe Passage’ for refugees – as the organisers put it:

#SafePasssage means legal and safe routes: no more deaths at our borders

#SafePasssage means protection for refugees on their travel through Europe

#SafePasssage means high standards of reception and asylum in all European countries, no longer diminishing the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, allowing refugees to keep their belongings, allowing them to be reunited with their families immediately and providing stability as far as their right of residence is concerned.

These people are running away from war, persecution and starvation. But Europe is looking the other way – a death count in the Mediterranean Sea of 360 men, women and children in January 2016 and appalling conditions in refugee camps like Calais and Dunkirk speak for themselves.

One woman who I’d photographed at earlier protests was wearing a ‘Lesvos’ t-shirt with an image of a life-jacket on it, and held up a small child’s jacket with a cartoon octopus and fishes on she had brought back that had been worn by a child arriving there from Turkey, fortunate that it had not been tested on the journey as it looked more of a fun beach item than a serious life-saver. Others too wore more serious life-jackets on the march.

It wasn’t a huge protest – a few hundred people – timed to be on the same day as other larger protests in cities across Europe, but unfortunately clashing with a long -planned march in London against Trident by CND, Stop the War and others which was supposed to be starting from Marble Arch.

They marched through Hyde Park to Speakers’ Corner, where they held a short rally, and then went many of them went to find the front of the Trident march, which turned out to be close to where they had started at Hyde Park Corner at the west end of Piccadilly.

When they tried to walk past to the front of the Trident march, the Stop the War stewards objected and tried to hold them back, but they persisted, and eventually they made their way past to march down Piccadilly towards Parliament, with the stewards holding back the main march for around ten minutes to create a gap between the Refugee March and Stop Trident.

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Composition & Selection

October 18th, 2016

Two possibly related posts attracted my attention this morning as I trawled though the latest on my newsreader. The first on Petapixel was Ignoring the Rule of Thirds: When and Why ‘Bad’ Composition Works, which was essentially a link to a 5 minute YouTube video episode of Brain Flick ‘Why does “bad” framing work? – A look at the psychology behind a pleasing image‘. The video examines the use of framing in a TV programme I’ve never seen or heard of, Mr Robot – and if you share that lack of knowledge with me, Mr Robot: Uncoventional Framing may also be worth a look.

I’ve never been a great fan of the ‘rule of thirds’, and was certainly introduced to ‘unconventional framing’ early in my photographic life by the Nathan Lyons book ‘Notations in Passing’. The ‘rule of thirds’ has some use as a way of weaning beginners from the tendency to put every subject dead in the middle of the frame – something that reduced me to a fit a giggles when I once attended an evening class on photography and the tutor showed his work. It – or rather the ‘golden ratio’ to which it is an approximation – has a long history in art, but I’ve always liked images that – in both physical and emotional respects – were more ‘edgy’.

The only real compositional rule is I think one that comes from Minor White, as the text to one of his ‘Three Canons’, “Let the subject generate its own composition.” Unfortunately the image it accompanies (I think a stove in the centre of a church in Arizona, its slightly bent pipe going up to the ceiling in an otherwise symmetrical composition) doesn’t seem to be available on the web. I first met it in the monumental ‘Mirrors, Message and Manifestations’ (which I couldn’t afford but borrowed from our National Library which appeared to be the only UK Library with a copy – which took several months for my local library to obtain and required my signature in blood to borrow for a few weeks,) but I think it is the same image as on page 31 in the later and annoyingly unpaginated ‘Rites & Passages’.

The second post ‘New Software Promises to Take the Grunt Work Out of Ranking Your Images‘ was on PDNPulse a few months ago but I came across it again this morning. The software it refers to, then called Picturesqe but now Picturio, uses artificial intelligence to ‘help you select your best shots’. It identifies simiilar images and judges things like sharpness and exposure, but then, according to PDNPulse:

As the software learns about your images and style, it will grow more sophisticated and be able to rank images based on factors such as sharpness, color harmony and composition.

There is a free version, but this is rather limited, offering ‘Automatic grouping’, ‘Aesthetic ranking’ and ‘Intelligent zoom’ on jpegs only and for only up to 1,500 photos a month – probably a day’s work for many pros. Paid for versions – on a monthly subscription basis – handle more photos (though not that many more), raw formats and integrate with Lightroom. But for the professional version the monthly cost is around the same as we now pay for both Lightroom and Photoshop.

However there are some useful features, and if it really works the time saved should make it worthwhile paying for many. But I’m just a little sceptical. The images that really grab my interest are those that surprise me in some way rather than fit in with my preconceptions, and I have a suspicion that this software might well label some of them as trash because they are in some way uncoventional. Personally I’ll keep doing a relatively quick review before import using FastPictureViewer Professional to select those images to import and then Lightroom itself to pick those I’ll actually use.

On Finsbury pavements

October 17th, 2016

The fight by low-paid workers for a living wage and fair treatment at work is a continiung one, and on a cold lunchtime in February I went with protesters from the IWGB union to two offices in the City of London. Both were at sites where I’ve photographed protests by the same group, the grass-roots union IWGB.

More recently the cleaners concerned led, by Alberto Durango, have broken away to form the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union, or CAIWU. On the CAIWU web site you can read a statement about the history which led to this:

CAIWU’s founders were involved with the T&G and then UNITE’s Justice for Cleaners Campaigns. As a result of a lack of democracy, they left UNITE to join the “Cleaners’ Branch” of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or the “Wobblies” as they are popularly known. However, as a result of political differences as well as a lack of control over their own resources, the organisers left to found the IWGB in August of 2012. These workers formed the Cleaners and Facilities branch of the IWGB.

The IWGB supported the ‘3 Cosas‘ campaign at London University, started by workers in the Senate House Branch of Unison and also supported  by others including SOAS Unison..  The campaign was opposed by London Region Unison and officers in the branch, and when the branch members elected new officers in 2013 Unison nullifed the elections. The workers broke away and formed the University of London branch of the IWGB.  Early this year there were “internal differences over direction and strategy” in the IWGB and “members of the Cleaners & Facilities branch of the IWGB left to set up a new union known as the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union.”

A number of unions are now involved in campaigning for a living wage and decent working conditions for low paid workers in London, including the CAIWU, the IWGB, the IWW and the UVW (United Voices of the World), all grass roots unions with no paid staff. Of the more main-stream unions only the RMT and the BFAWU (with the Fast Food Rights campaign) seem actively involved at the union level, though some parts of others – such as the Unite Hotel Workers Branch and SOAS Unison – stand out for their activity.

It is a confusing situation, as too is the living wage. The Cameron/Osborne government introduced a deliberately confusing National Living Wage – which is less than a real living wage – of £7.20 per hour on April 1st, 2016. The UK Living Wage campaign was launched by members of London Citizens in 2001, and the Greater London Authority established the Living Wage Unit  in 2005 to calculate the London Living Wage;  Citizens UK brought together lewading employers and campaigners to establish a standard model for the annual calculation of the UK living wage in 2011, and the Living Wage Foundation web site gives the current figure for the minimum people require as £8.25 ph outside London, but the London Living Wage which allows for the higher living costs here is £9.40 per hour.

As almost always, cleaning is outsourced, and outsourcing only makes financial sense because outsourcing companies cut costs by paying workers badly, cutting conditions to the bone and over-working staff. Most cleaning contractors employ managers and supervisors with little training and competence who are also badly paid and often abuse and victimise workers, particularly for any trade union activities.

At Bloomberg, the IWGB say Compass managers increased the workload on union rep Hanna Abebe when she was pregnant leading to her suffering a miscarriage at work, and after she returned to work still suffering as she could not afford to stay away (cleaners only get the minimal statutory sick pay) sacked her because of her union activities.

At the CBRE-managed offices at 1 Finsbury Circus, the cleaners have protested for better working conditions and proper treatment by their managers. They say the contractor CCM has abused disciplinary procedures to sack union rep Teresa Lomba and threaten others who protest.

You can read more about the protests on My London Diary – see the links below. Photographically the only problem was in trying to get pictures which are at least a little different to those taken at other similar protests. The IWGB at least have clear posters and banners with messages ‘We Are Not the Dirt We Clean’ , ‘Protest is Legal – Stop the Victimisation’ , ‘Justice for Cleaners’ and more.

Bloomberg sack cleaner after miscarriage
IWGB at Finsbury Circus
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Pride in Peckham

October 16th, 2016

I began photographing the annual Pride march in London in 1993, when it was still a protest for gay rights as well as a highly charged personal statement by some of those taking part, coming out to show the world that they were indeed proud and unashamed of being gay. For many it was something that only their friends knew, and some would say to me ‘I hope my mother doesn’t see this‘ when I took their pictures – though others had mothers and fathers marching with them. You can see some pictures at Ten Years of Pride, a show which was part of ‘Queer is Here‘ at the Museum of London and touring in 2006.

Now, as I’ve often written, Pride is a parade, a hugely commercially sponsored event watched by crowds for its spectacle, in some respects still a celebration of the gay community and its acceptance in this country.

Peckham Pride was a deliberate attempt by Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants  (LGSMigrants) and Movement for Justice to put back ‘ the politics of resistance‘ into Pride, to stand up for those in this country who are still under attack because of ‘discrimination over the colour of our passports, the colour of our skin, our gender, our sexuality or our ability.’

I was introduced to Peckham and my wanderings around South London by a remarkable book, ‘London South of the River‘ by Sam Price Myers, though it doesn’t have a great deal to say about Peckham itself, though mentioning the busy high street of Rye Lane as well as its three great cemeteries. Unfortunately the book, published in 1949 is now rare though there is a copy in Lambeth’s Archives, still apparently open although the public library in which they were housed is being turned into a gym.

You can see a few of fine wood engravings from the book (reprodcued from a copy at Reading University) on line, but unfortunately Rachel Reckitt (1908-1995) didn’t illustrate Rye Lane, though in the book there is a splendid image of Nunhead Station, which unfortunately I can’t reproduce on copyright grounds.  It’s a book which deserves to be reprinted in facsimile, largely for her work.

Since 1949 Rye Lane has changed a little, though it is still at times filled with ‘an unbroken block of humanity‘, a ‘slowly-moving mass (that) not only fills the street but viscously oozes through the large and small shops that line it‘, though now many of these people and shops are now owned by members of London’s Nigerian and Ghanaian communities and the others that make London a multicultural city. But increasingly the estate agents are moving in and threatening the area where property – in London terms – remains relatively cheap.

Its crowded street and small businesses have made Peckham a convenient target for anti-immigration raids, racist go-home vans, and street harassment by the Home Office.  As I wrote in Peckham Pride in My London Diary, they have carried out ‘racist raids leading to brutal deportations on cattle-like charter flights to Nigeria and Ghana, but (it) is also a focus of growing popular resistance on the streets to these illegal and immoral activities.’

It wasn’t an event on the scale of London’s Pride parade, with hundreds rather than thousands taking part, but was in some respects more interesting, with a number of pseeches before the start and also at a stopping point on Rye Lane itself. Unfortunately I had to leave to catch a train to Hull before the performances at the end of the march at the Bussey Building, a late nineteeth century cricket bat factory which is now houses ‘creative arts, artists studios, theatre groups, live music venues, fitness studios, and faith groups‘. It’s part of a large former industrial estate which will almost certainly before too long succumb to redevelopment as unaffordable luxury housing. It’s a place I visited briefly a few months earlier when ‘Walking the Coal Line‘.

Peckham Pride

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Kurds on the march

October 13th, 2016

I wasn’t well for around ten days in February, though my illness wasn’t entirely incapacitating. I’ve never suffered from vertigo before and it was a little scary. Suddenly finding the world spinning around you can be rather disconcerting, and at times it did literally throw me off my feet, collapsing against a wall or onto a bed.  It came, lasted a few seconds and then things came to rest again, leaving me feeling a little vague and disorientated for a few minutes or hours, and wondering when the next attack would happen.

I’ve often suffer mild disorientations, this was something very different. Different also to the acrophobia which increasingly makes it difficult to climb onto walls or fences to take photographs from any elevated position.

Of course there were some things that could be gauranteed to bring on an incident. I’ve long been very careful getting out of bed – the only time I’d ever had any such problems in the past – and began to roll out very much more cautiously, and I had to stop reaching down to pick up anything from the floor, instead bending my nees to crouch to reach them. But otherwise, although the attacks were not frequent, they could come on at any time without warning. One of the most severe and worrying was when I was lying in a warm bath.

I had to cancel a number of events that were in my diary, but the day the vertigo had started when I got out of bed and staggered around the room before falling back on the bed where the room slowly stopped spinning I wasn’t feeling bad by lunchtime and decided to make the  journey to Edmonton where Kurds were marching against Turkish State attacks.

I arrived on the corner where they were meeting up a few minutes early to find only a handful of people there, and decided to go for  short walk, and perhaps take a few pictures of the area. I didn’t recognise any of the people and weren’t sure if they had come for the march or were just hanging around.  As it happened I didn’t find anything I wanted to photograph, and by the time I returned a few more were beginning to arrive, and I went across to join them.

I’ve often photographed protests by Kurds in London, and although there are few that I know by name, there are some I recognise and rather more who know me. This makes it rather easier to go up to a group of people and start taking pictures, though I still often find it rather difficult, paritcularly when everyone is speaking a language I don’t understand.

But people are generally friendly, and seem to appreciate me taking an interest in their causes, and a few commented on having seen my pictures from previous events on-line and thanked me. It helps when otherwise I might be wondering what I’m doing standing on a windy cold corner late on a Sunday afternoon.

I felt a little dizzy and went to hold some railings and shut my eyes and soon felt better. Thew marchers were getting more organised, lining up with banners and it was now quite crowded, and soon the march was on its way.

I was feeling OK, and a little way down the road felt well enough to climb up onto a small wall and, with one arm on a convenient tree to keep my balance and stop myself getting the shakes, managed to take a few pictures from a higher viewpoint.

It was by now close to sunset (though we hadn’t seen a great deal of the sun) and I was now working at ISO3200, and the light was dropping fast. I stayed with the march for a another quarter a mile or so, and then gave up just past White Hart Lane, knowing that this was a convenient place from which to travel home.

The marchers were going on further, another 2km to Tottenham Green where there would have been a rally with speeches, though probably mainly in Kurdish which I would not have understood. And probably it would have been in a rather dark area, maing photography difficult. But I was cold and tired.

I like photographing the Kurds, whose protests are generally colourful, with flags and banners, and who have a healthy disrespect for authority. It’s hard too not to sympathize with their struggle for autonomy both against the Turkish state and in Rojava in northern Syria, where they have set up revolutionary state on the principle “democratic confederalism”, a form of participatory democracy based upon local autonomy. Although the Kurds have provided one of the most effective forces fighting against Daesh (‘Islamic State’) its existence seems sadly now under threat from both Turkey and the Russian-backed Assad regime.

It was over a week before I felt up to going out with a camera again, and then only for a short walk over the local moor, and almost two weeks before I was finally completely fit and well.

Kurds protest Turkish State attacks

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Juries and Prizes

October 12th, 2016

Regular readers of this column will know that I don’t have a great deal of time for Photography Awards, competitions and juried shows. In particular those which are seem to be more about making money for the organisation that is running them – and there are quite a few of those around who regularly e-mail me about their contests.

I won’t name names, if only for legal reasons, but it is generally pretty obvious if you check the organisations web pages and look for the results of any previous contests which ones are entirely spurious. But I feel that even some otherwise reputable organisations sometimes look upon running a competition as a method of raising funds more than anything else.

Some contests are at least very close to fraudulent. It might be flattering to your ego to become the ‘XYZ Master Photographer of the Year’ but can be totally meaningless if the XYZ contest is one that nobody ever hears about and has absolutely no credibility in the photographic world. And if XYZ only publishes enough copies of their awards book to send out to the winners and holds a exhibition for a day in a hotel to which nobody is invited it won’t make a great dent in the $30 they got from each of the 5,000 photographers who sent in a picture.

Various organisations have often looked on competitions as a cheap way of getting images to use on their web sites and even in advertising. It’s always vital to read the rules, especially any small print about what rights you are giving away by entering.

The most common problem is ‘rights grabs’; if the rules allow more than the organisation running the contest to use the winning images in publicity in connection with the competition and exhibitions of work from it, then a warning bell should ring loudly. If, as in the first I found in a web search it says something like “All entries may be used for future marketing campaigns and activity by XXX and its partners” you can be clear there is something very wrong.

But most of the well-known awards and contests – even when they charge an entry fee – are actually at least in part about putting money into photography by actually giving it to the photographers, which is in principle a good thing, though sometimes they seem to give it to the wrong photographers.

I have occasionally in the past entered for some contests, and put work in for juried shows, and have had a little success, though nothing I’d ever feel worth putting on a CV.

I’ve even put work into one or two which required me to pay for entry, either because the amounts involved seemed reasonable or because they were offering something in return – like a catalogue or DVD even to those unlucky to be chosen. And I chose that word ‘unlucky’ deliberately, because often the judging process, or certainly the short-listing, for some is carried out in a way that precludes any real consideration of the work.

Lewis Bush in his Disphotic blog on visual culture a few days ago published a post
The Transparent Jury and the Opaque Prize, looking in particular at the Aperture Paris Photobook awards shortlist. The immediate object of his attention was the fact that one of the judges, David Campany, himself had a book in the five listed. After he wrote the piece Aperture did point out that Campany withdrew from the panel during the consideration of his work, but, as Bush writes:

A pre-existing jury from which one member briefly exempts themselves briefly might feel a lingering sense of loyalty to one of their own, or just as possible depending on the individual dynamics, a sense of antagonism. How can a jury knowingly judge something closely connected to one of their own and treat it in the same way as the work of a normal contributor?

Like Bush, I have no argument with Campany or with the work that was short-listed, though I think Aperture put him in an invidious and insupportable position.

Photoshelter published an interesting blog post that looked at a few contests and weighed up the pros and cons of entry, giving them a rating from A to D. For a slightly less favourable view you can read The Biggest Scam In Photography (and the comments to it) and Why You Should Avoid Paid-For Photography Competitions.