Teachers on the March

April 23rd, 2014

Education is something almost everyone thinks they are an expert on. After all, we all (or almost all) went to at least one school. Those who end up running education ministries obviously did very well at it. So it’s hard for them to realise what it is like for those who don’t succeed. It’s also very hard for those who haven’t experience it to understand what it is like to be on the other side of the experience, as a teacher, particularly a teacher in very different schools to those that most government ministers attended. Though Michael Gove wasn’t one of the Etonians; an adopted child (his birth mother an impoverished student in Edinburgh), he did very well at the state primary he attended in Aberdeen, well enough to pass the scholarship to one of Scotland’s best private schools, and later to get a scholarship to meet the costs, and then on to Oxford – in the days of student grants and before students paid fees. His was hardly a typical experience of our state education system.

Back in my own twenties and thirties, I spent almost ten years teaching in one of the country’s largest comprehensive schools. People used to think teaching was an easy job, but I saw the toll it took on some of my colleagues, several who had to leave the profession after breakdowns and felt the stress myself. Actual teaching – ‘contact time’ – was around 25 hours a week, but with meetings, marking, lesson preparation and record-keeping I was putting in over 60 hours a week during term-time.

Although we didn’t have Ofsted then, there were various inspections and observations. One man came into my lesson armed with some kind of form for recording what teachers actually did; at the end of the lesson – a science practical class for 12-year-olds – I asked him about it. His reply was that he simply could not keep up with me, and supervising 15 pairs of students carrying out various practical tasks was often physically as well as mentally demanding.

After ten years I was feeling exhausted, and took a pay cut to move to a former grammar school that was in the final transition to a sixth-form college. It had the advantage too of being closer to home – a couple of miles on a bike – so I could spend a little more time with my young family (see my first ever web site.) For a few years things were easier, but soon things began to ratchet up, particularly with the greater demands for highly detailed lesson plans, the national curriculum and in 1992, Ofsted. Teacher morale became very low, and staff turnover – with many colleagues leaving the profession or moving to the private sector – reached an all time high. Even in a relatively easy outer London suburban area (although there were particular local problems with a bullying principal), one year around a third of the staff changed.  I was relieved when I began to earn enough outside of teaching from my photography related activities to go part-time, and then to stop teaching altogether.

The whole trend of education (and other) policies in the UK over the past 20 or so years has been driven by successive governments taking away powers from local authorities and both centralising control and handing some out to non-elected private bodies. The result is chaos and competition in a system which needs cooperation and organisation. Students suffer, and so even more do teachers. And Gove wants to make things even worse.

I’m still a member of the NUT – though a retired one – as well as of the NUJ, and have considerable sympathy for the teachers who were striking and marching though London.

The day started off rather dull, with just the occasional spot of rain – just enough to make it necessary to keep a watch on the lens filters for a drop and for the occasional image to be ruined when I missed this.

Those tall flags were something of a problem when close to the protest, but I suppose they showed up well from a distance – as when the march was entering Trafalgar Square, where it was also hit by a really heavy shower.

I’d thought of some obvious key points at which to photograph the march, apart from the start, always a good place as people are crowded together and relatively static. It was actually a little too crowded on this occasion, making it very difficult, particularly with the banners in the way, to move around. The march gathered in a fairly narrow street and it was very full.

The first of these points was Broadcasting House, particularly since the teachers (like almost all other protesters) feel they are not given fair treatment. In the weeks leading up to the strike the BBC had largely ignored the case being made by the teachers and given rather more prominence to the governments view that this was an unnecessary strike, and had also very much minimised the effect it would have in closing schools. In most parts of London a very high proportion of schools were affected – either fully closed or with large numbers of pupils told not to attend, and the same seems to have been true across the country.

On the day, the BBC did give a lot of coverage to the strike, and NUT General Secretary Christine Blower was interviewed on the Today programme, though there were some slightly curious aspects to some of their comments. Their report of the London march as by ‘over 1500′ teachers is as usual significantly lower than most estimates.

Other key points were those that say ‘London’ strongly, such as Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, and I didn’t really do to well as either of these, partly because of the heavy shower. I paused briefly at 10 Downing St to record some of the shouting and gesturing at that point, but the main attraction for almost all of the photographers was of course Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

There are quite a few more pictures taken with that clock in the background in Teachers March on NUT Strike Day and a couple are not bad, but perhaps not quite as strong as I would have liked. You need a little luck working in complex situations like this, with protesters moving, people holding placards (and often obscuring the background) and passing traffic as police kept the road open, and today it didn’t quite happen.

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Fine Skies at Wandsworth

April 22nd, 2014

Wandsworth is just along the Thames from Battersea, where Britain’s finest painter, J M W Turner spent a great deal of time in his later years painting the skies from a small room above the porch of St Mary’s church, as I mentioned in an earlier post.  That church, a mile away, is just visible in centre of the full-size version of the image above, though impossible to see in the reduced image.

Years ago, Turner would get a mentioned in my lessons about landscape photography, and I used some of this material in a piece I wrote about the Turner prize on show at Tate Britain a mile or two further downstream.

‘John Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was the son of a London barber. His mother died in his infancy and he was brought up by his father, who taught him to read but little else. Turner early showed a gift for art and at the age of 15 was admitted to the Royal Academy school; within a year he had a painting accepted for their exhibition. As well as his fine work in oils, Turner was the master of the watercolour sketch and is often considered the father of watercolour painting.

Landscape photographers can learn much from a study of Turner’s work – and that of his contemporary, John Constable (1776-1837), in particular for the close attention both paid to the weather and clouds in their work. Constable started to paint great landscapes with clouds in his native Suffolk and continued after he moved to London. Turner recalled that, ‘as a boy, I used to lie for hours on my back watching the skies, and then go home and paint them; and there was a stall in Soho Bazaar where they sold drawing materials, and they used to buy my skies. They gave me 1s6d for the small ones and 3s6d for the larger ones.’

This was an age of great interest in natural phenomena, and at the very time that Turner was on his back gazing into the heavens, scientists were also making their observations. In France, Jean Baptiste Lamarck proposed the first classification of clouds in 1801, but it was nearer to hand in east London that the Quaker factory owner Luke Howard took time from chemical manufacture to make the detailed daily studies. Larmarck’s proposals sank without trace, but Howard’s ‘cumulus’, ‘stratus’ and ‘cirrus’ presented in his 1802 paper ‘On the Modification of Clouds’ form the basis of our current system of classification. It is a subject that should be dear to the heart of all landscape photographers.

Turner first read Howard’s work almost 20 years later and was inspired by it to paint a fine series of cloud studies. Turner was – even by photographic standards – a prolific worker, and at his death left some 19,000 works to the British Nation. These works form one of the basic collections of the Tate Gallery – now called ‘Tate Britain’ – in London, which houses the largest collection of his paintings, drawings and watercolours, many on display and some reproduced in the on-line catalogue.’

Battersea started on the road to gentrification years ago, and large stretches of its main streets are now solely occupied by estate agents, profiting excessively from what appears to be the UK’s only growth industry, the rise in house prices.  Battersea has more of a cachet than Wandsworth, which used to be largely industrial, with gas works, brewery and more and is spreading rather so far as the property descriptions are concerned. So while the flats at the top of this post are in Wandsworth (and for almost six months the site of the Pure GeniusWandsworth Eco Village‘) they are ‘Battersea Reach’.  The gas works and brewery and its Shire horses at the centre of Wandsworth are now in the past, but there is still some industry, with sand and gravel from the estuary being loaded onto lorries and London’s rubbish being taken on barges in the opposite direction from a large riverside waste-transfer station. Though it must surely be only a matter of time before all these are replaces by investment flats for the Chinese and Arab oil money.

I was there to take photographs, but also and appropriately to show the area to a friend of mine who is a fine watercolourist, though today she was only making sketches. Even so it gave me plenty of time to reflect on the scenes and the fine clouds.  When you images cover a horizontal angle of 146 degrees and the sky is often almost half the image, you really need a few clouds. Clear blue skies are boring and also something of a photographic problem, as the differences in intensity over that wide sweep can be extreme. It’s possible of course to ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’ – or at least their digital equivalents – to even things out a little, but pretty tricky to do so entirely evenly and without any obvious tonal steps.

I’m still not entirely sure about the projection to use for these images, but think I have standardised on that in use here, though I may decide to work to a more panoramic format, though at around 1.57:1 these fit rather well on a wide-angle screen (the one I use is 1.6:1).

The sun was just outside the top left corner of this image, and in some others was actually inside the frame. Although the Nikon 16mm is remarkably resistant to flare, there was a little which required some corrective work. As well as burning in the sky and the clouds, the railings along the top of the waste-transfer station needed some attention, with an increase in contrast and saturation along with a decrease in exposure to make the flare less noticeable.

I hung around for quite a while hoping for a cloud to shade the sun, but it didn’t happen and I finally gave up. But had it done so the image would have lost the light and shade which I think are essential.

A little further on we came to the spit between the two streams of the mouth of the Wandle. I’m still wasn’t quite sure that I’ve managed to capture what I wanted at this point, but but we were beginning to get a little cold and didn’t stay too long before making our way back to The Ship, a rather fine riverside pub close to Wandsworth Bridge.

After I’d taken my friend back to the station I had 25 minutes to wait for my own train and decided to take a few more pictures, getting back with just a few minutes to spare so I could go up onto the wrong platform and photograph the scene over the wall looking out on part of Wandsworth. It’s a street that has gone considerably up-market over the past 20 years, with general stores being turned into art galleries (where I went for an opening last year) and more.

Wandsworth Panoramas

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Bleeding London – re-Inventing Streetview?

April 20th, 2014

I was interested to read about the latest RPS project, Bleeding London, which calls itself ” the most ambitious photo project that the capital has ever seen – to photograph every street in London” because  it is more or less what I set out to do all on my own in the 1980s.

Samuel Stores, Artillery Lane, Spitalfields 1978  from London Dérives

Of course they aim to enrol a large army of volunteers and to do the job in six months, while I spent approaching 20 years, and didn’t quite finish it (and I started out knowing I wouldn’t literally do so.) They also restrict themselves to the ‘standard A to Z‘ while I made use of the rather wider Greater London version. Whatever the results, I think my project can claim to have been considerably (if not foolishly) more ‘ambitious’, and ended up with over 100,000 images.

Bungalows on edge of London, Hamsey Green, Tandridge, from London Buildings

Their inspiration – and title – comes from Geoff Nicholson‘s 1997 novel Bleeding London rather than directly from the A-Z London Atlas first published in 1938 by Phyllis Pearsall, who founded the Geographers’ Map Company to produce up-to-date street mapping of London in 1936. It is said that it was only in legend that “Working for up to eighteen hours a day, she walked a total of 3,000 miles while mapping London’s 23,000 streets” though probably a great deal of legwork was involved in checking details.

It is however completely untrue that the 1919 Ordnance Survey was the “most recently published London street map she could find” unless it means she simply did not look very hard. There were other street atlases existing. Perhaps she used that 1919 map because it was the only overall source of mapping she could use as a basis for her own for copyright reasons?

As Bruce Hunt states in his History of London Street Maps, the first London street atlas appears to have been published in 1720, pre-dating the A-Z by around 215 years, containing both a general map and “thirty-six maps of the Wards, Parishes and Liberties“.  Bacon‘s pocket series began in 1896, Bartholomew‘s in 1988, Philip‘s in 1902 and Geographia around 1922. All were readily available when Pearsall started work.

Her A-Z was successful because it was better organised than existing street atlases, as well as cheaper and lighter than most. I have a suspicion that she got the idea for the name from the ‘Philips A.B.C. Pocket Atlas Guide to London and its Outer Districts’  which was in to its 17th edition at the time (and which had rather clearer maps, in colour rather than the black and white of the early A-Z.) Her title was snappier, and A-Z appears rather more inclusive. The A-Z also gave some indication of street numbering on the major streets which could be extremely useful.

Shoreditch, 1978 From London Derives

My own work was inspired more by the work of photographers, notably Eugene Atget, than by novelists, and although I intended to look down every street in those areas I covered, I wanted only to photograph those aspects that interested me as either being typical or in some respect exceptional.

In particular I set out to show the whole range of London buildings, both the exceptional and the typical, including industrial, commercial, domestic and other types of buildings, but on those same long perambulations I also worked on other projects such as Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise.

From the website and book ’1989′

There may have been a literary inspiration too. In my book 1989 which is a kind of fictionalised account of a little of my work in that year my introduction (written in 2006) starts with a section that mentions two books, one the A-Z but also has oblique references to other written works:

“It was in 1989 that I met Upton Trent in Stratford and embarked on series of rambling walks through the streets of northeast London and that writer’s mind. Research for a novel that somehow never quite materialised and now that he is dead, never will, unless I write it myself. All that I have are the notes that I took on our excursions, as we headed up unlikely streets and alleys in a deliberate avoidance of any actual route or end, or jumped on buses that came to rest at lights or crossings as we passed (wherever possible he avoided both bus stops and full stops.)

We carried two books as guides on our journeys. One of course was Aragon’s ‘Paris Paysan’, and the other that we consulted only when lost and exhausted, his London ‘A-Z’. Half the pages of this were missing – probably removed for emergency duties – so it was often of little help.  Occasionally he’d pull out a crumpled magazine feature, book page or newspaper article from his pocket, liberated during his visits to dentist’s waiting rooms and libraries, but we could seldom make out more than a few incomplete sentences. I never bothered to take notes from these; after all I could always repeat the process myself, as his pickings seemed entirely random.  I think it was how he wrote most of his novels.”

You can also see my comments on ’1989′ in two posts on this site, ‘1989‘ and  A Book At Last: 1989 and there is an earlier version of the work on the web.

Coopers Lane/High Road Leyton from ’1989′

You can learn more about the ‘Bleeding London’ project by reading through FAQs, and it is a project open to anyone who wants to take part using almost any way of taking photographs. The newsletter says that there are 300 people already signed up, and they need at least 1,000.

My  last paper edition of the ‘standard’ A-Z is dated 1990, and has 140 pages of street names from Abbess Clo. to Zoffany St., each with 4 columns of around 85 lines. Most street entries take a single line, but some occupy two, but at a rough estimate, this makes for around 45,000 streets, and a few more have been added in the last 25 years. So with a thousand members that makes around 45 each. The number isn’t a great problem, but the organisation certainly is.

I did think briefly about taking part when I heard about it a couple of weeks ago, but not for long. It’s an idea which I think is past its time. Because almost every street in London is now available at the click of a mouse thanks to Google Street View.
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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.


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.


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.


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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