Under Surveillance

May 30th, 2015

I’m not sure what I think about Simon Høgsberg’s ‘The Grocery Store’ project,which I read about in a post on DVAPhoto. It’s certainly remarkable, made from around “97,000 photos of people outside a grocery store in Copenhagen” which were then analysed by the  facial recognition algorithms in Picasa  – freely downloadable photo software  – to identify people who appeared in multiple images.

It’s worth reading the interview with Høgsberg by DVA’s M Scott Brauer which explores the how and why of the project and some of the issues, particularly around privacy involved, though I feel this could have been investigated more.

The images were made by Høgsberg “returning to the bike rail outside the supermarket with my camera” and zoom lens on 159 afternoons and “Freezing face after face with a click.” They certainly seem often to be very carefully chosen moments – as you can see from exploring some of the 2067 images that make up the web project – which is a very impressive one, with the images laid out on a single zoomable page as a grid “of sequences of images crossing each other in horizontal and vertical lines. Each sequence shows the same person caught on different days” and ” are arranged in chronological order.” It’s easier to look at than explain.

On Høgsberg’s web site there is more about how the project was carried out and his discovery of the face recognition in Google’s Picasa, software which enables you to “Organise, edit and share your photos” and share them with your friends on Google+L

Picasa uses facial recognition technology to find and group similar faces together across your entire collection of photos. By adding name tags to these groups of faces, new people albums are created.

The link tells you how it is done.  Picasa is software I found rather annoying when I played briefly with it (here is a set of images of Paris I shared in 2006, complete with a multiple spelling mistake), but it seems perfect for this project.

Høgsberg gave some people in his images tags, starting with A1, A2, A3… and Picasa then sifted through the images to find the same people in other pictures. One man, E46, turned up in 276 of them. These sets were used to construct the project image.

There seems to me to be some theoretical problems here. Lets consider three people, who we could call A, B and C, and assume that there is a picture including A and B, another including B and C and a third including A and C. If the set of pictures of A is laid out horizontally  then the set of pictures including B could be laid out vertically, with the picture including both at the crossing point. But  if you then want to add the series including C, it can either be set to include the image together with A as a vertical, or that together with B as a horizontal series, but not both. And if A and B appear together at several different times, what then? Don’t even think about A, B and C all turning up at once…

Perhaps these kind of problems are why only around 2% of the images taken appear in the final presentation, though I imagine the interest and quality of the images was also a consideration.

But these are technical matters, and it is perhaps the privacy implications that concern me more. I wonder what ‘E46′, ‘R51′ and the others make of this project and their inclusion in it.

Its also a project that makes me think about the millions of images gathered every day by security cameras in various public places, and the kind of analysis and use to which they might be put – with the aid of far more powerful software tools than that included in Picasa.

 

Save Yourself $89,910

May 29th, 2015

Back in February I wrote Prince of Pilfering about the selling by Richard Prince and his gallery of large-scale reproductions of Instagram images and comments without permission from the those who have produced the work. On the web, the photographs look exactly as the Instagram originals, though after having been enlarged and printed on canvas, the image quality must be rather poorer, but by adding his name to them, Prince has apparently persuaded some deluded individuals to hand over $90,000 a throw.

One image was by photographer Donald Graham, though it had been posted on Instagram, apparently without his permission by a third party, and Graham was understandably not amused, and it was reported that his lawyer had sent “cease and desist” letters to Prince and the Gagosian Gallery.

I’ve not been able to find any comment on-line as to the current state of play between the two sides over this case, though while it may seem cut and dried to photographers, for lawyers the issues it raises are more complex, as you can read in The Latest Richard Prince Controversy, Clarified by Patent and Copyright Attorney John Arsenault on Fstoppers.

A day or so ago came a development by another of those whose Instagram image was ripped off by Prince – in this case 5 images.  As I first read in PDN Online,  rather than go to law, ‘Missy Suicide‘ has decided to re-appropriate the work by Prince, making the five prints available through her own web site at the same size and printed on canvas like his for a mere $90 – with any profit being donated to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Dedicated collectors who bought all five could save themselves £449,550.

It’s perhaps a rather cleverer act of appropriation than Prince’s and one that Prince himself has responded to personally (thanks to PetaPixel for the link) with a tweetMuch better idea. I started off selling my “family” tweets for $18 at Karma not to long ago. Missy Suicide is smart.”

She may be smart, but Prince is already laughing all the way to the bank, though there is no way I would want to buy any of these images, either in the Prince or Missy Suicide versions, though I think the latter are more honest. They will also have considerably higher image quality, being reproduced from the originals rather than the low res Instagram. And in case anyone still thinks this is about photography, that will make them worth considerably less. While the controversy will undoubtedly have increased the art market value of Prince’s pilfering.

Personally I’m going to save myself slightly more – another $90 – by not buying the prints from Missy Suicide.  The site – described by PetaPixel as the “pin-up photo brand SuicideGirls” appears to deal in the kind of idealised soft-porn ‘glamour’ that I find boring, de-humanising and rather offensive. Lets keep photography real.

Deutsche Börse Prize 2015

May 28th, 2015

For once I have to say I was pleased to hear the result of the Deutsche Börse Prize. Although I wasn’t entirely enchanted with the work of Mikhael Subotzky (b.1981, South Africa) and Patrick Waterhouse (b.1981, UK),  Ponte City was an impressive publication which includes some truly excellent photography, and I felt it stood head and shoulders above the other three short-listed works. Perhaps for once the gap between the winner’s £30,000 and the £3,000 to the runners up which I’ve always thought fundamentally unfair could be justified.

The DBP isn’t of course just about photography, its also a prize on several levels about politics which has often resulted in work which I think has little place in a photography gallery being short-listed and sometimes even winning. Unlike this year, politics has meant it often hasn’t been the best photography that has been successful.

Ponte City is a work that uses photography, but certainly isn’t just photography, but unlike many concepts it has photography at its heart and uses it well. There are some superb images here, and some of the other things – like the series of pamphlets published as a part of the book – are fascinating if not for their photography.

There is still time to see this and the other three sets of work that were short listed as the show continues at the Photographers Gallery until 7 June. I think it says something about the gallery’s fundamental contempt for photography that on the web page about the prize, the images from the four projects are shown as a narrow strip cropped from an image, 720x260pixels, an aspect ratio of 2.76:1,though of course you can see the full picture on the artist’s individual pages.

That for Subotzky and Waterhouse shows 7 full images along with one detail view of a multiple image and a gallery view, as well as a postage stamp sized video, which in my browser refuses to go full screen or link to Vimeo except by some tricky right clicking, though perhaps that may have been because of a current heavy demand on the site. You can however watch it on Vimeo, where  the page also has links to the videos of the other three artists. I’d suggest changing the video to HD and making it full screen unless you are viewing it on some miniature device.

The other work I found of some photographic interest were the portraits by Nikolai Bakharev  made on Russian public beaches, mainly in the 1980s, when there were various restrictions on photography and the taking and circulation of photographs containing nudity was strictly forbidden.

While some of these excited me, there were too many that seemed to have little to offer. I had rather similar doubts about the portraits of black gay women by Zanele Muholi, where though the project may have been commendable and worthy, it needed some stronger images. And although I know people who enthuse over the work of Viviane Sassen, it did nothing for me.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015)

May 26th, 2015

I don’t often make web sites full-screen, but one you really need to see as big as you can is Streetwise by Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015), her most memorable essay from Life magazine in July 1983. Time Lightbox also has a brief obituary, In Memoriam: Mary Ellen Mark (1940 – 2015) by Olivier Laurent on the photographer who died last Monday after a long illness. A tribute to Mary Ellen Mark’s extensive body of work will be posted on Timeon May 27th.

Her own web site has a great selection of her work from her books, starting with Passport, published by Lustrum Press in 1974, as well as other information and pictures. It has much more material from the book Streetwise including the texts and several clips from the film directed by Mark’s husband, Martin Bell.

New Homes for the Rich

May 26th, 2015


Class War’s Chingford candidate Lisa McKenzie holds a poster on the window of the Rich Door. D800E, ISO3200, 18mm (27mm), Flash, 1/40 f8

Class War’s protest on March 19th was livelier than usual, partly because the Texas millionaire owner of the block at One Commercial St was thought to be actually in the building, but also because there was a rather larger group present than most weeks. But perhaps the main reason was that there were no uniformed officers present for the first twenty minutes of the protest.


D700, ISO 3200, 16mm, 1/60 f4

The event was more congested than usual as both building works on the front of One Commercial St and pavement replacement works were taking up much of the usual space. It made it harder than usual to get in  the right place to take pictures.

Class War had prepared for Taylor McWilliams‘ presence, producing a ‘Wanted’ sticker with his picture calling for information on him: ‘Dirt? Gossip? Dodgy Deals? Sex? Drugs? Money?‘ They had also brought with them a number of copies of one of their best-known posters, based on a classic Class War magazine cover from over 30 years ago. An image of a giant cemetery with wooden crosses stretching to the horizon, it has the Class War logo and the message ‘We Have Found New Homes For The Rich.’

It may be an image in bad taste, but it is hard to see it as illegal, and I’ve previously photographed it at a number of public events where no action was taken. But one of the charges which police have now made against Lisa McKenzie is of displaying this poster ‘with intent to cause Taylor McWilliams harassment, alarm or distress contrary to Section 4A(1) and (5) of the Public Order Act 1986.‘ You can see from the pictures that the poster was not being displayed to those inside the building – presumably including McWilliams – but to the other protesters outside.


D800E ISO3200 18mm(27mm) Flash 1/40 f9

While clearly McKenzie was displaying the poster at the protest, another of the contentions in the charges is clearly false. She is charged with placing stickers on the building to the value of £50.00. From both from my photographs and my observation of her during the event I am clear that she put no stickers on the glass herself, but was simply holding the posters to the glass, with both hands occupied in doing so. It’s also evident that removing a sticker from the glass surface should take more than a minute’s work and perhaps a scraper and a damp cloth and would hardly justify a cost of 50p, let alone £50.

Of course I did see people put stickers on the glass and metal of the building, but McKenzie didn’t, and I was watching her closely because of her candidature in Chingford. Others were also as my pictures show displaying the poster, and certainly others were also saying similar things to her at the protest, but for some reason police only arrested and charged her.

Could it be because she was standing against a government minister in the coming general election? It seems clear that the arrest and charges against her are simply a matter of harassment – as was the arrest last November of another prominent Class War protester Jane Nicholl, and the seizing of the Class War banner with the accompanying arrest – which I understand has not yet been followed by any charge, although the police have not returned the banner.


D700 ISO3200 16mm 1/50 f4

McKenzie wasn’t arrested until two weeks later, but another protester was arrested after plastic road-works barriers were put across the main road. The arrest was made by two plain clothes officers who had earlier been standing around on the edge of the protest, too far away to see what was then going on.


D700 ISO3200 16mm 1/100 f5

The protest started ten minutes before sunset, and the light rapidly faded. But for virtually the whole hour of the protest I was photographing with the D700 without flash at ISO 3200 with the 16-35mm f4 lens wide open, and shutter speeds between 1/13 and 1/80th. Quite a few were a little blurred either due to camera shake or subject movement.  In some I added a little light with a Neewer CN-216 LED hand-held light source.

After taking a few frames with the D800E and 18-105mm without flash, I put the SB80 flash into the hot-shoe, still working at ISO3200 and using a shutter speed of 1/40th to get plenty of exposure by ambient light. Often using a slow shutter speed with flash on subjects where there is quite a lot of movement gives some interesting blur along with the sharp core image from the flash. The effect is sometimes rather hard to see in the web-size images.


D700 ISO3200 16mm 1/100 f4

Photographing the arrest was made a little tricky by the car headlights, which illuminated a rather narrow band of the subject and made some frames unusable with burnt out highlights. But I was able to burn in some where the exposure was not too extreme. And the flaming torches also pose some problems, which often call for some fairly extreme reduction of the highlights using the Lightroom slider or local adjustment.

You can see more pictures at Poor Doors blocks Rich Door.

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Class War in Chingford

May 25th, 2015

It seems a long time now since the General Election on May 7, and the shock of waking up the morning after to find the Conservatives were in power. Not that I have any great faith in Labour, but anything would have been better than a Tory majority.

Of course there was no chance that Class War would sweep to power. They were only standing in seven seats and when party leader Ian Bone talked at the party’s election launch about hoping to get into double figures he was talking about votes, not seats. And even for rather more serious parties – like the Greens – getting more than a million votes doesn’t give you proper representation, still just the one seat won by Caroline Lucas in Brighton. And if Labour had put the kind of effort they put into trying to unseat her into their fight against the Conservatives, the election might well have had a different outcome, though the dirty tricks would have generated considerable negative publicity.

We don’t have a fair electoral system. Attempts to reform it were voted out by the major parties who both thought they would prefer to continue to benefit from its unfairness, though I think Labour made the wrong call, failing to take Scotland into account – and going on to shoot themselves in the foot before and again after the referendum there.

But back to Chingford, the seat of Iain Duncan Smith, IDS, architect of dramatic changes to our welfare system, and a man caught out in lying and failures so many times, truly the man who launched a thousand food banks or more. And truly impregnable as the Conservative candidate in a true blue constituency like Chingford and Woodford Green. Any of the other candidates would have been a better choice, but none stood a chance.


Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge on a sunnier day in 2009

Chingford is on the end of the line, and not a place that sane Londoners would ever visit, except perhaps as a start or finish point for walks in Epping Forest. I’ve been there when walking the ‘London Loop’ path around the edges of Greater London, and also to Pole Hill, which has an obelisk marking the Greenwich Meridian when I did a project on that virtual line back in pre-Millennium days. I wasn’t surprised to find myself the only photographer who had come to record Class War’s second visit to to the place, along with a couple of people making a video about Class War for Vice.

I arrived half an hour or so early, and took the short walk up the hill in faint drizzle to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, built for Henry VIII in 1543, but given a makeover and a new name by his daughter in 1589, hurrying back down the hill in time to greet the Chingford candidate Lisa Mckenzie as she walked down the platform, wearing a bright red coat, something that has become a trademark of the ‘Class War Womens Death Brigade‘ since Jane Nicholl was picked on by police and arrested while wearing on at the Bonfire Night Poor Doors protest (see Poor Doors Guy Fawkes burn Boris.)


Class War Candidate for Chingford & Woodford Green arrives in the constituency


Jane Nicholl is arrested at the bonfire night protest for setting light to an effigy of Boris Johnson

The one piece of good news on Election Day was about Jane’s case, which came to court on that morning. Probably because of political pressure from on high heels in the Conservative Party, the police attempted to raise the seriousness of the charges, to a level where she could have been banged up for life, but almost hilariously failed to come up with any believable evidence. It was yet another case where the police were obviously committing perjury, clearly lying in the efforts to get a conviction, though as usual no action was taken against them.

In the end it became so ridiculous that the prosecution lawyer withdrew the case. The court also was of the opinion that burning an effigy of the London Mayor was a legitimate political protest and it was clear to all who had been present at the event that there was no danger to anyone caused by it. While our policing is often highly politicized, the courts do at least at time stand for a more neutral justice.


Lisa McKenzie and the Lucy Parsons banner opposite the Conservative HQ

Back in Chingford, it was not the most exciting of events to photograph, a small group of people moving down a fairly empty shopping street with a megaphone and a banner. If Chingford has a centre I’ve yet to find it, and nor did Class War. Some among the few constituents we met took the flyers and shared some very negative views of IDS, while others shrunk away in horror as if the gates of hell had opened.  I tried but failed to capture some of their expressions, but they turned away or fled at the sight of my camera. Though I did just manage to catch one old man on a passing bus scowling and making an angry ‘V’ sign.

The Metropolitan Police had clearly expected trouble and the group was provided with a police guard, a van following their progress a few yards behind as they walked down the street. Their senior officer provided the major interest in visual terms when he came to threaten one of the protesters with arrest if he continued to display a poster with a photograph of David Cameron and the word ‘Wanker’, which he said was offensive. As he walked back across the road, that protester folded the poster so that the the part he felt was offensive – Cameron’s face – was no longer visible and continued to display it.

The officer continued to stand across the road watching the protesters from beside the van full of police officers, as the rest of the protesters continued to display the Cameron poster and Ian Bone parodied the officer’s action and his stance as he stood sternly watching. The police took no further action, but continued to follow all of the Class War group until they finally got on the train and it pulled out of Chingford station.


Lisa puts a leaflet through the letterbox at Chingford Conservative HQ

After a number of speeches heard by only a few passing Chingfordians, Class War decided it was time to go to the pub, stopping briefly on the way for a photo opportunity outside the closed office of the Conservative Association.


NIKON D800: 18.0-105.0 mm at 26mm (39mm), 1/60s, f/4.5, ISO 6,400

Class War have serious political views, but believe that politics and protest should be fun as well as making their point. Given that the UK is now the most unequal of Western societies (equal worst with Russia) and that things are getting even worse since the financial crash their class-based analysis makes increasing sense. In part it harks back to the immediate post-war sense of purpose and community that gave us the NHS and the welfare state and opposes the selfishness and greed that Thatcher brought to the centre of politics – and which was perhaps the determining factor in our recent election  – and behind the odd Tory pledge to extend ‘right to buy’ to housing association tenants.  But Class War have no prospect of power, and standing a few candidates in the election isn’t about trying to gain seats, but about trying to raise issues – and in this case the issues around social class, welfare and benefits.

At what I tongue-in-cheek headlined ‘Class War party discuss tactics for Chingford General Election seat‘  and hoped I had made clear in the media summary ‘After a march and street rally in Station Rd, Chingford, Class War cadres adjourned with their candidate Lisa Mckenzie, who is opposing controversial Tory minister Iain Duncan Smith, to discus their forthcoming election campaign in the constituency’ there certainly was some talk of politics, but it was a rather more relaxed occasion, with a deal of hilarity over the Iain Duncan Smith masks that were brought out there.  It would perhaps have made for some more interesting images had some people worn those during the protest.

The picture above is one where I like the ‘red-eye’ effect from the mask held in front of Lisa’s red coat.  Perhaps I should have zoomed in to make it stand out more. Red-eye is of course often a nuisance in flash pictures, but here I was working with available light, though not a great deal was available in the dimly lit pub interior.

It was the first time that I remember using ISO6400. Matrix metering did a reasonable job of exposure despite the window light and the lens is wide open at 1/60s – any slower speed and there would almost certainly have been blurring due to subject movement.  Looked at closely – at 1:1 – the image lacks fine detail but is about as sharp as possible, with a noise (after suitable noise reduction) that has much of the feel of a ‘fast’ ISO400 colour film. The colour quality too is perhaps a little more filmic than when using digital at more moderate speeds.

It wasn’t a posed image. The two women are talking with a third just out of frame to my right, and I made several frames.  It’s the kind of situation where the noisy Nikon might have been a distraction, and the silent Fuji would have made working easier, but they had got used to be using a camera around them and were ignoring my presence.

Standing there, perhaps it was the presence of the gambling machine that made me think of this image as being rather like a fruit machine display, with the ‘Look £100 Jackpot’ standing in for the third result.  It would perhaps have been nice to read the full message on the t-shirt at left, but I rather like the hint of an ‘FU’ at the top left of it, and the ‘THE RICH’ below the IDS mask which blocks out the ‘CK FOOD BANKS’ on the top line and the word ‘EAT’ below.  It’s a very ‘Class War’ statement, and one like most of their slogans not intended to be taken literally.

More pictures from the street rally at Class War Chingford Election Launch, from the pub at Class War celebrate Election Launch, and from my journey from Chingford across London and into the occupation on the Aylesbury Estate with a few people from Class War at Class War go to Aylesbury Estate.

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Gardeners Delight?

May 23rd, 2015

‘The Gardener’ Jan Brykczyński (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2015)

I have to confess to being a colourist. Someone who seems more affected than the general population and by the art photographic establishment in particular by colour. I had to quickly leave one room in Photo London when confronted by wall-sized images with a particularly nasty thin yellow cast.

My first real job was as a colour chemist, in the research lab of a company making dyestuffs, where small differences in shade were vital. For various reasons I didn’t stay in it long but perhaps something of it stayed with me. When I began as a photographer in the early ’70s, carrying two cameras, one for black and white and another for colour, I was seldom if ever in doubt about what was a colour and what and black and white image and my work in the two was quite different. I was, as a then eminent photographer commented on my work, a colourist.


Jan Brykczyński talks to Diane Smyth at Photo London detail- apologies for poor quality

Few photographers now actually work in black and white, and most of those who do seem to think – if they think at all – in colour. Others certainly do think in colour, and Jan Brykczyński is certainly one of them, but his colour is rather different to mine – around R+3 B+7 different from both me and Photoshop, as I find if I put one of his images into that programme and examine the colour of a neutral shade.

It may not seem a great deal, but R+3 B+7 is enough to make me feel a certain nausea when I turn the pages of this book, and it gets in the way of my appreciating his imagery. I have a slightly smaller problem with the rather muted colours and contrast. Brykczyński uses a large camera (4″x5″?) and film, and likes to shoot on dull days, staying in and researching when the sun comes out, to lessen the technical problems of light and shade. Colour film has always been balanced for summer sun (or tungsten); back in the bad old days of transparencies you had to use CC filters when the sun went in to get the colour right, though with the switch to negative we got lazy and made the corrections on the enlarger and it almost worked. But breathed a huge scream of relief when digital gave us more accurate colour with far less hassle. Film has become relegated to a ‘look’, something one can apply to digital with what a less polite than me photographer referred to as ‘f**king up filters’.

I’m not criticising Brykczyński for having chosen a particular aesthetic with its desaturated and slightly unreal colour, just relating my own difficulties in approaching his work though a barrier which for me is hardly mountable but others may take in their stride; from his comments in the presentation at Photo London, the approach may in part derive from having to blend together images taken at different times in four very different areas. But personally I would have liked to have seen a book that represented differences in the conditions under which the images were made rather than attempt to minimise them for the sake of a perhaps spurious unity.


A very different garden image from ‘Secret Gardens of St John’s Wood’ by Peter Marshall’

As a photographer who has also produced a very different book on gardens I appreciate the problem of dealing with all that green. And back to that room I had to leave, some can live with (or at least work with) and pay very silly money for giant images I find nauseating.


Jan Brykczyński talks to Diane Smyth

So I struggled to appreciate this book, although the images there are at least clear. I felt for the photographer at the presentation, where his images on screen behind him and Diane Smyth of the BJP asking him questions were projected at a standard that would have disgraced an amateur gardening club in a run down church hall. It seemed a disgraceful contempt to the photographer and his work and the seriousness of his approach as well as to a paying audience. Some images from the position I was sitting, a few rows back from the front, were almost completely burnt out with the screen a glaring white.


I took pictures only when a few images were better projected

The project looks at urban gardeners in 4 cities in very different states of development and with very different histories, Nairobi, New York, Warsaw, and Yerevan in Armenia, and seems to attempt to suggest à la ‘Family of Man‘ that whatever our social arrangements and historical development, at base people around the world are much the same. It’s a thesis undoubtedly close to the heart of a multi-national Swiss-based giant like Syngenta, and behind the singular title ‘The Gardener‘ that the photographs, mixed together as they are in the book, rather triumphantly overcome.

Perhaps behind the book there is a rather more subversive mind than the company hoped for. Perhaps I should make myself a pair of colour-correcting spectacles to enable me to get to grips with it more adequately. But you may well not share my personal problem.

Boiko, Brykczyński’s series on  rural life among the Rusyn people (a small group of farming people who apparently consider the name Boyko derogatory) in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains which became his first self-published book is a fascinating series (and  I have no problems with their colour), as too is the group of photographs of the sheep farmers of Árnes in Iceland that won him the Syngenta Award, with a grant to pursue the project and, later, to publish the book ‘The Gardener’.

Born in Poland in 1979, much of Brykczyński’s work has been on rural areas. He is a founding partner of Sputnik Photos, an international collective of photographers that focuses on transformation in Eastern Europe and post-Soviet states.

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Photo London

May 21st, 2015

I wasn’t going to bother with Photo London. I’m rather busy and thought there were better things I could do with my time, so hadn’t bothered with accreditation. But a day or two ago I decided I could fit in a few hours there on my way to something else, and took up an invitation to a book launch (more of which in a later post) which included a complimentary day ticket.  If you have to pay, a day ticket costs £20 (concessions £17) and the show continues until Sunday 24 May.

There certainly are things worth seeing, particularly the first UK showing of a remarkable project by the late Iranian documentary photographer Kaveh Golestan in the in the Citadel of Shahr e No (New Town), Tehran’s red light district, a walled ghetto where 1,500 women lived and worked, between 1975–77. With the Iranian revolution the whole area was destroyed, together with many of the women in it.

Beneath the Surface, 200 rarely-shown photographic works from the Victoria & Albert Museum Photographs Collection, features a fine collection of work by William Strudwick (1834-190), an employee of the V&A. The museum purchased around 50 of his cityscapes, ‘Old London: Views by W Strudwick‘ in 1869, and then proceeded to disperse them around their collection, only re3cenly reuniting them for this show. There are some other interesting prints from a century ago or more, but the choice from the last hundred years was rather less interesting, with a number of good but well-known works, and some more contemporary work about which the museum may well feel rather embarrassed in another hundred years.

I was disappointed by the show of Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis series as large-format platinum prints. Frankly many of these images were more convincing on the magazine page. Making platinum prints doesn’t necessarily mean better prints as this exhibit proves. Elsewhere on some of the gallery stands there were rather better prints of his work and I think it is more suited to silver or inkjet.

The backbone of Photo London is of course the commercial gallery shows, and in the main I found these a little disappointing. There was an awful lot of large and rather empty images and a dearth of interesting photography, and the range of work didn’t seem to match that which I’ve seen at every Paris Photo I’ve attended. There were things that were good to see, but most of them I’d seen before, and very little that was new.

One of the more interesting was the series series Liverpool 1968, by Candida Höfer, black and white images made during a trip there when she was twenty-four years old. If anyone doubts the dire effect of the Dusseldorf school on photography they should go and study these images made long before she studied with the Bechers, whose work I admire but who seem as teachers to have inspired a huge pyramid of boredom, with just the occasional photographer and work of interest. They were I think at Galerie Zander.

Another set of pictures that I really admired was by Anthony Hernandez, Landscape for the Homeless showing at the Galerie Polaris stand. A book of these was published by the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany,in 1996 and there is an article in Unhoused. The book was a relatively small print run and is fairly rare and a little expensive.

Somerset House is a fantastic building, but a rather confusing layout which wasn’t quite clear to me from the exhibitor map, and I had to ask my way a couple of times but eventually I think I managed to find everything in the show, including the LensCulture area which is all on its own with a separate entrance, and where work by all 31 award-winning photographers of the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2014 was on show.


Raina Stinson, with her winning image ‘Alluring‘ at top left, holds the Lensculture Awards Catalogue

Also on the LensCulture web site you can see their view of Photo London – rather different to mine, but recommended.
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Max Pinckers

May 20th, 2015

Thanks to a Facebook post by photographer George Georgiou for a link to Colin Pantall’s blog post Liverpool Look/15: Don’t Take Boring Pictures, a look at the current Liverpool at Look/15 Festival continuing until Sun 31 May 2015.

Were I in Liverpool I would certainly go and take a look, although the big show, Martin Parr and Tony Ray Jones in Only in England at the Walker Art Gallery is one already seen in London, and which I reviewed here last year as well as posting a link to a review by John Benton-Harris, who knew TRJ well.

While I had huge reservations about the ideas behind the show and some aspects of its presentation and John made very clear his thoughts on the misrepresentation of his friend’s work, I still concluded “It really is one of the most significant shows of photography here in the UK for some years“. In part that is a reflection on the fact that most of the more significant photography shows fail to get a showing in this country. But it is an opportunity to see around 50 vintage images taken by TRJ (if rather fewer of them actually made by him than claimed) but also as a reminder of what a good black and white photographer Martin Parr could be back in the 1970s.

But this is also a show which contains Parr’s selection of work the TRJ rejected, printed in a way he would have felt totally unsuited to his work, contradicting the clear directions he gave to people – like Benton-Harris – he got to make prints for him. It was a travesty that Benton-Harris clearly felt strongly about and makes his feelings abundantly clear in his review, and I think represents a failure to respect the work of Ray Jones by the organisation entrusted with his legacy.

What prompted me to write this post today was however the final section of Pantall’s post, about the apparently rather hard to find show of work by Belgian photographer Max Pinckers, Will They Sing Like Raindrops Or Leave Me Thirsty, a project on “the price of love in India and the stories encountered daily by the Love Commandos, a volunteer group working to prevent honour killings by providing assistance to those who have found love outside their prescribed destiny” which you can explore in greater depth on Pinckers’ own web site.

The work is the fourth self-published book by Pinckers (as well as a self-published book dummy – I’m unclear about the distinction) and copies of it are expensive, with a ‘special edition’ including a signed print still available for 320 Euros and shipping. There is an interesting interview with the photographer about his earlier highly praised book ‘The Fourth Wall’ by Taco Hidde Bakker, though this was a work that failed to arouse much of my interest.

Looking on-line at a selection of pages from the latest book and images on the web site, I find the work far more suited to the web presentation, which animates the series of images of images which on the page – which despite Pantall’s assertion – do sometimes become rather boring.

Poverty College

May 19th, 2015


NIKON D800E: 16mm 1/250s, f/8, ISO 200, -0.3Ev

My photography has only had the most tenuous connection with the Royal College of Art, in that the first photographer I got to know in person had recently studied there and was still on the buzz, and that I’ve occasionally made just a little fun of John Hedgecoe who founded the photography course there in 1965, or rather his enormous output of glossily re-packaged how-to-do-it manuals on photography. You can find hundreds if not thousands of his pictures on Topfoto, but while it would be impossible to knock the professionalism, I find it had to see any personal style. It is perhaps curious that someone who so effectively epitomised photography as a trade should have been the driving force behind the UK’s most prestigious photography course at a college of art, though of course it does much to explain the impact that later courses at Derby and Trent had on photography in the UK.

But in the past months I’ve visited the Royal College twice, though not actually going inside, but in the company of cleaners, who have been demanding that they be paid the London Living Wage now, not from September as the college has offered. It may seem a relatively minor issue, but if you are living below the poverty line (and the living wage is the poverty line) then even a small difference is vital. If you can’t afford to take the tube for example, your daily journeys to and from work may add an hour or two to your working day, and not having to choose between eating enough and heating your flat is a great liberation.

The cleaners were joined in their protest by quite a few students from the college and you can read more about what actually happened in Poverty pay at the Royal College of Art.


NIKON D700: 16.0-35.0 mm at 16mm, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 640, +0.7Ev

The protest was at lunchtime, at the light was good, slightly hazy sun that meant the shadows were not too harsh, although the March sun was fairly low in the sky, and despite using a lens hood there were some images with ghosting and flare. With the 16-35mm the lens hood makes a difference but doesn’t work as well as it might at all focal lengths. Lens hoods have their limits in any case, and the ‘petal’ shaped Nikon hood does its best, though at times a carefully placed left hand resting on it can add a little extra shielding (though often it turns out to be slightly less carefully placed than it seemed through the viewfinder and require a little cropping to remove it.)

But it’s impossible to avoid flare and ghosting, and generally zoom lenses suffer more than primes. Optically there is little otherwise to choose between them now, largely a choice between the discipline of working with a single focal length and the versatility of the zoom. With digital giving high quality at high ISO, the wider apertures of primes are of less importance most of the time unless you want to make creative use of limited depth of field (and I seldom do.)

The effect of flare can be reduced by a little local use of the adjustment brush in Lightroom, adding some contrast and clarity, along with a variable change in exposure. If it’s only mild it can be more or less eliminated, but usually I prefer simply to reduce the effect. As lenses age, they usually seem to give more flare, perhaps because their inner glass surfaces become slightly dirty. Certainly the 16-35mm, now getting quite elderly, seems to be giving more flare.

The ghosts can sometimes improve an image, and although in theory they could be retouched, I seldom try. Doing it well is very tricky. I don’t think I touched the green and yellow disks in this image, but sometimes where they grab the eye too much I have been known to desaturate the colour somewhat and sometimes darken them slightly with the adjustment brush. I don’t feel doing so affects the integrity of the image – any more than removing the spots from sensor dust, both are results of defects in the apparatus.


NIKON D800E: 16.0 mm f/2.8, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 200, -0.3Ev

When the protest moved around to the other end of the college, adjoining the Albert Hall I took some images using the 16mm fisheye to let me get close to the protesters and still show that building very recognisably in the background.  Using the Fisheye-Hemi plugin does then eliminate some of the curvature and produce less distortion of people away from the centre – like the woman at the left edge. In the fisheye view she would be rather curved, and in a similar position on the 16mm rectilinear lens she would suffer a sideways stretch.

Tilting the fisheye when taking the picture has however resulted in verticals that diverge fairly dramatically towards the top of the picture. It perhaps helps in this composition. You can correct the divergence in Lightroom, but only at the expense of losing much of the image.


NIKON D700: 16.0-35.0 mm at 19mm, 1/200s, f/7.1, ISO 640, +0.7Ev

You can see some distortion in the face of the woman very close to the 16-35mm lens who was walking past me. Although often called ‘wide-angle distortion’ you can also get it from standard lenses when working very close to the subject. The relative distances from the centre and edges of the subject differ and thus so too does the magnification.


NIKON D800E: 18.0-105.0 mm at 45mm (68 equiv), 1/200s, f/7.1, ISO 200, -0.3Ev

Which is why a longer lens is more suitable when photographing fairly tight images of people, and a short telephoto – around 85mm on 35mm format – is often referred to as a ‘portrait lens‘. But you can of course take portraits with any lens. Hedgecoe’s best work was as a portrait photographer, particularly in black and white, and some of his best images were what is sometimes known as environmental portraiture, showing for example an artist in his studio, made with a wide angle to show the person in their surroundings. Others have made effective tightly cropped parts of faces with very long lenses.
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