Duckrabbit, Ethics & Sheep

September 2nd, 2014

Most days when I’m not out taking pictures I spend at least a few minutes (more often about an hour) before I start on my own work for the day looking through Facebook posts and a number of blogs and web sites on my newsfeed, stopping to read those that really catch my interest. One blog that often does this is duckrabbit, and I’ve often shared posts from there on this blog.

There are a couple of things in the past few weeks that have interested me there, and the latest is a post by John Macpherson The thin blue line reflecting on two posts about Ferguson, one by a black police officer and the second an Al Jazeera Opinion piece by Malcolm Harris: ‘Unethical journalism can make Ferguson more dangerous’. It’s this second post that is particularly pertinent for photographers who cover events – as I occasionally do – where some of those involved may be breaking laws, where Harris suggests that “publishing images with identifiable faces” in situations like this is a “violation of accepted practice“.

Macpherson makes some very sensible comments about this and while there are situations where anonymity should be respected, journalists are not there to decide on who is breaking the law, but to report “the situation as it unfolds, and recording it with professional objectivity.”

Of course there are situations that call for anonymity, and times where journalists can only work on that basis or when we chose to do so by the careful choice of camera angle and framing, but this isn’t something we should do without careful consideration, and not something that would generally apply on protests on the streets. I’m careful at times not to include “innocent bystanders” in my pictures, and have been known to advise people wearing masks to protect their identity to actually cover their faces with them. But I think those acting openly on the street can have little complaint if their actions are reported openly.

There have been a few occasions when I have decided not to take pictures, on the grounds that a particular image would misrepresent the event I was covering. I’m not sure in most cases my decision was right, and it would have been better to take the pictures and decide later whether or not to use them. But for most journalists now there isn’t a ‘later’, with publications and agencies demanding images almost before they are taken, rather than the several hours that allow me to consider and edit my work.

My photographs have never been used in court, but I have on several occasions provided copies to protesters to help in the preparation of their defence (I think as so often the charges were dropped in all these cases) where the pictures showed police acting in an aggressive manner.

Photographs, and particularly still photographs, are in any case rather curious evidence, seldom providing reliable evidence on their own. They need captions, explanations, supporting testimony. Even with information now embedded in digital images they are often not entirely reliable about when and where they were taken, and, as we photographers certainly know, an image taken a fraction before or after, or from a slightly different viewpoint may provide a quite different impression of what was taking place.

The second duckrabbit piece, ‘Cut out the crap‘ is a short link to a blog post by Bartosz Nowicki to the work of a little-known photographer from Wales. Peter Jones grew up in Abwerystwyth and after various night classes studied photography “at Manchester College of Art and Design ’66-’69 where I was influenced by the work of Edward Weston and Tony Ray Jones. Went to London to look for work and found a job as John Thornton’s first assistant.” But then he came home to Wales to visit his sick mother,  got drawn in to the family farm and never touched a camera for 30 years, only becoming involved in photography again when his sister entered him into a Millennium project where people were given disposable cameras and free processing. When ill health forced his retirement from farming he started taking pictures again, buying a Leica M6 and a 35mm and 50mm lenses. The images on the blog are from a project “Welsh Farming Community” which he says “will come to it’s conclusion when my shutter stops blinking.” It’s an interesting story with some fine images and I think should at some point make a fine book.

Good/Bad Light

September 1st, 2014

I’ve written at times about my own rather coarse flash techniques using high ISO, and it was interesting to come across an article by a photographer working in a very different area,  Kristian Dowling, on PetaPixel a few weeks ago. Obviously the ideas and solutions that Dowling presents in  What Photographers are NOT Considering When Using High ISO work well for him – as you can see from the example images – but I’m not sure they are suitable solutions in my own practice, where situations tend to be fairly fast-moving and often rather crowded with both protesters and other photographers.

Like Dowling I have experimented with using LED lights, though not the Westcott Ice Light mentioned in the feature, and have not been too impressed with the results, though I’ve often piggy-backed on the video lights of others at events (though at other times they have been an annoyance.) At $500 the Ice-light seems a little on the expensive side (and there are ‘Accessories Galore’ to add to the expense), but perhaps it does do a better job than the £15 ’160 LED Video Light Lamp Panel’ you can find on E-Bay. This seems to claim a similar light output, but is perhaps a more suitable rectangular shape than the long, thin, Ice Light sabre. But the cheap units I’ve tried have been a little disappointing in terms of light output for photographic use, though good for other purposes. More powerful units are available for around £100, but I’ve yet to try these.

Similarly while fashion work may make the Phottix Odin wireless TTL flash triggers seem a snip at $329 or $399 for the twin pack with second receiver, for those who work for the poverty fees now paid by newspapers and magazines (or more often 50% or less of them) may find the Yongnuo RF 603-II which offers a manual Wireless Flash Trigger and 2 Transceivers for around £20 of more interest (or if you want iTTl the Yongnuo YN-622N is around £60). At these kinds of price I’m tempted to try one out myself.

But I think what is important is to understand the difference between good and bad light, and there are things in the article by Dowling that I find confusing, either because they are confused or because I got to bed to late last night. Here’s how I think about lighting.

Quantity & fall-off

Light intensity is perhaps the most obvious feature. And for most artificial light sources we need to think in terms of the inverse square law – twice as far away means a quarter of the intensity etc. (Theoretically only for point sources but even with large soft boxes or bounce the light falls off, just not quite so dramatically.)

Spread

The angle from the light source over which you get relatively even light distribution. Can be increased by diffusers over the light source

Size

The size of the light source viewed from the subject (where the sun is a small light source but the light from a small flash tube bounced off a large white wall is large.) This mainly effects the hardness/softness of the shadows. Despite what many photographers seem to think, putting a diffuser in front of a flash hardly effects this unless the diffuser is considerably larger than the flash reflector, at least where there are no large reflectors around – it does work in rooms with low white ceilings. But using it outdoors simply cuts down the range of the flash and increases recycle time.

Colour

Pretty obvious, but mainly important in avoiding mixing light of different colour temperature. Filters come in handy at times, though I seldom bother to filter my flash, there are times when it would help to do so. The LED panels usually come with both a simple diffuser and an amber one to use with tungsten lighting, but little outdoor lighting is 3200K.

Direction & Position

The horizontal angle between the light, the subject and the camera, and the angling of the light down (usually) on the subject

Main Light and Ambient/Fill

Although we can have very complex lighting situations, it is useful to think in terms of the main light – which gives the subject its ‘volume’, the ambient which illuminates the whole of the scene and the fill, light used to soften lighting contrast by putting light into the shadow areas.

In Practice

The main light is always better away from the camera, whereas fill is best from close to the lens. So flash on camera is great for fill, but rather lacking as a main light. With camera systems like Nikon, flash in bright sun for fill is simple, and handled very well by the TTL BL mode with a flash in the hot shoe. With some lenses you can alternatively use the built-in flash on some bodies, but physically large lenses such as the 16-35 cast an ugly shadow in the frame.

At night, working in fairly brightly lit areas, you can still use flash for fill, (though not in P mode) by working at high ISO, setting up the camera with appropriate underexposure to give some feeling of night, and then adding a touch of flash to illuminate close subjects. Often I’ll combine the flash – of short duration – with relatively slow shutter speeds such as 1/15s to retain information in relatively dimly lit areas of the background.

When the light falls so low as to make flash the only possible main light source, again I usually like to use as high an ISO as practicable so as to pick up what little I can from ambient in the background. Here it would be good to have the light source off camera, but it isn’t always practical to do so. Probably the easiest method for my sort of work would be a long flash cable enabling me to hold the flash in my left hand, arm outstretched and above head height, but I think a wireless flash trigger would give more control and get in the way rather less, so I’m considering that option.

Even with flash on camera, there are things you can do to make life easier and your pictures better, at least with units like the SB800 I like, where the head will swivel both left and right and up and down. If you are able to have close foreground on only one side of the frame (often the case) you can get some help from the flash fall-off by angling the head away from the closer parts of the subject. Just occasionally I see the chance to bounce the flash from a suitable white wall or even a white coat or other white object rather than use direct flash, almost always an advantage.

And then of course there is post-processing, burning in closer parts of the subject and brightening the more distant. And just occasionally a little burning in parts of the face can help add the volume that the flash wiped out. Getty might not approve, but it is getting back towards how I saw the subject – without the distortions introduced by the flash.

Epping Forest

August 31st, 2014

Should you be in the London area and feel a need for some exercise on Sunday September 14 you might consider heading to Epping Forest for the annual Epping Forest Centenary Walk organised by the the Friends of Epping Forest from Manor Park station to Epping.


The walk starts off across Wanstead Flats

The route was devised in 1978 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Epping Forest Act, 1878, which placed responsibility for the forest in the hands of the City of London, giving them the powers to take on the landowners who were then rapidly putting up fences around their properties. Although the City haven’t always seemed to have the best interests of the forest at heart, and various governments have interfered negatively (most recently during the London 2012 Olympics where they twisted the City’s arm to allow a temporary police building on Wanstead Flats) they managed to roll back some of the encroachment and have preserved pretty well all but the southern tip “for the recreation and enjoyment of the people.”

The advantage of going on the organised walk is that you meet people and there “will be ample stops and pauses when short explanatory talks will be given on the Forest and its management and history in furtherance of the Walk’s objective to promote the appreciation and knowledge of this priceless Open Public Space!” You also won’t get lost, which is rather easy to do on some sections of the walk.


Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge at Chingford is worth a visit

There are timings given on the site linked above for those unable to walk the full 15 or 16 miles. But if you want to take pictures, it is probably better to walk it on your own, or with a small group of friends or family as I did in 2009, though it has taken me 5 years to put the pictures on the web – at Epping Forest Centenary Walk.

And of course you could split the rather long 16 mile route (and longer when you get lost or wander off to take photographs) into several sections. Something I’d heartily recommend as I was more than shattered by the time we reached Epping station for the journey home. I was calling it Effing Forest by the time we finished.


Pole Hill at Chingford is a little under a mile from the route

It would make two rather nice walks, splitting the route at Chingford. You could even make a short detour to some interesting parts nearby – such as Pole Hill, which has a pole, or rather an obelisk which was erected by an astronomer royal on the Greenwich Meridian so he could line up his telescope from the Royal observatory and make sure it was pointing due north. Some time later they decided to move the meridian a few yards, though I suppose if the telescope was still in the same place it didn’t really matter.


There are many seriously old trees in the forest, but also some open space – forests are not just trees
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Notting Hill – better weather in 2009

August 30th, 2014

I’ve now put more of my pictures from Notting Hill Carnival in 2009 on-line in Notting Hill – Children’s Day on My London Diary.

Though as you will see there, they are not all of children, though I have concentrated rather more on those of children in selecting images to put on the web.

But carnival is a great event for people of all ages.

I took a great many pictures that day, almost 1500 in around 4 hours in Notting Hill, which works out at around one every ten seconds, though I’ve put less than 50 on the web. They probably include most of the better images I made, though I didn’t go back and look through all of them to make the selection, just the 200 or so I’d developed from the RAW into jpegs at the time.

There may be a few images that I missed when I did that initial edit, but I doubt if there would be anything truly stunning. With digital I ruin far fewer images than I used to on film, but I doubt if I make any more good ones either. So while I still have almost every negative I ever took, it perhaps makes more sense to be at least a little selective about which digital files to keep.

Another forty-something pictures of Notting Hill – Children’s Day from 2009 now (at last) on My London Diary.

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How Not to Write About Women Artists

August 29th, 2014

When I taught photography, many of our best students were women. Perhaps over the years there were half a dozen who I thought really had potential as photographers, but I can only recall having that same feeling about one male student. As it happens he is the only one who has gone on to become really successful as a photographer, though others who passed through our classes with less obvious photographic talent have made a living behind a camera. As Eric Barker puts in in his  Time article on careers, “Persistence trumps talent”. Or perhaps it is rather harder for people who have a definite personal vision find to produce work that fits the dimmer perception of others.

Many of the contemporary photographers whose work I admire are women. I’ve never thought to check what percentage, but certainly many come to mind, not because they are women but because of their work. Where perhaps in the first hundred of so years of the history of photography women were notable exceptions – because of wider societal restrictions and conventions – this is no longer the case. And some of those exceptions were truly notable – including such examples as Julia Margaret Cameron, Berenice Abbott and Dorothea Lange. Wikipedia has an interesting list.

When I was teaching and when I was writing about the medium for a living I wrote about and used examples from the work of many women photographers, some well-known, others less so. Many of our students were inspired by the work of Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, Jo Spence, Fay Godwin and others – as well as that of male photographers.

I wrote as well about others who I felt deserved to be better-known – such as Nelly’s and Grete Stern (neither well-served on the web) and about a few others who were well-known but whose work I could not relate to or felt rather lacking in photographic interest. Although I mainly wrote about things I liked, I was running a site which I felt had to provide at least basic information across the whole range of things photographic (though I drew a line at so-called “glamour”.)  But there were a few women photographers whose reputation seemed to me more connected with feminist politics than artistic production, though this was and is dangerous territory for male comment and I largely restricted myself to giving the facts and links rather than opinions in their cases.

It was a link to an article posted by Alan Griffiths of Luminous Lint that started me thinking about “women photographers” again. In Hyperallergic, Alex Heimbach (a freelance writer and graduate student at NYU) reviews a recent book with the title ‘Women Photographers from Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman‘ under the heading How Not to Write About Women Artists.

The photographers – who are arranged alphabetically, itself a curious choice, begin chronologically with Anna Atkins, who, while an important figure in the history of photography, was probably not a photographer. Her Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, its first installment published in 1843, is considered to be the first photographically illustrated book, using the cyanotype process invented the previous year by her friend Sir John Herschel and the photogenic drawing technique she had learnt from another friend, a Mr Talbot. Quite likely she had learnt his calotype process from him as well, and may have been the first woman photographer, but no evidence of this remains. The Wikipedia article on her provides a rare link to a piece I wrote about her work in 2005, rather a flashback for me.

Among the 55 photographers in the book by Boris Friedewald listed on the contents page (which you can view on the ‘Look Inside!’  page at the Amazon link above) are around 40 that I have at some time or other written about, one I know personally, half a dozen I’ve not heard of and a similar number who I feel certainly don’t deserve inclusion. There are quite a few – including Atkins who perhaps fall outside the remit of the title, the others being from post-Sherman generations. You can also see the pages on Berenice Abbott and Eve Arnold in the preview.

But the article by Heimbach has some more serious criticisms. As she writes; “it’s impossible to imagine an equivalent book titled Men Photographers: From Eugène Atget to Jeff Wall.” And while projects like these ideally “serve to illuminate lesser-known artists, who may have been discounted because of their gender (or race or sexual orientation or class)“, too often as seems to be the case with this book “their thoughtlessness generally renders them pointless at best and misogynistic at worst.”


Nina (left) and Naomi Rosenblum with pictures by Walter Rosenblum, 2007, Peter Marshall

There is more to her argument than this, and the article is worth careful reading, and she contrasts its approach with that of Naomi Rosenblum‘s A History of Women Photographers, (incidentally first published by Abbeville Press in 1994, rather than 2010), a book I used, together with Rosenblum‘s A World History of Photography in my teaching.) As Heimbach says “Rosenblum’s book aims not only to highlight the work of female photographers, but also to dig into what their gender means for their lives and careers. Rosenblum offers not just a who but a why.”

Monkeying with Copyright

August 28th, 2014

I started writing a while back about the monkey who snatched a camera from a wildlife photographer and started taking pictures, but somehow the article never got finished. I can’t remember why, but suspect it wandered into musings about ‘monkeys‘ and ‘blunts‘ on Fleet St (remember Fleet St?) and the esoterica of copyright and slowly faded out in a million diversions. Quite a few of the things I write rather end that way, though just occasionally I’ll scrape them up and  tighten them enough to see the light of day. Or maybe I just fell asleep when writing it and forgot to save it when I woke up.

You’ll have read about the monkey selfie. If not, read it here. The picture and story went viral in 2011, but what brought it back to attention in 2014 was the attempt by the owner of the camera, David Slater, to get Wikipedia to take down the picture on the grounds that rather than being, as Wikipedia stated ‘Public Domain’, it was copyright and that he owned that copyright.

Wikipedia, after its usual long process of internal discussion, disagreed, arguing that under US Copyright law a photograph has to be taken by a human being to be copyrighted. And a recent post in ArsTechnica confirms that US Copyright Office agrees: a “photograph taken by a monkey” is unprotected intellectual property.

Here in the UK, things may be different. As ArsTechnica puts it:

“Under UK federal law, however, Slater could claim the intellectual property rights to the picture—even if he didn’t press the shutter—if the image is part of his “intellectual creation.

While this reflects an interesting view of the UK, a ‘federation’ which is currently looking increasingly likely to split up a little, the law in question actually applies rather more widely than we might think, with Wikipedia stating that as well as the whole of the United Kingdom, it also applies in Bermuda and Gibraltar, as well as to works “originating (by publication or nationality/domicile of the author) in the Isle of Man … Antigua, Dominica, Gambia, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lesotho, St. Christopher-Nevis, St. Lucia, Swaziland and Tuvalu” and any other countries which were included in “the Imperial Copyright Act of 1911, or the 1956 Acts.”

A similar feature in the Telegraph - which ArsTechnica links to as its source – concludes:

“In the UK, under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, a photographer can claim rights over an image even if he or she did not press the shutter button if the results are their “intellectual creation” – for example, they came up with the concept of a monkey taking a “selfie””

They go on to say that it is something that has never been tested in court, and it would seem to me not to apply in this case, where the snatching of the camera was clearly the monkey’s idea and not the intellectual creation of the photographer. The photographer’s intervention came only after the act.

In the ‘New Yorker‘ you can read what the monkey thinks of it all, at least according to Bill Barol. It actually contains a piece of good advice that many educational establishments in this country should heed, that “digital really lets novices shoot with abandon, and this the best way to learn” and that monkey does seems to have learnt fast, which an image that puts most human selfies to shame. Perhaps it’s a pity the camera was taken away from him, who knows what he might have gone on to produce.

Independent living at risk

August 26th, 2014


Sophie Partridge, John Kelly and others party outside the Dept of Work & Pensions

Some of the people that I photograph amaze me in various ways, and among the more amazing are many of those who take part in the protests organised by DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) who have regularly shown others how to organise effective and powerful protests against unfair attempts by the government to cut welfare benefits.

They have been hit much harder by various cuts in services; many have suffered from the  work capability tests – tests that were designed to be unfair and were then poorly administered largely by unqualified staff pressured by a company which had been given financial incentives to fail as many as possible.


Paula Peters speaking at the DWP

But although ATOS’s failings have received some media attention (largely thanks to DPAC’s protests) this is only a small part of what DPAC rightly describes as “a national scandal”, which they accuse mainstream media of failing to report.

They say:

“the media owes a duty to the wider public to give way to propaganda and needs to out this scandal for what it is.

1 million delayed assessments/decisions, 1.7 million appeals & 1.3 million put through the sanction regime is a collective 4 million exposed to some degree of benefit decision related chaos.  How can 4 million people locked in government backed chaos not be a national chaos? “

You can read the details on their web site,  and it is hard to disagree with their conclusions about the suffering and chaos caused “by DWP incompetence and IDS arrogance.”


Nadia tells her story with the aid of her computer – and a BSL signer relays it

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Iain Duncan Smith thought the disabled would be an easy target, unable to stand up for themselves, but how wrong he has been proved to be. Hard too not to be convinced that there has been something of an unwritten conspiracy between the newspapers and mass media and government to play down or ignore the problems that government policies are causing – and because Labour too see a need to reform the welfare system they have avoided the duty of any opposition, although a few individual politicians have stood up for the poor and disabled. Media owners and governments share various interests, are closely intertwined in various ways, depend on each other.

It isn’t because journalists have not exposed the facts, written the stories and taken the pictures, but that those who control the media have decided they are “not news”, and mainly they only get published in personal blogs and fringe publications. The BBC has lost much of its reputation for independent reporting – at least of UK events – because it seems now to be more concerned about cosying up to government to avoid losing the licence fee than speaking truth to power.


Penny Pepper reads some of her work

This protest – a tea-party on US Independence Day -was about the ending of the Independent Living Fund, which gives those who desperately need it the extra care which enables them to live in and contribute to the community.  You can read more about it in an article in The Guardian, one of the few papers that has sometimes shown an interest. But this and other stories about what is happening to so many of the poor and disabled, affecting altogether many more of the people of this country than the four million should regularly be making headlines across the media. Instead we get huge stories about wacky politicians, faded performers, unknown celebrities, footballers and their wives and the rest of the largely salacious nonsense. Even across the BBC and the so-called ‘quality press’.

Photographically there were few problems for me. It was a very crowded situation, and at times very difficult to move – even the few inches needed to frame as I would like. At times I was shoulder to shoulder with a BBC cameraman (not working for the news) and that restricted my view and I had sometimes to use a longer focal length than I would have liked to avoid his lens blocking part of the picture or a large woolly covered microphone (a ‘deadcat’) wandering into shot. Doubtless too I got in his way, but in the confined space we had to work together, and did so with no real problems.

In tight situations, the 16-35mm is a great lens to have, though just occasionally the 16mm fullframe fisheye is better. But here I didn’t really have that option when I wanted to use it, both because the guy with the TV camera would have occupied too much of one side of the frame, but for a much simpler reason – there just wasn’t the space to get into my camera bag and to change a lens, we were so squashed together.

I hung around at the end of the official end of the protest at the DWP because I knew something else was likely to happen, having been given a hint by one of the organisers. I didn’t know what this would be, but wasn’t surprised when around half of the protesters decided to block nearby Victoria St – the busiest road nearby.

At the front of a queue of traffic held up by the protesters in front of Westminster Abbey was a number 88 bus, headed for Clapham Common. At last I thought, the message is getting through to the “man on the Clapham omnibus”. I’d thought too that the direct action might involve Westminster Abbey, who had called in police to turn away DPAC protesters the previous Saturday.

The protest did however take the police by surprise and it was a few minutes before they arrived and started to divert traffic away. At one point they got protesters to clear a path though one of the two carriageways for an ambulance – but it never arrived, though I think it more likely that it had been diverted than that this was police subterfuge.

You can read more about the protest and see the rest of my pictures at Independent Living Tea party

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Carnival Day

August 25th, 2014


A heavy shower at Carnival in 2010

Yesterday I was thinking I might go along to London’s greatest street festival, the Notting Hill Carnival, today. Then I looked at the weather forecast and decided against it. The carnival will still go on and there might be some interesting images in the wet, but the forecast is for continuing heavy rain until 2am tomorrow (when it changes to just light rain with a possibility of heavy showers.)


Notting Hill, 2009

So today I’m going to forgo the Red Stripe and dancing on the streets, and tomorrow at least I will still have my hearing unimpaired.  Back when I used to spend both the Sunday and Monday at carnival it would take me three or four days to recover, and probably suffered a little long-term hearing loss. You don’t just hear some of those truly giant sound systems, you feel them in your feet as the tarmac pulses to the beat and in your body as your vital organs move with it. And you dance even as you take pictures.


Notting Hill, 2009

It wasn’t until 1991 that I first went to carnival. Living a little outside London I had been put off by the scare stories carried by the press about violence there, a few of them true. With perhaps a quarter of a million people packed onto the streets there were always a few incidents but in general the mood is mellow. People are there to enjoy themselves, but if you are careless with your wallet in any large crowd it can disappear.

I have my own little story, one year when I was in a crowd of dancers at a sound system just off Ladbroke Grove – which I wrote about last time I went to . Last year I was a few hundred miles away in Yorkshire over the holiday weekend and missed the event. It did seem very quiet up there.


Notting Hill, 2009

Other than 2013, the only other year I’ve not been to carnival was 2005, when a minor but very painful knee injury stopped me. I tried to get there, but by the time I’d dragged myself the quarter mile to my nearest railway station was in such pain I had to give up, resting for a while before managing to make my way home.


Notting Hill, 1990s

One of the first sets of pictures I put on-line were from carnival, and these are still there on a site called Fixing Shadows, and some of these were also in my contribution to an exhibition a few years ago, English Carnivals, which has rather improved scans.


Notting Hill, 2009

But in writing this piece, I discovered that somehow I’d never managed to put the pictures that I took on Childrens’ Day in 2009 onto My London Diary.


Notting Hill, 2009

I’ve also never added those from the following day when a few of us walked the 15 mile Epping Forest Centenary Walk – which you can do annually together with the Friends of Epping Forest (the 2014 walk is on Sunday 14 Sept) at a slightly more leisurely pace with less chance of getting lost and some explanatory talks en route. But perhaps I was just too tired after those 15 miles to put the work from the two days on-line. But included here are a few pictures from Notting Hill in 2009 that I’ve not posted before. All were taken on a DX format Nikon D300, mainly with a Nikon 18-200mm but some with a Sigma 10-20mm.
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Richard Benson

August 24th, 2014

A Facebook post by Dayanita Singh who I mentioned in the previous post and which was reposted to me by curator Peggy Sue Amison reminded me of a fine site by Richard Benson, The Printed Picture, which I’d not looked at for some years. Indeed there is much on the site I’ve never looked at all as the entire talk by him on it takes 8 hours, but is fortunately split into short digestible sections such as ‘Black and White Inkjet Printing‘. Text and some examples accompany each of these short videos. It isn’t  a ‘how-to guide’ and some of the technical details are rather vague, but it is a grand overview of everything to do with printing images from marks on cave walls to modern times. Be warned it is an addictive site and you may find – like me – you spend more time on it than you really have.

The text on the site comes from the book, The Printed Picture (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2008 and still apparently available from the MoMA store – though cheaper elsewhere) and an exhibition of the same name at The Museum of Modern Art in 2008-9, so is not completely up to date with the latest developments in ink-jet printing.

Richard Benson started as a printer which led him to take an interest in photography, and as his biography at the Pace/MacGill Gallery (where you can also see his photographs) states “has been instrumental in revolutionizing the technologies and standards for photographic reproduction in ink“. Among many fine works that have benefited from his expertise are over a dozen Lee Friedlander monographs and the monumental ‘The Work of Atget‘, 4 superbly produced volumes published by MoMA in 1981-5. But almost every finely reproduced photographic book in the last 40 or more years owes something either first or second-hand to his work. You can read an interview with him by John Paul Caponigro, first published in 1997 in View Camera magazine on Caponigro’s site.

Indian summer & Lala Deen Dayal

August 21st, 2014

I read the article India’s 10 best contemporary photographers you should know on World Photography Day and it set me thinking about Indian photography, and also about lists such as this. World Photography Day may have passed you by – it almost did me – but it is a project started by a young Australian photographer in 2009, “with the dream to unite local and global communities in a worldwide celebration of photography.” The day chosen was August 19th, the anniversary of Daguerre’s patent being purchased by the French government and announced as a gift “Free to the World” in 1839. Except for Britain, where Daguerre had separately acquired a patent for it 5 days earlier. So it isn’t perhaps a very suitable date for those of us in the UK to celebrate.

But there were a number of events to mark World Photography Day, although I could only find five – and those rather obscure – marked on the world map on the web site. One not listed was at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts in Mumbai, where Drawn From Light, an exhibition of the early photographic history of India opened, with one of the ten from the list, Dayanita Singh, as guest of honour. There was also a display of 40 vintage cameras, including a daguerreotype camera, part of Dilish Parekh’s collection of 4,425 cameras. And I sometimes think I have far too many.

The exhibition is from the Alkazi Collection of Photography, which is extensive, and has formed the basis of a number of publications, but has relatively little material online.

Some years ago I wrote a series of articles on early photography in India, mainly covering the work of British photographers who worked there in the nineteenth century. Before working on that I had hardly been aware of the splendid work of Lala Deen Dayal. A few years later on this site I wrote a little about him again, including this paragraph:

Lala Deen Dayal (1844-1905) is one of relatively few photographers to have been honoured by a postage stamp issue, and I was very pleased to receive a commemorative album from his great granddaughter who runs the web site about his work containing examples of the 500 Rupee stamp issued in November 2006. Few photographers can claim an edition of 0.4 million!

There are still a number of links on the web to the pieces I wrote about him and several other photographers working in India, even though these have been unavailable for seven or eight years, for example at Harappa.com, which does still contain much interesting material about India and Indian photography.  So I thought I might revisit the article about Lala Deen Dayal, and try and bring it a little up to date. Mostly it is as I wrote it in 2003. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find some of the actual photographs I wrote about that were available on the web back then – please post links in the comments if you can do so.

Lala Deen Dayal

Part 1: Key Facts

Chronology

  • 1844 Lala Deen Dayal was born to a Jain family, following one of the ancient religions of India (dating back almost 3000 years) in 1844 in Sardana, near Meerut, a small town in north India.
  • 1857-8 Meerut was the scene of the first serious rioting in the 1857-8 uprising (the ‘Indian Mutiny’) and the events will doubtless have made a strong impression on the 13-year old Deen Dayal.
  • ca 1861 Dayal studied enginering at the Thomason Civil Engineering College in Roorkee (now the University of Roorkee), the first engineering college in the British Empire (and only the third in the world) set up in 1847 by to train Indians to provide the roads, railways and other infrastructure needed for the exploitation of the country’s resources.
    Dayal was apparently a brilliant student, covering the five-year course in only three years, emerging with a first class degree and an almost perfect mark. It was while here in 1863 at the age of 19 that he first learnt photography.
  • 1866 After graduating, he started working for the Indian Civil Service at the Department of Works Secretariat in Indore, as a draftsman and estimator. He continued to photograph and was encouraged by some of the British civil servants, in particular Sir Henry Daly, the Agent to the Governor General for Central India.
  • 1875 Daly commissions Dayal to photograph the royal visit by the Prince of Wales. Later he takes him with him to photograph on a trip to Bundelkhand.
  • 1882/3 Dayal returns to Bundelkhand with the new Agent, Sir Lepel Griffin.
  • 1885 Dayal photographs the Viceroy of India, Lord Dufferin, and his wife, Lady Dufferin. They are so impressed by the quality of his work that they appoint him as official photographer. Dayal resigns his civil service job to become a full time photographer. He moves to Hyderabad where he becomes court photographer to the Mir Mahbub Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam and opens a photo studio at the nearby military station of Secunderabad, the largest in India, where there was a great demand for portraits. The Nizam awards Dayal with a knighthood for his photographs of him, giving him the title of Raja Musavir Jung (‘Bold photographic warrior’), although Dayal only uses the first name, becoming Raja Deen Dayal.
  • 1886 Eighty-nine of Dayal’s pictures are printed by the carbon process to illustrate Griffin’s book ‘Famous Monuments of Central India’ (London, 1886)
  • late 1880s Opens studios in Bombay and Indore. His two sons, Lala Gyan Chand and Raja Dharam Chand both work for the business, Raja Deen Dayal & Sons, as photographers.
  • 1892 Opens Zenana (women only) studio in Hyderabad, supervised by the wife of the Times Correspondent, Mrs Kenny Livick.
  • 1893 his display of views of India received a special award at the World Colombian Exposition in Chicago.
  • 1897 Queen Victoria granted the firm a Royal Warrant.
  • 1902 Dayal photographs the visit of Lord and Lady Curzon to the Nizam. Lord Curzon was the Viceroy (governor) of India, and his wife was an American heiress, daughter of Levi Leiter, the founder of Marshall Field’s. Some of Dayals best-known images show their tiger shoot.
  • 1904 His son, Raja Dharam Chand dies.
  • 1905 Dayal dies. The business is continued by his surviving son, Lala Gyan Chand, and later his grandsons, including Shri Ami Chand (Amichand Deen Dayal.)
  • 1912 Nizam Mahbub Ali Khan dies.
  • 1919 Lala Gyan Chand dies. For the next 15-20 years the business declines until Ami Chand is old enough to turn its fortunes around. His work includes an extensive record of the era of Nizam VII Mir Osman Ali Khan.
  • 1987-92 Amichand’s daughter Hemlata Jain organises exhibitions of the work by Dayal using prints her father had preserved, in Bombay, London and Pune.
  • 1984 Amichand dies. His sons continue to run the photographic studio in Hyderbad.
  • 2002 The Deen Dayal web site, is put on line by his great grand daughter Hemlata Jain. Much of the information in this feature comes from this site.

Part 2: A Deserved Renown

His reputation

Although Lala Deen Dayal had an immense reputation in India as well as being recognised abroad during his lifetime, there are relatively few mentions his work in the main histories of photography. Only since the exhibitions around 1990 and in recent years with major shows on Indian photography in general has his work begun to get some of the recognition it deserves.

Part of the reason for this may lie in his identification as a photographer of the colonial era. Following the successful completion of the struggle for independence in 1947 there was perhaps a desire to forget the excesses of the past, some of which are evident in his work.

Foundations of success

Dayal’s success was founded on technical excellence and hard work. He was apparently a deeply devout and hard-working man, often putting in an eighteen hour day to ensure the success of his business. The evidence of the pictures very much shows him to have been a perfectionist, striving for every detail to be perfect.

Groups

The meticulous attention to detail is very much evident in the group photographs that he made. One of the more fascinating was taken on May 22, 1892, which shows Nawab Ghalib Jung and friends, including several European (or, most likely, American) women in white dresses with white hats, in a group of around twenty people gathering around and apparently listening with delight to that new-fangled state of the art American treadle phonograph, complete with long tubes to carry the sounds to the more privileged of their ears. It is a carefully posed group with a lively sense of animation.

The Nizam’s Palace

Dayal’s India was very much an India of colonial occupation. Many of his portraits were of the soldiers, civil servants and their wives who were in charge of the country. They were the ones who could afford his services. As court photographer to the Nizam, he was working for a man supported by the colonial administration, with a lifestyle that was very much modelled on the English upper classes. His palace (photographed by Dayal) was very much in a European style, both in architecture and in its furnishings.

His view of the interior of the Nizam’s palace shows a galleried sitting room with grand curtains and heavily ornate chandeliers, in the most extravagant of nineteenth century European taste. The decorated ceilings and walls, and ornate padded furniture all show the Nizam’s immense wealth. Dayal’s careful choice of camera position and the fine natural lighting, doubtless with some help in the darkroom as well as possibly the use of mirrors to direct more light towards the ceiling make this an impressive and very clear picture.

Of course there are Indian aspects in the photographs of the Nizam and his court, with some of the visitors in Indian dress, but at times it seems a parody of the excesses of a European aristocracy rather than an authentic nationalism. Dayal himself of course was simply the photographer, engaged to record the events, and whether the occasion was a soiree or a tiger shoot he did so with great care and precision.

Part 3: Indian Views

Street View of Ulwar (This image is no longer on line so far as I can see.)

Dayal’s ‘Street View of Ulwar’ is taken from a high viewpoint looking along a main street of the town the capital of Ulwar state (now known as Almar.) On the left side of the image is the shaded side of the street; Dayal is roughly at the level of the tops of the roof of the nearby building, perhaps a temple. On the right of the picture, the deep street is fringed by shops with taller light stone buildings behind them.

The sunlit street is busy with people, in its centre what looks like an early car, although the date of 1882-6 makes this impossible – perhaps it is a rear view of a horse-drawn vehicle. The shops have awnings to shade them from the sun and the street is busy with people. In the distance we see a fort, possibly the photographer and his camera are standing on top of a similar one. Further on, we see the mountains towering above the town, and, above them a dramatic cloudscape.

Chichai Waterfall near Rewalala, 1882 (see p140 Zahid R Chaudhary’s Afterimage of Empire- AE- which can be viewed on line)

Dayal choose a dramatic viewpoint for his picture of the ‘Chichai waterfall’ in 1882, making the most of a drop front on his camera to put the horizon very high in the view.

His viewpoint is actually from a slightly higher point than the top of the falls, giving a view back along the top of the plain along which the river runs until reaching this apparently enormous drop. The slow shutter speed used – probably something between 5 and 20 seconds – gives the water a blurred, almost ethereal quality that increases as it falls and perhaps spreads out giving more spray.

River at Indore (a similar image at p128 in AE)

In contrast, the river at ‘Indore’ is smooth and glassy as it flows through a grove of palm trees, languorously curving out over the placid stream (again an effect increased by the long exposure used.) The diffuse light emphasizes the near-silhouettes of the trunks and fronds against the plain sky.

Daulatabad Fort (This paticular image not on line, others of the fort here.)

The east scarp of ‘Daulatabad Fort’ rises steep and unassailable ninety metres from the stream below, and the photographer has chosen a viewpoint where he appears to be hovering in mid-air to view the scene. In the foreground, filling most of the right of the picture, it towers above the more distant plain in the left half of the picture, starting far below the camera and stretching into the distance.

The scene is a thrilling combination of horizontal and vertical, with an aerial perspective that enhances its effect, and creates a hovering bulk of distant mountain on the horizon below a radiant sky. The fort, built by Hindus in the 12th century in this imposing position, was one of the many properties belonging to Dayal’s employer, the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Part 4: Elephants & Tigers

Elephant Battery in Action at Fort Jhansi  (No longer on line.)

Some of the more engaging of Dayal’s pictures – at least to a western eye – are those of elephants in action. The broad sweep of landscape below the fort in his ‘Elephant Battery in Action’ at Fort Jhansi, with clouds of smoke, groups of men, elephants, bullocks and cannon create the effect of some the filming of some battle epic.

Shikar – the Tiger Shoots 

Dayal also recorded a number of the Nizam’s tiger shoots. These included one arranged for Lord and Lady Curzon in 1902, which shows the ‘shooting party’ of nine men and two ladies arranged across the base of a tree in front of the dead body of a tiger. Apparently Lady Curzon had minutes previously witnessed the death of the Nizam’s head tiger hunter, who had unwisely dismounted from his elephant and been leapt upon by a tiger. (Two different images from the shoot on the British Library site.)

Among the other pictures of this subject on the Deen Layal site is a picture of the Nizam himself under a wall covered with the skins and some heads of the tigers he had shot, probably around fifteen or twenty, standing proud with his gun under his arm.

Also on the Deen Dayal site are a number of fine portraits by Dayal, and in the ‘Heritage’ section, images of ancient monuments from various towns and cities in India. Fairly large numbers of some of Dayal’s pictures were probably produced, especially for those that he made for the Nizam, who apparently often presented his visitors with albums of them. He also sent an album to Queen Victoria, who was delighted to receive these images of a vital part of her empire she never visited. The largest existing collection of Raja Deen Dayal photographs is apparently housed at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Mumbai, having been bought by the Indian Government.

Dayal’s career as a photographer was long and distinguished, fully meriting the Urdu verse written about him by the Nizam, which – according to the Deen Dayal web site can be translated as:

In the art of picture making, Skill surpassing all, A master of masters is Lala Deen Dayal.”