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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Andrzej Baturo – 50 Years

May 18th, 2015

It seems a very long time ago that I first met Andrzej and Inez Baturo in Bielska-Bialo, and it’s something of a surprise when I realise it was only 10 years ago.

You can read more about my first visit to Poland and the first FotoArtFestival held in Bielsko-Biala, Poland in June-July 2005, organised by the Foundation Centre of Photography there, with Andzej, the centre’s president as Art Director and Inez, the vice president as Programme Director in my Polish diary.

It was a fine festival, with an international cast of photographers, one from each of around 25 countries, with some well-known names including Eikoh Hosoe from Japan, Boris Mikhalov from Ukraine, and Ami Vitale from the USA, as well as work by the late Inge Morath (Austria) and Mario Giacomelli (Italy) and others. There was also a strong Polish representation, with soft-focus pictoriasm by Tadeusz Wanski from the middle of the twentieth century, and the much gritter group show ‘”Unoffical Image” – Polish photoreportage of the 1970s/80s‘ which included work by Andrzej Baturo.

Last year Galeria Bielska showed ‘Andrzej Baturo – 50 Years Of Photography‘ with around 200 images over the years since he began taking pictures in 1962. You can read an English version of the page about it, which quotes Andrzej as saying:

The photograph was first invented simply to record social realities, but with time, social documentary photography and reportage photography have both been raised to the status of art, much in the same way as the journalism of Hanna Krall or Ryszard Kapuściński are now considered great literature. I feel a close affinity with both these areas, and I’ve never been sure whether I’m more of a journalist than an artist, or the other way round.

The Polish version is here. Also in Polish, but worth watching for the images even if you understand little or nothing that is being said, is the video, Andrzej Baturo – 50 lat z fotografią. There is also a page about the show with some comments on his work on the Polish site Art Imperium, which I viewed through Google Translate.

There is now a crowd funding appeal for the publication of a book Andrzej Baturo – 50 years of photography. I’m not sure how well a link to the page through Google Translate will work, and if you understand Polish or have a browser that will automatically translate, you may find the Polish original works better. And even if like me you don’t speak Polish, the pictures speak in any language.

The various rewards available for supporting the publication are of course priced in Polish Zloty (PLN) and where items are to be posted, international postage would presumably need to be added. But 150 zł (about £27) for the 240 page hard-cover book with around 200 photographs seems very reasonably priced. But registering and using the Polish crowd-funding site might need the help of a Polish speaker and charges for converting currency may add to the cost.

Police nick Class War banner

May 16th, 2015

The picture above shows three police officers grabbing a banner from a protester at the protest outside the ‘rich door‘  of the flats at One Commercial St, the door at the front of the building on the main street that the social tenants in the block are banned from using.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts here and in My London Diary, residents in the social housing and their visitors have to use a less convenient entrance in an often dirty alley at the side of the building – the poor door.

The banner the police are taking is one that has appeared at some of these and other recent protests being carried by Class War, and has been seen by thousands. Many of those who have seen it have been noticeably amused, some clearly expressing agreement, and while some may have felt it unfair or inappropriate, I’m not aware that anyone has been seriously offended by it.

It’s a banner that does cause me some problems, and I usually refer to it euphemistically as the ‘Political Leaders’ banner.  Similar posters with individual images of the party leaders were published by Class War at the time of the last election, and one over-zealous police officer organised a raid on the home of a well-known photographer who had displayed them in his front window.

There are two words that I seldom use in the caption across the bottom of the banner, the ‘f’ word and the ‘w’ word. I can remember the shock expressed in the press when the first of these was first used on live TV in the UK, but now it, like the ‘w’ word is commonplace, though still to some extent controlled.

We don’t often say it in polite middle-class company, but for the great majority of the population it is a part of normal speech; when I first went to work in an engineering factory as a student it accounted for around 50% of the speech of some of the workers on the shop floor, and there would be relatively few sentences without it. Travelling around London on public transport or foot I overhear it in frequent use. We may dislike it or disapprove of it, but it has little power to shock or offend.

After police seized the posters in 2010, the photographer concerned had a surreal exchange with the police, which resulted in him replacing the posters in his window but with the word ‘onanist’ replacing ‘wanker’. Later, a court decided the police action had infringed his right to freedom of speech and expression, and the photographer was awarded compensation for the police actions.

After the protesters had lit flaming torches and a green smoke flare, a police officer decided it was time the police took some action. He went up to the people holding the banner and told them it was offensive and they must put it away.

They asked him if anyone had been offended by it, and fairly clearly no one other than that officer had been, but he and another officer then the officers then warned individually each person holding it that they were committing an offence and might be arrested, and then seized the banner.

One of the people holding the banner continued to hold on to it as the police tried to pull it away, saying they had no right to take it. After they had forced it out of his hands, he was led away, and handcuffed.

Eventually police reinforcements arrived, including a more senior officer, who appeared not to be too pleased at what had happened, but the arrested man was taken away to the police station and the protest continued more or less as usual.

The last I heard of the case was that the police were trying to get the man to accept a fixed penalty so that the case would not go to court, where a conviction might be difficult.

The photographs – as often in other events – make things appear very much more ordered than they were. One thing that is largely missing from my pictures are the half a dozen photographers also trying to photograph them, and the crowd of perhaps twenty protesters also trying to see what was happening and at times to intervene while the banner was being grabbed and during the arrest.

A wide-angle lens lets me get in close, but its also vital to try to anticipate how the scene will develop and where it would be possible to take pictures. It’s also important that while recording the actions of the police photographers don’t impede them. Most of these images were made with the D800E and the 18-105mm DX lens at 18mm – 27mm equivalent. I was working at ISO3200 but on some images there was a couple of stops of exposure compensation, so making it more like ISO12,800. The reflective strips on police clothing give problems with flash, and the exposure compensation stops these burning out, though quite a lot of burning in of them and the fluorescent green jackets was needed.

There is also a high degree of editing. Much of the time it was quite crowded and people were pushing and bumping into me and even though I was using flash some are not sharp. The light was also fairly poor for autofocus. And many pictures were rejected because of people getting in my way as I was taking pictures. Of course I will have got in their way too.

The flaming torches also present something of a challenge so far as exposure is concerned. Getting detail in those flames as well as the rest of the scene isn’t too easy even given the great dynamic range of the D800E, and there are a few pictures where I didn’t quite do it as well as I would have hoped.  But others seem to have held the detail in the flames well – with the help of a little flash and quite a lot of Lightroom.

You can see more at Police seize Class War banner.

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Lens TAAB

May 15th, 2015

Those among you who like to use manual focus (or have no other choice) may well be users of Leica cameras and have lenses that incorporate a focus tab. On my first Leica, a second-hand M2, the only lens I had for the first year was a ‘collapsible’ 50mm f2.8 Elmar, an excellent lens that would largely disappear inside the body when twisted and pushed in, so the camera and lens would slip inside a largish pocket.

There was a small downside, in that it was possible to fail to get the lens completely pulled out and locked when you wanted to take a picture, resulting in a very out of focus image. Sometimes you only found out when – perhaps weeks later – the film was developed.

But another feature of that – and I think other old Leica lenses – was the focus tab, which stuck out from the lens. On that Elmar it was metal, and on its end was a small button which acted as a lock. To move the focus from the infinity position you had to press this in as you pushed the tab around. Being Leica designed and engineered it worked smoothly and ergonomically.

By the time I’d saved a month’s wages for my second lens, a Leica Canada 35mm f1.4 Summilux, the tab was plastic and there was no lock, though it had gained a better shape that fitted your finger. The great thing about both these tabs was that they removed the need to look at the camera when focussing. Cartier-Bresson style we learnt to adjust focus by the tab before raising the viewfinder to the eye to frame and expose.

Various people like me who miss the convenience of the tab have found ways to add them to other lenses. As well as focus by feel, they also give focus by finger tip; possible without but usually on lenses without a tab we use the less convenient finger and thumb to focus.

Some people have previously made various tab devices available for sale, and the Steer from Leica goodies is designed for “fast and big glass such as the Noctilux, the 75 Summilux and the 90 Summicron“.

But a new product (currently you can pre-order on the web site) from TAAB does look like a better solution. TAAB is a flexible neoprene ring that incorporates a tab and can be stretched over the focus ring to grip and provide a tab. Three sizes will fit most lenses. A recent design tweak has slimmed the rings down by 1mm, removed the logo and tapered the tab into a more ergonomic finger-fitting form compared to the prototypes shown in on-line images.

Mostly I’ve moved to using auto-focus, with Fuji-X or Nikon cameras and lenses. But perhaps I might get a TAAB to use on one of the Fuji lenses – perhaps the 18mm – to work with on the street, where manual focus is often the best way to go, as auto-focus too often finds the background rather than the subjects.

Thanks to PetaPixel for an article that let me know about TAAB.

Fox Talbot goes on-line

May 14th, 2015

WHF Talbot, one of the inventors of photography, died some 115 years too early to set up his own web site (though I think there is little doubt that had he still been around he would have been at the forefront of that scientific advance too.)

But now the Bodleian Library is about to repair that omission, with “an ambitious project to create a new web-based research tool that will allow scholars and members of the public to view and search the complete photographic works of British photographic pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot.”

There is already some material on-line at the project site, including a blog to provide updates on the development of the William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné” and the project is a large and lengthy one, due to be completed by 2018. It is hoped that the publication of the work in this way will lead to new information and insights into the work of WHF Talbot – and perhaps even the discovery of new images that were made by Talbot and his circle of photographic colleagues.

My only slight quibble over what appears to be a magnificent development is over the statement: “Catalogues raisonnés are common in the world of art, serving as a detailed academic inventory of an artist’s work. However, nothing of this scale has been attempted for photography.”

While the scale of this particular project may be unique, there have been a number of publications which are essentially catalogues raisonnés for the work of the photographers concerned, though bearing in mind the different natures of photography and painting or sculpture. While it may be relatively simple to cover every painting by an artist, every print and every reproduction of a photograph by even a not very prolific photographer is an virtually impossible challenge. Ours is a prolific if not profligate medium.

You can read more about some of these photographic equivalents – including the magnificent two volume edition of Alfred Stieglitz, The Key Set and the 4 volumes of ‘The Work of Atget‘ in a post Photography Catalogues Raisonné by Loring Knoblauch on Collector Daily in 2009 – and the suggestions in the comments on that piece, which include references to a number of other photographic catalogues raisonnés.

2015 PDN Photo Annual

May 13th, 2015

There is plenty of good photography in the winning work in the 2015 PDN Photo Annual, though there are some of the various categories that interest me less than others. They include quite a few that have me thinking ‘how slick’ rather than really appreciating, and rather too much ‘so-whattery’, but it’s easy to skip on to the more worthwhile.

As well as the well-known names, there are also quite a few new to me. If you are short of time, I’d recommend going to the Student section first. Much of the other good work you may already have seen, and this also seems to me the most consistently interesting group of work. And perhaps surprisingly given my lack of interest in most sports photography, the Sports section here (which I almost didn’t bother with) is one of the more interesting.

I think the PDN Gallery might be more useful if it featured rather fewer photographers – if you worked your way through all the work here and went on to follow the links to the websites you could spend a few weeks on this site. It perhaps isn’t as obvious as it might be that the ‘Next’ button at bottom right of the screen is a very good way to go through all the photographers in order, showing you the first of their images – and you can then either view more or quickly jump to the next person.

Through a Glass

May 12th, 2015

For some years in the 1980s and 1990s I worked on a project for which the great majority of images were taken through windows. Some of those images eventually made their way into an ‘artist’s book’ that I produced one year during during the Christmas break around 20 years ago, under the title Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise.

At the time I was working with colour negative film and having these trade processed with 6×4″ prints of every exposure, or occasionally when I was feeling rich, 7½x5″ (later I processed my own C41 and only contact printed films.)  And these postcard-sized images were pasted onto sheets of 12×8¼ cotton rag with a ¾ folded at the gutter end to paste to the previous sheet, eventually with a little sewing and thick cardboard covers made into a 64 page hardback volume with a short text and 54 images. It still sits on my shelf.

I showed the work to a couple of publishers, both of whom expressed some interest, but eventually decided not to publish it, or at least not unless I could come up with at least half the cost either from my own resources or from a grant, and I lost interest. A few years later, in 2000, I put a very slightly different version of the work on the web, where it can still be seen: Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise.

Almost all the images were taken with a 35mm shift lens on an Olympus OM4 body, with a few using a 28mm; possibly some of the earlier work on the project was made with an OM2.

Of course some of the images I made depend for their success on the reflections, but there were many where the reflections made images impossible, or detracted from those I did make.

During the project I learnt quite a lot about reflections, starting with the fact that the polarising filter I always carried and which every magazine article and technical tome told you was essential seldom actually did what you wanted it to.

For many of the pictures I was able to work close to the window glass, and used a collapsible rubber lens hood costing a couple of quid (now from £1.12 post free on Ebay) pressed on to the glass surface to eliminate all reflections.  Also essential was a cloth to clean the outside of the window through which to photograph.

Sometimes, the dust on a window – often on the inside where I couldn’t reach it – added to the image, as in this image of tables inside a café, taken a short distance from the glass with the lens well stopped down. I’m not sure now whether the scratch was on the glass or a later addition to the negative!

What led me to think again about these pictures was a post by Michael Zhang on PetaPixel, about research at MIT into the removal of reflections from images taken through glass. When working through glass, reflections normally are a double image, with a reflection from both the front and back surfaces of the glass, and by searching for parts of the image that are seen double the software is able to distinguish the reflections from the rest, and can then reduce or eliminate them. Perhaps before long we will see a ‘reflections’ filter in Photoshop.

Zhang also points out that there are products that are more elaborate (and more versatile, not to mention rather more expensive) than my cheap rubber lenshood for allowing you to work through glass – such as the Lenskirt.  The price of around $50 puts me off, and it’s also considerably larger, though it will work with almost any lens. The days of lens systems like the Zuiko, where almost every lens I used had a 49mm or 52mm filter thread are unfortunately gone.

One of the other problems I faced was that window glass is often rather coloured, and although filtration when printing with colour neg might deal with this, when using a wide angle, rays from the edges of the subject travel obliquely through the glass with a longer path, sometimes leading to a noticeable colour shift.  It’s a problem that would be much easier to solve working with digital images than in the darkroom, where I sometimes resorted to dodging and burning with different filtration. I worked on scans of some of the images and wrote about it in a post here in 2008, Cafe Ideal, Cool Blondes and Paradise revisited.

I hope to publish a revised version of Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise at a future date, in a new edit with some extra images and a few replacements. But finding the images and scanning the negatives will be a long job.  Along the bottom edge of some of the prints in the book and on the web are details of the date and location where the images were taken, which makes finding things easier, but over the years many of the negatives that I printed from have been filed out of the date sequence I nominally used.

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Time to Act

May 11th, 2015

Or rather well past time for some real action on Climate Change was the message of a large and largely unreported protest in London at the start of March. In my account at Time to Act on Climate Change I began “Over 20,000 protesters marched through London” and while it is hard to be definite about the exact figures at such events it was certainly a large protest.


Time to #AxeDrax

Over forty-five years ago, when I first began to think about environmental issues (and even to speak in public on them), climate change was something that would happen in the future, the stuff of post-apocalyptic fiction such as J G Ballard’s ‘The Drowned World‘, first published in 1962 (though I only read it much later.) Now it is very much with us, and among the pile of discarded papers I moved to find my keyboard this morning I came across an article about wine producers buying up estates in Kent and Sussex as the Champagne region is becoming too warm.


Champagne is perhaps the least of worries for most of this, though perhaps not for those in the 1% whose opinions driven by wealth really matter. But unlike many of those associated with global warming, one that is easily overcome by a simple shift of location. Less easy to solve the problems of countries such as the Marshall Islands or Bangladesh already suffering from rising sea levels and global climate instability.

Last September, ahead of the New York Climate summit we had another large march in London, the Peoples Climate March, about which I commented that it seemed to have been “taken over by various slick and rather corporate organisations rather than being a ‘people’s march’ and seemed to lack any real focus.”  Although some of those same organisations were backing this march, they were far less visible, and it was far more a march dominated by climate activists and grass roots organisations.

The important arguments are no longer I think about environmental or scientific details (though of course the detailed matters of ecology remain vital) but of politics – how we get the change we know is vital to save life on this planet, if indeed that is possible.  How are that small and wealthy elite – the 1% or perhaps rather fewer – to be persuaded to abandon their own increasingly insulated lifestyle of extravagance based on planetary exploitation for the sake of a future for the rest of us. Can it be achieved within the institutions – including governments – which they dominate or will it only happen through catastrophe or revolution?

Protests such as those I spend much of my time photographing often don’t acheive their aims, often indeed are asking the impossible, often are doomed to failure, but that doesn’t mean they are unimportant. There are sometimes small victories, but even more vitally they serve to bring issues into the open, to manage to break through the dictatorship of the elite over the public agenda, to slightly rock the government boat. They are the way that many things start to happen. And even in my gloom, especially in it, there is hope that something may happen over climate change. And much of that hope comes from the people that appear in my pictures and what they are doing.

The event began in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the largest public square in London, including the surrounding roads around 250 yards by 180 yards, enough to make a large crowd look fairly sparse. As the front of the march was leaving from the south-west corner, people were still flooding in to the square from Holborn station and High Holborn. It took around 35 minutes before the last of the march – which at the start was fairly tightly packed – to leave the square.  The “Over 20,000″ was the organiser’s estimate, and my own guess would have been a little lower. But where most of the media talk about hundreds when thousands are on the streets a little overestimate helps to balance things.

I stayed taking photographs in Lincoln’s Inn Fields until the end of the march had got fairly close to the start point, and then rushed off to catch up with its front. I had the advantage of being able to take a short cut where the marchers went around the one-way system at Aldwych, and they had been walking rather slowly with frequent stops, and I caught up halfway down the Strand.


‘Renewables – I’m a Big Fan’. Fossil Free Pompey at McDonald’s

Ahead of us were several places where I thought some of the marchers might decide to make some kind of protest, and I kept close to a group who I thought might be involved in this. And as we approached McDonald’s I was not surprised when things livened up. But the police had also for once anticipated the action too, and McDonald’s had extra security staff on the door. Instead of trying to enter, people sat down in the road, and hundreds of other marchers followed their example, blocking the street and stopping the march.


Tina-Louise Rothery and friends on the Strand

The low winter sunlight made photography difficult, with areas of deep shade and bright sun. Working with an extreme wide-angle as I mainly was, using fill-flash was impracticable, and although I tried hard to avoid blown highlights I wasn’t always successful. After  making some pictures close to McDonalds I stepped over protesters who were sitting or lounging on the road to get across to a group of anti-fracking protesters towards the far side of the road and joined them to take pictures.  Among them were several, including Tina-Louise Rothery and some of the other ‘Nanas’ who I’d met at previous protests, who it was good to meet again. It does make working with the 16mm fisheye easier when the people you are photographing know you and are happy to be photographed at close quarters.


Time to Act on Climate Change

After a few minutes the protesters got up and the march moved on, though the corner of Trafalgar Square and turning down Whitehall.  Here the black bloc came to the front of the march, and I expected some lively scenes at Downing St.  There was a little shouting and they were joined by a small group of polar bears, but soon they were on their way again. On reaching King Charles St  they rushed off down it, followed by a small group of marchers. I ran down with them for a short distance, and then had to decide whether to stay with them or the main march.

Their protest might well have provided some images of clashes with police and of minor damage to property that would be likely to be used by the mass media. Thinking purely in terms of likely use of images and possible sales, I should have stuck with the black bloc. And I think like most photographers I welcome the adrenaline of confrontations. But I’m not happy with the way that such images are used by a press and broadcasting establishment dominated by the 1%, which picks on such things to obscure or denigrate the main issues. I vacillated, then turned around and ran back to photograph the main march as it came into Parliament Square.


‘Frack With Us Cameron and the Oven Gloves are Off’

I was anxious too not to miss the rally on College Green and the opportunity to photograph the speakers and the crowd there. Though there was relatively little press interest as the only major celebrity input came from a video link with Vivienne Westwood speaking from Paris. But there were some interesting speeches and speakers, including John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas, Matt Wrack and others, with Tina-Louise Rothery bringing Frack Free Lancashire activists with her and John Stewart coming on with some of the polar bears who had protested earlier in the day at Heathrow.


Almost corrected image of the Viking Longship and oil slicks against BP sponsorship of Art by ‘Art Not Oil’

At the end of the rally I had another choice to make. I could either go back north to Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge with activists likely to face confrontation with the police, or go south with Art Not Oil‘s Viking ship to protest on the steps of Tate Britain. Either would have taken me towards a station from which I could catch a train home, something my body was telling me it was time to do. Although Parliament Square would have been more exciting it was also more open-ended with perhaps hours of police kettles and confrontation, I went with the ship simply as a quick and easy option.  I’d done enough and needed a rest and dinner.

More at:
Time to Act on Climate Change
Climate Change Rally
Viking longship invades Tate steps
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