Druids Again

April 18th, 2014

I like the Druids. Not that I’d want to be one, but they have an eccentricity that appeals to me, and visually they are rather striking. I don’t like them enough to go to Stonehenge for the solstices (and things get rather crowded and confused there with so many claiming a right to the space) but their two annual performances in London are certainly worth a visit from time to time.  I don’t intend to be rude or belittling when I describe them as eccentric; eccentricity is one of the great British characteristics, and something that many of us share to some extent. And something that I admire if not in this particular aspect wanting to share.

Though I do feel a little eccentric holding up a camera on top of a pole and pressing the cable release to take pictures like the one above. Or even leaning out over a wall to photograph the procession as in the picture below.

I wasn’t sure about the angle when I took this picture, lining up the edge of the frame carefully (or at least fairly carefully – you can still see a little of it at the bottom right) with the edge of the wall in this uncropped image) but it seems to have a certain logic. As you can see in Druids celebrate the Spring Equinox I made some pictures with the camera level (or intended to be level and not far off) too, but the wall rather gets in the way to my eye.

Back to the monopod image, I’ve still not found a good way to keep the camera level when holding it up above my head. And for these images taken with the 16mm full-frame fisheye that is rather important.  It needs to be level in two dimensions, with both ends of the camera to avoid a tilted horizon, and with the lens not looking up or down in order to get a straight horizon. As you can see above, I’ve not quite managed this, though I don’t find the fairly slight curve of the horizon too distracting.

This image was converted using the Fisheye Hemi plugin as I do with most images taken with this lens, which removes the curvature of vertical lines. But if the camera is tilted, these lines will either converge or diverge, which can sometimes look odd. There is a very slight divergence visible in the building at the right of the image, but hardly noticeable.

My reason for making the picture from this side of the circle was partly because of the position of the sun, just out of picture to the right, but mainly to put the Tower of London and Tower Bridge more or less in the middle of the picture.  Another reason is that the leading figures in the Druid circle and the standards are also visible on the far side of the circle – their backs are less interesting.

You can of course see them more clearly in a conventional photograph taken with the 18-105mm from a normal eye level, which also shows how the high viewpoint of the top image makes the Tower and Tower Bridge more prominent.

I’d forgotten to put back the 70-300mm in my camera bag when I rushed out to catch the train, and this is an event you have to work from outside the circle, and the distances across it are rather high. But it would have been one more lens to work with, and changing lenses can be a pain. It’s probably best to leave it at home except on those occasions a very long lens is essential.

With people standing in a circle, you can take pictures like this that most people think were taken from inside, standing behind people further around the circle and aiming my 18-105mm lens though the gap between two of them. It was probably taken from more or less the same  position as the image below, made shortly before with the 16mm fisheye.

This part of the event, with the figures around the circle joining hands to renew their vows as druids is one of the visual high points, and you can see different ways I’ve tried to show it in My London Diary.

The pictures in Druids celebrate the Spring Equinox are posted in the sequence that I took them (with possibly some very minor variations) and along with the text I hope give a good idea of what happens. You can also find some other examples of my pictures from Tower Hill in previous years, most recently in 2009.

What is rather surprising about the event is how few people came to watch it. I’d come with an old friend and there was another photographer and just a handful of onlookers. The event at Primrose Hill for the Autumn Equinox attracts more people, but again I think relatively few who have actually come for the event.
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Anti-Fracking Carnival

April 17th, 2014

The march led by Vivienne Westwood with her ‘Climate Revolution’ met up with other anti-fracking protesters at Knightsbridge for the Fracked Future Carnival, an event intended to let the government and the energy companies trying to develop fracking in the UK of the growing opposition to their plans. The depth of that opposition has been made clear at Balcombe and now at Barton Moss, and there were a number who had been at both places at the protest.

The protest carnival had been planned to take place outside the hotel where the ‘Shale Gas Forum’ of government and industry was to take place, but shortly before the event, the forum had been moved to a ‘secret location’ to avoid the protest. Of course it wasn’t possible to keep that location secret, as among those attending the forum were some who realise the power of the arguments against fracking and were sympathetic to the protesters.

Increasingly informed opinion is that to avoid disastrous global warming we need to move away from using coal, oil and gas as fuels, either leaving them in the ground or using them only for chemical feedstock or some increasingly niche energy uses. Highly carbon intensive hydrocarbon sources such as tar sands and shale might result in profits for the companies who exploit them (and even governments who tax them) but only lead to catastrophe for the planet.

As the organisers of the Fracked Future Carnival say, “We know fracking won’t lower our bills and it won’t bring significant jobs. It has the potential to ruin our land, our water, our soil and will keep us dependent on fossil fuels.”

What we need is a determined shift towards renewable energy, as well as an increased investment in reducing energy use. Both will provide jobs. Energy saving will start to reduce bills immediately, and renewable energy will also do so in the longer term. Solar panels have already reduced dramatically in cost and increased in efficiency, although on-shore wind still currently has the greatest potential in the UK. But the coalition government seem keen to support opposition to it.

Photographically, the largest problem outside the hotel where protesters held a rally as previously planned before moving on to the new location was simply the crowd of people with cameras around the speakers and Vivienne Westwood in particular. Away from this fairly small area it was relatively easy to work, although there were still too many photographers for us to keep out of each other’s way.

But while I was occasionally frustrated by photographers moving into my frame, there were also occasional gains. It was a photographer standing next to me who asked two girls with the message ‘Frack Off’ on their cheeks to kiss, but I was able to take advantage of the moment – and I think was at a slightly better angle than him. I didn’t set it up, but it happened and I photographed it – and I think my caption made clear that the two girls were posing for a photograph.

It was a neat solution to the problem of trying to see the message clearly when photographing a single person with a message across both cheeks – the curvature of the face generally makes it hard to read in its entirety. There was a great deal of posing going on, with many of those taking part in the event taking ‘selfies’ while waiting until it was time to move off.

I’d hoped to take some pictures of people travelling across London to the military location where the event had been rescheduled, but the protesters got very dispersed and when I did get on the underground with a small group it was too crowded – the train was fuller than normal with a large school party of young children spread across several carriages. The lighting in the carriages isn’t too kind for photographers or to their subjects, with a fairly discontinuous spectrum and also with the actual light sources in the picture. Although I managed one or two pictures they were just a little disappointing and have a slightly odd colour, though perhaps that improves them.

I lost touch with that group when we had to change trains at Kings Cross, and although I’d hung around for quite a while waiting to take pictures in Knightsbridge station, I still managed to be one of the first to arrive at Old Street. The underground can still be rather confusing for those who aren’t familiar with it.

There was a lot of building work on the corner of Old Street, making the space for meeting there very restricted, and photography rather difficult. Things were much easier once the protesters marched off and rallied outside the two gates to the Territorial Army centre where the forum was taking place. As intended, the protest was peaceful though at times very noisy, with the Rhythms of Resistance samba band making their presence felt, and the event did have something of a carnival nature, as well as some very serious speeches by people concerned with the future of our country and the planet. The frackers inside will certainly have been aware of the opposition.

I rather liked this image of Tina Louise from Residents Action on Fylde Fracking facing a line of police, as much as anything as a little homage towards a far stronger and deservedly famous image, where Marc Riboud photographed a young woman holding up a flower to a row of soldiers with bayonets fixed outside the Pentagon in 1967.  Riboud’s Flower Child image had a power which this lacks, and it flashed into my mind as I made this image – and was a reminder of how powerful still images shape the way we see the world.

Fracked Future Carnival at Shale Gas Forum
Fracked Future Carnival in Knightsbridge

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Climate Revolution

April 16th, 2014

I have a problem with celebrities. Partly it’s that there are many of them I don’t find interesting. But it’s more the idea I have a problem with, and they way that they are treated by the media as a whole. Often it seems to be the only thing they have an interest in. Last November 5th, several thousand people were protesting in London, but the only interest in the press was that Russell Brand turned up. To me that wasn’t of any great interest.

Other photographers often ask me if I’m going to events and tell me that various well-known names will be there. I go if it’s an event that interests me, and when I’m there I’ll photograph the ‘names’ along with the less well-known people who are taking part, although often I won’t recognise them except by the crowd of photographers poking lenses at the.

I don’t watch much TV. Virtually none, outside short clips that people post to Facebook, mainly of news (I don’t bother to watch the ‘cute’ cats.) We don’t have a TV in the house, I’ve not lived permanently anywhere that had one since I got married in 1968. We just didn’t seem to need one then, and haven’t since. We get news from the internet and radio, and every time I see news from the TV it convinces me radio does most things better. But you don’t often recognise people from the radio!

But even I have heard of Dame Vivienne Westwood, and have photographed her before. Even for someone whose last interest in fashion was well over 40 years ago, she had a certain impact, part of the punk revolution that shook up our over-stuffy Englishness. And someone who has over the years supported many of the causes I’ve also been involved with, including nuclear disarmament, civil rights and most recently against climate change, setting up her own ‘Climate Revolution’ campaign.

She also has an interesting face, with plenty of expression, that I enjoyed photographing. At first, near the start of the march at Battersea Bridge, there were relatively few photographers around, just a handful or two of us, but on the Kings Road we were joined by quite a crowd, including those from the main agencies and newspapers. I don’t much like working with a pack, but it does bring out a certain competitive streak in me!

In Climate Revolution March to Fracked Future Carnival you can see I took rather a lot of pictures of her (I’ve included 6 taken in a short sequence) and later in the day while she was taking part in the main carnival events I took more. One of my pictures of her made at least one newspaper. You can read her own diary on the event on the Climate Revolution web site. (I appear briefly in the video in the p0st, squinting into my camera a the right of a group of photographers, though not looking my best!)

I don’t always agree with everything that Vivienne Westwood says, but her message that “We need to talk about fracking” seems to be beyond argument (and there is a petition with that name) and that we need to cut energy use and move away from all fossil fuels is one that makes good sense – as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have also concluded.

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Bert Hardy

April 15th, 2014

Dewi Lewis, one of the leading photographic publishers with many fine books both from his early years in Cornerhouse and as a leading independent publisher, begins his recent post The Picture Post Photographers  on the Photoworks web site with the statement:

Last October was the 75th anniversary of the launch of Picture Post yet you would be forgiven for not having noticed.

A book of Bert Hardy’s work was published (Bert Hardy’s Britain, The Bluecoat Press) and we also published the first ever monograph of John Chillingworth. But where were the exhibitions, where was the TV and magazine coverage?

I can only agree with him that the event failed to receive the attention it deserved (what a shame we don’t have a national gallery really dedicated to photography), and have previously in 2009 suggested that we should have a proper exhibition on Picture Post and its photographers in , and elsewhere. But 2013  was also the 100th anniversary of Bert Hardy’s birth as well the 75th anniversary of Picture Post and neither went entirely unnoticed.

As well as the book that Lewis mentions, the Photographer’s Gallery Print Room staged a  Bert Hardy Centenary Exhibition from 4 Apr – 26 May 2013. Getty Images, which now owns the pictures taken by Picture Post employees including Bert Hardy celebrated “the double anniversary of the photographer Bert Hardy and Picture Post, the magazine with which he is inextricably linked” with a show ‘Bert Hardy – Picture Post Legend‘ from 14 August to 5 October at their Eastcastle St gallery in London (and you can buy prints from them of his work at reasonable prices, though I think it is best seen in books.).

The Guardian ran a feature at the time of the Photographers’ Gallery show, and this was also mentioned in the Daily Mail and there was a slide show on the the BBC web site, and other mentions elsewhere in blogs and the press. So if you failed to notice you were not really paying attention.

Although I’ve never written an extended feature on Hardy, I did write and publish one about his fellow Picture Post photographer, Thurston Hopkins, whose 100th birthday also in 2013 was marked by a feature in The Guardian by Observer picture editor Greg Whitmore, whose own paper were not interested in publishing his Unsung hero of photography Thurston Hopkins turns 100.  I blogged on this anniversary in Thurston Hopkins reaches Century, in which I also mentioned that my article on him was also in the ‘top ten’ on Google, though not attributed to me. It’s now up to number 4 on a search for ‘Thurston Hopkins’.  So I’ve done my bit of singing.

Here too are a few short things about Hardy from several different things I’ve published over the years.

1.

Bert Hardy was a working class Londoner who went to work in a photo printing plant. Soon he was taking photos of his other love, cycle racing. He got a Leica and became a photographer.

Hardy’s great asset for Picture Post was his ability to go anywhere and get on with the people he had to photography, whatever their social background. He really was interested in people and his photographs show this.

During the Second World War he photographed London in the Blitz, and was the first photographer to be credited by name in Picture Post. He was called up and sent as a photographer to cover the armies advancing across Europe after the invasion, photographing the Rhine crossing and many other events. He was among the first allied soldiers to enter the concentration camps and photograph there.

After leaving Picture Post he did some advertising work and set up a printing business.

2.

In the UK, one of the first photographers to use a Leica was Bert Hardy (though this picture was made with a Box brownie.) Working for a film processing company he had two interests that filled much of his spare hours, photography and bicycling, and had combined the two by photographing various cycle races.

A story he would always tell when asked how he became a photographer was that some friends of his decided as a joke to tell him that one of the large Picture Agencies in London was looking for ‘miniature’ photographers. Hardy went along with a pile of his cycling prints to see the manager and said that he was taking pictures with a Leica. ‘That’s not real photography’ he was told, ‘take a look at these’, and he was shown a set of technically fine, but static and dull prints. After a while, the manager said that he might as well have a look at Bert’s work since he had brought it. As he leafed through the pile of prints, his expression changed, and although he didn’t take any of the work that the photographer had brought in, he sent him on his first photographic job, to take a portrait of a visiting Hungarian musician.

Hardy went to the hotel with his Leica and an single light and took a series of pictures that presented his subject naturally as a personality rather than the kind of posed formal portraits that were more normal at the time.

This was the start of a career that was later to make Bert Hardy famous as one of the leading photographers for the UK picture magazine, Picture Post, for which he took most of his best known pictures. His coverage of the Blitz in the early years of the war epitomised the conditions of the time and the spirit of the British people. ‘Picture Post’ even published the photographer’s name with the work – previously features had been credited only to the magazine.

Later he was called up into the army and worked as a photographer in the British Army PR department; after the invasion he too followed the path of liberation, recording the entry into Paris the crossing of the Rhine and the concentration camps before the war ended and he was able to go back to a job with ‘Picture Post’, again capturing the mood of post-war Britain.

Blackpool Railings
This carefully staged ‘spontaneous’ picture of two girls sitting on the promenade rail on the seafront was taken as a challenge using a Box Brownie after Hardy had said in an article of advice for amateur photographers that you did not need to own an expensive camera to take good pictures.
Gorbals Boys
These cheeky street lads were from another Picure Post assignment, where Hardy was sent to replace Bill Brandt who had filed empty streets dominated by apparently unending blocks of flats.

3.

Bert Hardy was among the many who went to Korea. One of many stories he used to tell was that of the Inchon landing, which started as light was failing in the evening. On the approach to the landing he was shooting at around 1/25 at f2 on fast black and white film. When they reached the beach there was a concrete wall in their way, with hostile fire coming over the top of it, and none of the assault party was keen to go over it. Eventually Hardy climbed over the wall and led the assault because he realised the light was going fast and he couldn’t afford to wait! When they saw he was still alive the others followed.

He kept shooting with his Leica loaded with fast black and white film until the light was down to 1/8 at f4, then made it back to the landing craft, only to be told they had actually landed on the wrong beach and were coming under fire from their own side. Hardy was however the only photographer to get pictures of the initial landing as the American press photographers present were all using Speed Graphics with f4.5 lenses and had to wait for the light to come up the next day to take pictures.

While in Korea, Hardy photographed a group of political prisoners being mistreated. They were crouching, chained together part naked. Hardy and the journalist he was with, James Cameron, decided that they were going to be executed by our Korean allies without trial and tried to get both the United Nations and the Red Cross to intervene without success.

This is a story that made history by not being published. The editor of ‘Picture Post’, Tom Hopkinson, decided to publish it (in a toned down form) despite a warning from the owner of the magazine, who then actually stopped the presses and removed the article. When Hopkinson put it in again next week, again the presses were stopped and he was sacked. After this loss, ‘Picture Post’ never regained direction, slowly going downhill and eventually closing as it failed to meet the competition of the new medium of television.

You can see and hear Bert Hardy on a film trailer on You Tube, which shows some of the people he photographed in 1950 in Cardiff dockland’s Tiger Bay looking at his pictures 35 years later, as well as the photographer talking about his visit there. Another YouTube video, “Life in the Elephant” Bert Hardy, shows pictures he took around the Elephant and Castle area of south London, with a not particularly appropriate musical background (which you can turn down or mute) and labels some of the images with their locations.

Lions in Trafalgar Square

April 14th, 2014

Landseer’s Lions were joined by a couple of hundred protesters, some dressed as lions or with lion images on their t-shirts with the message ‘Save Our Lions’.

The photographic difficulty in putting the two together was largely that the sun was low and more or less exactly in the direction I wanted to point my camera, just outside the frame above. I was using the Nikon 18-105mm on the D8o0E, and it is a DX lens, so at 50mm was 75mm equivalent. The 28-105 has a reasonably effective lens hood, but  I needed to use my hand as well – and being able to see in the viewfinder the image area outline as a rectangle over a larger view makes this a little easier.

Trafalgar Square was in a little of a mess, with tall fences around the plinths of the lions, so it wasn’t possible to use them well in closer images. A wider image (18 mm on that 18-105) taken from the same position a few seconds earlier gives a clearer view of the situation as well as showing the main banner for the event. As you can see in Save Our Lions – Ban Canned Hunting I took quite a few different images from that same spot.

AAfter quite a lot of the march had passed me, I ran up around the side of the march (it had been joined by another group of marchers that the people carrying the banner  had been pointing towards) and got to the top of the steps going up to the North Terrace to photograph people coming up. Again I made a series of images.

At the top on the North Terrace things were very crowded, particularly as preparations were being made there for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations the following day and the space for the protest was rather restricted. It wasn’t always possible to get enough clear space between camera and subject for some pictures and I think I could have done a little better on pictures like the above.

I hadn’t really realised what was happening with the lions and ‘canned hunting’ and it’s significance, so this was a protest where I learnt something. It’s a practice which degrades both the ‘King of the Beasts’ and the miserable rich who take part in it.

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British Values?

April 13th, 2014

Probably you won’t have read ‘Life in the United Kingdom – A Guide for New Residents‘ written by the Home Office and the basis for our Citizenship tests, but it could be a useful study for those who call themselves ‘patriotic’. Here’s a short excerpt from the first chapter:

There is no place in British society for extremism or intolerance.’

‘The fundamental principles of British life include:

  -  Democracy
  -  The rule of law
   – Individual liberty
   – Tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
    -Participation in community life.’

I don’t like the idea of the Citizenship Test, particularly when most of those of us who are already citizens would fail it., but I think that the quote above is a good start to defining British values and one that should be taken to heart by anyone who wants to call themselves ‘patriotic’.

I don’t like photographing events like the march along Whitehall to Parliament by the English Volunteer Force, which seems to be the latest of various post-EDL right-wing groupings, but I think it important to record these various groups as a part of our society. I don’t agree with most of what they say and don’t like much of what they do, but think that they should be reported on as accurately as I can.


One man objects to being photographed. Another man lunged towards me and pushed my camera in my face; later outside Parliament he threatened to break my camera. A police officer held him back but didn’t take any other action despite the threatening behaviour.

Some of them seem to hate photographers and journalists. While most protesters like their act of protest to be reported. Most want exposure, but groups like this fear being exposed.

Antifa who had come to oppose the EVF and had been kettled by police for around an hour when I took this picture were not all keen to be photographed either

There were more anti-fascists than EVF in London, and probably more police than either of them. Antifa claimed a victory, which may be good for morale but seemed not to be born out by the facts. The EVF had marched and held a rally, protected by a large number of police, who had managed to keep the two groups apart.

The EVF had been forced by the police to change their meeting point to a pub near the top of Whitehall, just a few yards from where they had first intended to start the march in Trafalgar Square. Police had easily held them back when they made a surge towards the Antifa – who were mainly beyond several more lines of police. The police arrested a few from both sides, but there was no major outbreak of violence, and as I concluded, ‘it was really the police’s day.’

More at: English Volunteer Force march in London
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Chasing Nuclear Waste

April 12th, 2014

It’s hard to believe it was three years ago that the Fukushima disaster occurred, though recent reports suggest that the situation there is still no entirely under control, with several leaks of radioactive water. It’s also hard to be entirely sure that reassuring reports such as that recently published by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation which suggests the health impacts of the radiation leaks are likely to be fairly minimal except possibly for the 160 site workers accurately reflect the total risks, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be previously unsuspected pathways and dangers – as has happened previously with other forms of environmental pollution.

What I can be sure of, is that photographing a rather random moving group of people in costumes representing barrels of nuclear waste is harder than it looks!   It would have been fun to have followed their progress around London from Hyde Park to Parliament, but there were so many other things happening too, and I only met them at the start of the march and close to Downing Street later in the day.

Photographing them would have perhaps been easier if there had been fewer distractions – sometimes positive and sometimes rather getting in my way, including an improbable nuclear waste fairy, whose magic wand somehow failed to work.

Of course I’ve nothing against fairies, but they really need to keep their wands in better order! The march started at Hyde Park Corner, and I rather liked the sight of them coming along in front of the arches there, though it was hard to get exactly the image I wanted.

It might have been nice to have been a little further out to the right, but I would then have got mowed down by the almost incessant heavy traffic. That road at the left may look empty, but just out of frame the ranks of cars were speeding towards me. After I’d taken this picture I did ask the leading barrel if he would turn his placard so I could see it, and took some more pictures as they came along the pavement, but this remained my favourite.

Sensibly, to cross Park Lane, the waste barrels took the pedestrian subway, and it might have been a good image as they emerged (I’d run across the two carriageways in the gaps between traffic to get there before them) but they didn’t really emerge in a suitable formation. This was life and not a movie set.

I caught up with the nuclear waste barrels later in the day, having waved goodbye as they went towards the Japanese embassy on Piccadilly (and I think they were also going on to the Berkeley Square offices of the Tokyo Electric Power Company) as they were approaching Downing St with the rest of the anti-nuclear protest.

I think that many voters might think have an answer for their question ‘How About A Nuclear Waste Dump Here‘ and feel it might be a rather better use for the site than its current occupants. Or that perhaps it is already one, and Cameron and Osborne are the result of some terrible mutation caused by the radiation.  (No, that’s just a joke.)

But I’d certainly not feel happy about living near a nuclear power station, and have often felt a certain tension and dryness in the air around those I’ve visited, though I’m sure that it is purely psychological. I’d certainly not feel safe eating the crops from my garden if I lived close.

Not that I’m against nuclear power. There is a perfect location for a nuclear power plant, and we already have one there. It’s called the sun.

More pictures of those barrels and the rest of the event at Fukushima Nuclear Melt-down Remembered.

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Syrian Flags

April 11th, 2014

I wasn’t entirely happy with my coverage of the march organised by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces on the third anniversary of the start of their fight for freedom, mainly because it was hard for me to give the event the attention it deserved with so many other things going on. So rather unusually, the pictures I took came from three separate visits to the march, two while it was gathering and the last when it was approaching its end and during the final rally.

It was fairly clear to me from the start that the flag would dominate my pictures, although I’m not sure how widely the differences between the the ‘Independence flag’ used by the Syrian National Coalition and the flag used by the Asad regime  (red, white and black stripes with two green stars) are recognised by the general public. Certainly some major media outlets have occasionally confused the two. The Independence flag is that adopted when Syria gained limited independence from the French colonial empire in 1932 (Syria continued under French mandate and the French didn’t actually leave and Syria only gained full independence under this same flag in 1946).

Perhaps more surprising was the presence of another flag, the Saltire, or as we used to know it, the Saint Andrew’s Cross. So far as I’m aware this has no particular connection with Syria, but there is a strong Free Syrian community in Scotland in groups including Scotland 4 Syria, Together for Syria and Free Syrians Glasgow, many of whom had come down for the London march. Many of them I think see the independence movement in Scotland as being a similar struggle to that in  Syria, though so far the ‘No’ campaign has stuck to lies, slurs and threats and has not yet resorted to chemical weapons.

Quite a few people on the protest were literally showing their colours on their faces, and I and other photographers rather swarmed around them taking pictures. It perhaps rather misrepresents the event as a whole.

As always there is a tension between recording the photogenic and the much harder task of producing an accurate representation of the event as a whole. Here I perhaps went too much for the photogenic – though perhaps it was just a more visually attractive event than most.

Despite this, I think the spirit and the message of the protest comes through in the set of pictures you can see in Syrians March for International Action.  It was an event that left me feeling a little ashamed at how little we in this country have done for Syria, as well as wondering exactly how we could have done more. I can’t swallow the line of some on the left who support Assad despite his brutal attacks on the Syrian people. But perhaps it’s my own political indecision and lack of effective action that makes me unhappy rather than my pictures.

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Tibetan Colour

April 9th, 2014

It would be hard to think of a cause more lost than Tibetan Freedom. Though perhaps in the fullness of time China will change and evolve and gain the self-confidence to allow some re-establishment of Tibetan culture in the Tibetan homeland, unlikely though it seems at the present moment. Certainly the continuing annual Freedom March demonstrates the great resilience of the TIbetan people – as does also the continuing protests in Tibet despite the Chinese oppression. Tibet is often quoted as having a climate that makes it one of the harshest places for human existence, which has doubtless formed the character of the Tibetan people.

The main attraction of the event for me is in the faces of the Tibetan men and women at the event, and the bright red,blue and yellow of the Tibetan freedom flag I find can be something of a distraction. You can definitely have too much colour in a photograph.

So although there are plenty of those flags in my pictures, I try not to let them dominate, and find ways to put them in the background. Text is always something that grabs attention, and it’s important that it works with the image and not against it. Obviously the ‘SAVE TIBET’ headband is central to the image above, but also I moved slightly and carefully framed the deliberately out of focus word ‘FREEDOM’ in the background.   This is a picture of a man thinking, with the deliberate choice of the eyes looking down. I don’t know what he was actually thinking about, but I think the picture leaves little doubt in most viewers minds about what I intended to convey he was thinking of. Though perhaps I don’t usually like to direct the audience quite so clearly.

So my favourite image from the event was quite different, and made at 16mm on the 16-35mm with the D700. It is cropped a bit, as I had to hold my left hand slightly into the frame at top right to block the sun (that’s also a tiny triangle of my sleeve remaining at top left.) Apart from the crop, quite considerable burning down highlights and bringing up of some shadow areas was needed to produce the image here.

I think the larger ‘animal’ is a man dressed as a Tibetan yak (our name for the animal comes from the Tibetan for a bull yak) and this bull is pretending to bully the rather smaller and real Scottie dog in the foreground, while around it people are watching, including one holding a banner ‘China Stop Bullying Innocent People’.  I and other photographers took quite a few pictures of this confrontation, though I’m quite not sure what to make of it politically!

There are four of my other pictures of the incident in London March for Freedom for Tibet, but I think this is perhaps the best, though it wasn’t the one I chose on first seeing the series.  Partly I prefer it becuase of the attitudes of the two ‘animals’, but also because I’ve managed to exclude most of another photographer on the left (you can see her elbow and knees but not her camera) and the way the bull’s horns point into the poster. And there is something about the man at the right with his arms across his chest.

I had to leave the march shortly after it started, and had hoped I might meet up with them again later as the reached the Chinese Embassy, but other things interfered. The light was very difficult as the marchers went north up Whitehall with a low sun directly behind them, but as so often difficulties can make images more interesting.

London March for Freedom for Tibet

You can also see some of my pictures from previous Tibetan Freedom Marches in London:


Free Tibet march, 10 March 2001

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(I missed the 2004 and 2013 marches and there is only the picture above from 2001 on line, and none of the colour I took in the first three years.)
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NHS End Game

April 8th, 2014


Unusually I’ve cropped and image image well away from 3:2 format to remove a camera

The Conservative Party is determined to privatise the NHS, while at the same time telling us that it is safe in their hands, and the Labour Party in office made a good start on their project through the private finance initiative, which loaded the NHS with huge amounts of debt to private developers. PFI solved some short-term problems  but it predictably turned out to be as good a long-term strategy as taking money from loan sharks.  Never sensible, the problems of PFI were exacerbated by the financial crisis, which has turned it into total disaster.

There are many in parliament who stand to gain personally from the privatisation of the NHS, while others have a doctrinal opposition to the welfare state. Many of those of us who grew up with it still know how important it was in our lives, in many cases literally live-saving, and still bless Nye Bevan for his vision and determination.

Of course the NHS is not perfect, and there are many aspects which need reform, to cut down on inefficiencies as well as to meet growing demands and medical advances. But although some of the huge changes being made can be dressed up as doing this, most are a back-door privatisation of the NHS, shifting money to suppliers of goods and services.

When Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt lost a court challenge for exceeding his powers in closing down the A&E and other departments at a much needed and clinically and financially successful hospital in Lewisham (to pay PFI debts elsewhere), he appealed and lost again. But instead of obeying the law, he decided to change it, tacking on Clause 119 to the Care Bill going through parliament, a clause which gives him as health minister more or less the power to do anything he likes.


Careful framing helps (see below)

As often happens in legislation going through parliament, the actual number of the clause often changes as other items are withdrawn, amalgamated or inserted. The framing of the banner in the image above helps to eliminate a little confusion as the banner had an earlier number for the clause. Though really it was more about putting the exclamation mark at the edge of frame. I’ve framed tightly to the banner at the right edge, and just managed to get the ‘Cost lives!’ visible on the shirt of the central figure. The top edge of the frame was determined by wanting a just a little space above her head, and I’ve made use of a placard behind her to get her head to stand out a little from the background.  With 3 sides of the frame determined there wasn’t a great deal of choice about the fourth, but it works OK. Ideally I would have liked to be just a few millimetres higher, I’m not sure whether this would have been possible. Sometimes it would be nice to be just a little taller.

Framing is vital in photography, but so many photographers (and myself at time) seem to be rather sloppy about it. I try to get things right in camera, taking a particularly careful look at the edges of the image when I’ve time to do so.

Occasionally there are things that just won’t work in the normal 3:2 frame for various reasons, and I’ll take these with another framing in mind. The image at the top of this post was an example, with an intrusive video camera at the right of the scene. I couldn’t move the camera or find a way to frame without it, and framed for a cropped image.


Andrew Gwynne MP, a member of the Shadow health team

The embroidered placard ‘Keep Our NHS Public’ must be one of the most photographed placards around, and I’ve photographed it at various protests over several years. The woman who made it and carried it was a colleague of my wife in the early 1970s. It’s effective because it stands out, and the message is large and clear. Often the ideas that people think up for protests end up with being hard to photograph, and there were two examples at this protest.


The van was hard to incorporate into the picture

One was the large digital image of Cameron the side of a van with the message ‘David Cameron is wrecking our NHS – Stop him.’, which the protesters formed up in front of. I didn’t really manage to find a good way to integrate the image with the rather more colourful protesters in front of it – and it largely obscured the Houses of Parliament – you can see the clock-face of Big Ben peeking over it.  I imagine it was being driven around and used elsewhere, but here it seemed to be something of a nuisance. Another photographer was responsible for directing the scene and including the van, and it rather killed the event at that point, though it recovered later. As ever, posing produced cliché, and took some working round.


The Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament, shadow health minister Andy Burnham & Jeremy the Vulture

Jeremy the Vulture (named after Jeremy Hunt) destroying the NHS was a nice touch, but fiendishly difficult to photograph. As you can see he was rather dark, and against the sky was a virtual silhouette. Which might have been effective, but I couldn’t make it so. To get the result above, I’ve angled a flash in the hot shoe up and to the right, avoiding excessive exposure on the speaker who is closer to me.  A few test exposures enabled me to get the lighting about right (quite a lot of local control – darkening some areas and lightening others was needed back on the computer.) But although this image is reasonably clear, it was hard to get the bloodstained and holed body of the NHS to really be clear. Obviously I wanted to get the Houses of Parliament in the background too, but Jeremy was a moving target, and there are only some angles from which a vulture really looks like a vulture.  You can see a couple more of my various attempts to photograph him in Stop Hospital Killer Clause 119, along of course with other pictures of the event.
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