My First Day with a camera in London

May 29th, 2016

I find it hard to think back and imagine the first time I came to London with a camera, and have little memory of the occasion. What I do have is two contact sheets (and the corresponding Tri-X negatives) but the only information outside of the images are the file letters, 3k and 3l, probably assigned at a later date.

In my first few years of learning to be a photographer I tried to keep images from different types of subject in different files, and the ‘3’ seems to have been a general photography file, including sports, portraiture, theatre photography and more, with negatives and filing sheets at some point assigned the letters a-z in what now appears to be a fairly random order.

At the time I took relatively few photographs and didn’t feel the need for much of a system, though file ‘4’ seems to have been reserved for my pictures taken in Europe. Fortunately it wasn’t too long before I saw the error of my ways and began to file my black and white negatives in order of taking (or at least of processing) and, since April 1986, under the year and month of taking. Of course things are much easier with digital where everything comes with EXIF metadata.

Probably anyone with access to a newspaper library would be able to fix the date more precisely, as several of the pictures show the remarkable ‘Golden Hinde II’, a remarkable reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon in which he circumnavigated the globe from 1577-1580, moored at Sugar House Quay next to the Tower of London, with crowds waiting to board.

The ship, usually known as the Golden Hind, was launched in Appledore, Devon in April 1973, although its ‘maiden voyage’ was only made from Plymouth in late 1974. At some stage before this it came to London where I photographed it.

Around this time I had just bought an Olympus 35SP to replace one of two Russian cameras I had been using. It seems likely that these images were taken just a few days before this arrived, as the last 9 frames of the second film show this in various images, including one close-up of the viewfinder which shows the rather dull view from our first-floor Bracknell flat from which we moved in August 1974.

From the trees in several of the London images, they were clearly taken in winter, and so the pictures must date from either late 1973 or early 1974.

The pictures will have been made using a Zenith B, a sturdy, tank-like Russian SLR. The ‘B’ model came without the built-in exposure meter of the ‘E’ but was available with the superior 58mm Helios f2 lens (of pre-war German design) and on the page linked – where it is the fifth camera down – I see that the type I used is now “very rare to find”.

I will have been using a handheld Weston Master V exposure meter, which had a large selenium cell, and came with a curious white plastic ‘Invercone‘ to enable incident light readings. Made in Enfield in north London – or rather ‘Middlesex’, these were incredibly reliable, needed no battery and had only one real fault – the wafer-thin glass above the needle, which was easily broken as the meter dangled free from its cord around your neck. After several expensive repairs I cut and glued some rather thicker perspex on top of where the glass should have been.

As well as the ‘standard’ 58mm I also had with me another Russian lens, a telephoto, probably the 135mm Jupiter f4, copied from the Carl Zeiss pre-war Sonnar.

Photography with this equipment was rather slower than with modern cameras, but it was probably more the cost of film that kept the number of exposures made during the day to 49 – and explains why there are no real duplicate images. Two frames are hopelessly over-exposed, probably because I forget the need to manually stop down the lens to the taking aperture after focussing. Two are ruined by slight fogging, a consequence of loading film into cassettes from bulk with a bulk film loader to cut costs. One is sadly out of focus, rushing to get a picture, and a few seem rather ordinary – such as two pictures of St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are also no really great images, though most have some interest, some rather more than when they were made because of the changes since they were taken – little smoke now emerges from Bankside Power Station. But there was one picture which I think became very important to me, of warehouses being demolished on the riverside beyond St Katharine’s Dock, which is really the only one of these I remember taking, and which prompted me to begin to explore London’s disappearing docklands.

See these and the rest at My First Day with a camera in London.

Read the rest of this entry »

Provoke

May 28th, 2016

PROVOKE: Between Protest and Performance Photography in Japan, 1960–75 is an exhibition  at Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland from today, May 28 until Auguest 28th, 2016 and includes work by works by Nobuyoshi Araki, Eikō Hosoe, Kazuo Kitai, Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Shōmei Tōmatsu and others less well known (and including some anonymous works) associated with the remarkable magazine ‘Provoke‘.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the magazine was that there were only three issues, published in 1968-9 which were then largely ignored, but it has come to be regarded as “one of the most important photographic publications of the 20th century.”

For many photographers in the UK, our first real encounter with post-war Japanese photography came at the ICA in 1979, with the exhibition ‘Japanese Photography: Today and its Origin‘, curated by Lorenzo Merlo of Canon Photo Gallery Amsterdam, brought us face to face with the work of Hosoe, and a few years later, in 1985, the Serpentine Gallery played host to Mark Holborn‘s ‘Black Sun: The Eyes of Four‘ which included Moriyama, Hosoe and Tomatsu. I think both shows appeared without any mention of ‘Provoke’, or at least I can find no reference to it in their catalogues.

For those of us unlikely to get to Switzerland for the show, there is always the book. A hefty 680 pages I’ve yet to bring myself to buy, though at around £40 through the discount sellers it seems a reasonable bargain compared to Steidl’s limited edition ‘The Japanese Box‘ of 2001 with its facsimile publication of Provoke and books by Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama and Takuma Nakahira, copies of which are now offered for well over a thousand pounds.

Yannis Behrakis

May 27th, 2016

Don’t miss the video with Yannis Behrakis talking on Greek Reporter about the work which led to him and the Reuters team working with him being awarded in the Breaking News Photography category in this years 100th Pulitzer Prize awards.

Greek Reporter also has another article about him worth reading, Yannis Behrakis: The Man Behind the Image, which mentions him heing chosen by The Guardian as the agency photographer of the year in 2015, for his work covering the refugee crisis and the economic crisis in Greece.

The Guardian feature shows an incredible range of powerful images produced in a wide range of situations from his 28 years as a Reuters photojournalist, and although I’d seen some of the pictures before, I hadn’t until now realised they were all the work of the same man.

Syria Again

May 26th, 2016

Stop the War organised another protest against David Cameron’s motion to allow bombing of Syria on a weekday evening, with a rally opposite Parliament and a short march around Westminster via the Conservative and Labour Party HQs.  Like their previous protest, what struck me was the absence of views from Syrians, although there were some supporters of both the Assad regime and the Free Syrians at the rally.It was also noticeable that there was no condemnation of the Russian bombing of the Syrian opposition as well as Daesh.

Of course I wasn’t the only person to notice this and to comment on it, and Stop the War were forced into issuing  ‘For the avoidance of doubt‘ by John Rees, which makes seven points, the first of which begins “The STWC has never supported the Assad regime.” As I commented:

Well, it’s good to make that clear, because there have been many protests by Stop the War which Assad supporters have attended and appeared to be welcome, and by refusing to let Syrians opposed to the regime speak at this and other protests STW have certainly given that impression.

Photographically it was a night where I had a lot of problems. For a central London location, Parliament Square is remarkably dark, and working without flash was perhaps a little beyond the capabilities of the D700 and D810, though I did manage a few images. Things were a little better on the march, which at times went through some fairly well let junctions.

But perhaps the most challenging situation was when a large group of red-flag carrying protesters let off red flares. The image at the top of this post was taken without flash and an exposure which held the highlights, but they were really too extreme, and I needed to let these burn out.

Increasing the exposure showed up at least some of the background, and using a little flash let me bring people in the foreground up from the shadows. But I still don’t really have a solution for situations like this.

After the march there was another short rally, with rather a crush of photographers. I took a number of pictures working very close in to those speaking with the 16mm fisheye – including that above. With the wide view of that lens, flash isn’t generally an option – unless you are aiming for powerful vignetting – and I was working by available light, in this case augmented by someone’s video light. As usual changed to cylindrical perspective.

After the end of the official protest there were still hundreds of people milling around in Parliament Square and wondering how to continue their protest. But I was having a very bad case of wandering finger, somehow managing to shift the shutter speed on the D810 to ridiculous levels – it had reached ISO2500 before I finally noticed it. It’s quite remarkable that the flash continues to synchronise at these speeds, but most of the results were not usable. I knew things were going wrong, but in the dark and heat of the moment couldn’t immediately sort things out. So I went back to working without flash and changed to 1/50th second, but it was a little late, as police were approaching and people climbing down from the plinth.

ISOs really become pretty irrelevant under these conditions. This image was taken with the camera set at ISO2000 but with -4 stops of exposure compensation.  Which I suppose you could call ISO 32000.

Within seconds I had the flash and camera working together again, and was able to photograph the police questioning one man who had been on the plinth and then telling Focus E15 that they were not allowed to use a megaphone in Parliament Square. They were deciding what to do, but I’d had enough and decided it was unlikely much more would happen and went home.

More at Don’t Bomb Syria.
Read the rest of this entry »

Climate Action

May 19th, 2016

I had mixed feelings about November’s March for Climate Action, one of the larger of several thousand events around the world on the weekend before the start of the COP21 talks in Paris. Of course we need to get action on climate change. I first got involved in environmental issues in my student days, though it was a little later that people really began to become widely aware of the problem of the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ and the importance of rising carbon dioxide levels, although this had been pointed out over a hundred years ago – the role of carbon dioxide was first theorised in the 1820s and experimental evidence came in the middle of the nineteenth century.

It was obvious to Alexander Graham Bell back in 1917 that the world needed to move away from the unchecked burning of fossil fuels and towards alternative energy sources such as solar energy, but it is still something that successive governments here have failed to take with the necessary seriousness – and that our current administration is actually back-pedalling on.

We’ve had climate protests and marches in London for some years now; I think the first that I put on My London Diary was back in 2002, when I wrote (all in lower case):

climate change is a threat to our continued existence on the planet. actions such as bush rejecting kyoto are grossly irresponsible, putting the short term interests of US companies before the planet. hence the demo with bush in bed with the esso tiger.

On that occasion there were problems with the protest – apart from it being ignored by the mainstream media – with the wheels coming off the bed carrying Bus and the Esso tiger coming off as it was pushed up the slight incline of the approach to Westminster Bridge. In later years the Campaign against Climate Change have organised many larger and more successful protests, and I’ve photographed most of them.

In more recent times, many other groups, including some large and well-funded charities, have come together to organise large climate marches, with groups such as the CACC being pushed to the sidelines. While its good that more people are becoming involved – and attracting more publicity – it sometimes has resulted in some of the real issues being sidelined.

This year the wheels rather came off the protest,, when at the last minute some of the big charity backers decided that the Global Frontlines bloc which had been scheduled to lead the march was too radical for their taste, demanding global system change rather than minor adjustments. They tried to replace them with the main march banner along with performers in carnival animal costumes.

It wasn’t a change the protesters were going to take lying down, and they regrouped in front of the main banner. This was the first time that I can recall that a security company had been employed to act as stewards for a protest march, and ordered to remove the Global Frontlines bloc they made threats, and tried to do so, with some pushing and shoving. The protesters simply refused to move, simply moving back after they were pushed away. In my hearing the organisers asked the police to intervene, but to their credit they refused.

The banner at the front of the bloc read ‘STILL FIGHTING CO2ONIALISM YOUR CLIMATE PROFITS KILL’ and there were others with anti-colonial messages including ‘Extractivism is Colonialism’ and other anti-mining sentiments. Apparently what worried the more conservative charities most was the message ‘British Imperialism causes Climate Change’ as well as two coffins naming companies BP and BHP Billiton.

Eventually the protest split into two marches. First came the Global Frontlines bloc, who marched along the planned route, with a sit-down blocking Pall Mall a few yards from BP’s head office, as a protest against that company’s environmental destruction around the world and its collaboration with brutal repression of workers in some projects.

The rest of the march was held back for around ten minutes to create a gap between the furry carnival and the Global Frontlines. But other protesters also moved in front of the main banner, and by the time those sitting down on Pall Mall decided to continue, the march had more or less become one again as it went down Whitehall to the rally on Millbank. But there was a very bad taste left in my mouth.

The rally was frankly anodyne, and I met a number of long-term climate campaigners who told me that their groups had not been allowed to take part in it, as those in charge were determined that it should not be ‘political’.  There had been politicians and others at a rally on Park Lane before the start of the march, but only those of the protesters close to the stage were able to hear.

More pictures at Global Frontlines lead Climate March and
March for Climate Action Starts

Read the rest of this entry »

Nat Geo World

May 18th, 2016

When I first saw the reports of a Photoshop cloning error on a Steve McCurry print widely reported after having been spotted by Italian photographer Paolo Viglione I decided there really wasn’t a lot more to say.

It seemed a careless error, and one that surprisingly hadn’t been spotted, but such errors aren’t difficult to make, and don’t necessarily result from any attempt to mislead. Years ago, when making a black and white print for sale, I’d done something similar, while cloning out a scratch from the negative late at night, my stylus had inadvertently dropped onto the tablet, probably as I briefly dozed, and added an extra piece to a shoreline. Fortunately I’d noticed it later, but only as I was taking a last look at the print before sending it to the customer, and was able to make a replacement print without the glitch.

It is something that probably wouldn’t happen now, even though I probably fall asleep at the computer more often, because I very seldom feel a need to use the clone tool now, as Photoshop’s other spotting tools have improved immensely over recent years. But it used to be the only real way to do the job back in the early days. I think the worst that has happened recently when I’ve nodded off has been to spill a glass of a rather good red wine across my keyboard. Doing so woke me with a start and I immediately tipped the keyboard upside down and there were no lasting effects, but I deeply regretted the loss of the wine, the last of the bottle, which I’d been keeping as a special treat for when I finished processing.

One of several prints on display in my bathroom is a large panoramic image of a house and garden, unsold after an exhibition where it was on public display for over a month. I can’t go in there without noticing a small error in the stitching process – it was made from three exposures – which means one of the windows in the house has a small part missing from its central white-painted vertical. I didn’t notice it in my careful inspection of the file, nor when it was on display, and if any who saw it at the show did, they said nothing. It hung on my own wall for several weeks before I noticed it, but now, although small and unimportant in the image, it seems glaringly obvious every time I use the bathroom.

Most of the time we see what we want to see, and not necessarily what is there, and I think that is perhaps one of the points behind photographer Peter van Agtmael‘s view on the McCurry controversy, ‘Why Facts Aren’t Always Truths in Photography‘. It’s an article I find rather disturbing, though entirely in agreement with his “very important qualifier” that “Any photographer working predominantly in a photojournalistic context needs to be rigidly transparent about digital manipulation“, and it is hard to dispute his statement that the best we can hope for in the intensely subjective craft of photojournalism is “a coherent personal truth.”

But in the piece he does seem to be acting as an apologist for a fellow Magnum member, even if one he says he hardly knows. Because it isn’t the silly and unintentional slip in that street photograph from Cuba that is at the heart of the controversy but the other examples of intentional deception that have emerged. And it is hard to believe that what we have seen is not just the tip of an iceberg.

The National Geographic Magazine
formed an important part of my early life, much of it spent, at least on rainy days, leafing through a large pile of the magazines covering the 1930s which had come to us after the death of a more affluent relative, along with his splendid stamp collection – he had worked for the General Post Office and made the most of his connections. The articles were at times rather tedious, but the black and white photographs spoke more directly, showing us how people around the world lived – and dressed, or not.

Coming back to ‘Nat Geo‘ years later was something of a surprise, with Kodachrome bursting out all over, but while presenting its rather over-enthusiastic view of the world, the emulsion was at least not susceptible to manipulation by photographers, though one could hide a great deal in its black shadows. But it would appear that with digital things have changed. Perhaps the revelations now being made will result in rather more editorial control.

I don’t warm to Nat Geo, which just somehow now seems far too American and politically not at all to my taste. That the National Geographic Channel is owned by the Fox Cable Networks division of 21st Century Fox, and the magazine since 2015 is part of a new partnership, National Geographic Partners, controlled by 21st Century Fox, perhaps says it all. But read ‘A Trip Around Steve McCurry’s Photoshopped World‘ by Paroma Mukherjee to see an Indian view of the photographers take on India.

Finally I’d like to mention an article in The Online Photographer, ‘C-E-R: Why we shouldn’t say “post” or “Photoshopping” any more‘. It’s not I think a very useful contribution, but one that reflects the anxiety some photographers feel about their own practices with images.

Post-processing or ‘post’ is just a useful term to cover everything that happens between when the file – raw or jpeg – emerges from the camera to when it appears on paper or screen. It isn’t really ‘after processing‘ as the article suggests, but ‘after exposure‘ processing’ If you want a more accurate term you could expand it to ‘post-exposure processing‘, but I’m all for keeping things short.

I’m not sure it is useful or possible to separate ‘correction‘ and ‘enhancement‘ as the article suggests, or to set clear limits as to what is allowable in photojournalism or documentary work (while in some other areas of photography clearly there are no limits on this or on the final category, ‘reworking‘.)

But what does seem clear to me is that this third element is simply something that should always be avoided by photojournalists and documentary photographers. And if Nat Geo aims to be anything more than a glossy travel-porn mag it certainly needs to give the photographers who work for it very strong guidance to that effect.

Stoke Newington

May 17th, 2016

There’s an article on Flashbak to a set of images that interested me with the title ‘A Faded Suburb with a Jaunty Air’ – Photos of Dalston 1979-1984, with pictures by Alan Denney, a teacher who became a mental health social worker, and who photographed the area he was living in.

They interest me in part because I was photographing at times in the same area as Denney at around the same time, though as a local his work has a far greater focus on the local people and events. To me Dalston was just one small part of London and my projects ranged across the whole of the greater city. His work is also far more politically engaged than mine at that time, though I think we share some of our views.

We both also share an interest and claim some inspiration from the work of Tony Ray-Jones, a photographer I’ve written about on many occasions, and who before his early death in 1972, as I wrote “gave the whole of British photographic culture a much-needed boot up the backside.”

Of course, Denney isn’t a great photographer like Ray-Jones was (or might have become), but does show how interesting a clearly focussed body of work can be, and can become with the passage of time. It’s interesting to go and look at the wider selection of his work on his Flikr site, where you will ifnd that he is now photographing many of the same events and people as I do, and also to read and listen to interviews and articles about him, for example on East London Lines and The Eel.

Epson Scans

May 13th, 2016

Today I’d doing some serous scanning despite it being a lovely day to go out and perhaps take some pictures. But I’ve a busy few days over the weekend and don’t want to get tired before this. I’m trying hard to finish a whole month of black and white work – July 1986. The pictures here are just a small sample from those I took that month, all in London.


Free Trade Wharf, Limehouse, London. July 1986

But before I started did something I should have done several years ago but always put off – something I’m definitely Grade A* at.

I’m scanning today with the Epson V750 flatbed; it’s much faster than the Minolta Dimage Multiscan Pro, and with care the results are virtually as good. I’ve been having problems with the Minolta – the Firewire interface has become unreliable, working for a few scans then giving up halfway, and it had become very difficult to use. It’s the way most of these scanners eventually fail.

The scanner also has a SCSI interface, but getting the SCSI card I have to work in my current computer might be difficult – though I mean one day to try. But SCSI is really now a thing of the past.

For some time I’ve been photographing negatives instead of scanning them, and I had everything set up using the D800E – and then that decided to internally destruct. Again another thing I mean to try is to get it working sufficiently to use for this, but that’s another job I’m putting off. And although the images were sharp and detailed I also had problems with getting even illumination across the frame.

So I decided to use the Epson V750 flatbed that I have on my desk and have mainly used for making scanned ‘contact sheets’ and as a photocopier, or a quick method of getting web-size images from slides or negatives. It is a capable scanner, and the only real reason for not using it before is that I had other ways of scanning negs that were just marginally superior. I’ve used the V750 both at home and elsewhere to produce scans for books by a couple of other photographers, and they have been very happy with the results.

A new Neg carrier

One of the problems that I think Epson themselves acknowledge is that the 35mm filmstrip negative holder just isn’t quite up to the job. They’ve never I think said so, but when they came out with the V800 it had a new holder. Unlike that provided with the V700 and V750 it was not glassless but incorporated anti-Newton’s rings glass as well as more flexible height adjustment to ensure correct focus.


Columbia Market, London. July 1986

Looking at the pictures in the reviews, some of which commented on the improved design, it looked as if it would fit the D750, and I checked this was so before ordering one – rather expensively – from eBay. As well as the A-N glass, it also has better height adjustment than the D700/750 holder. Overall it does seem possible to get flatter negatives and better overall sharpness – though before things were already fairly good

Having the glass does of course make dust more of a problem. But with care and a powerful blower brush, along with the Pro Co Statbrush 2000* conductive brush I used in the darkroom and a lint-free cloth or two it isn’t too bad – and Photoshop sees off much of it very quickly. I seem to get slightly less dust spots than with the Minolta, and so far none of the problems with Newton’s Rings that sometimes plague my Minolta scans. It was an effect I hardly saw in the first year I used the scanner, then told another photographer I hadn’t seen them, after which they became a real problem.

Cleaning under the scanner glass

For several years I’ve been looking at the V750 and seeing smears and dust on the underside of the platen glass; I could clean the top easily, but these remained. The manual didn’t help, and on several occasions I’ve done a quick search on the web and read dire warnings from various people and decided perhaps it didn’t really matter.


Bridge over Regent’s Canal, Bridport Place, Islington, London. July 1986

This time I was a little more assiduous in my search, and found a few people who said it was a quick and easy job. A link to Epson’s exploded drawings of the scanner on the ‘Better Scanning’ site which has a page about dismantling various Epson models confirmed it was a matter of lifting the lighting module off from the scanner bed and then revealing and removing 4 screws and the top would lift off. And so it did.

The hardest part was removing the four plastic plugs which hide the screws, which I did by kind of digging at their edges with a craft knife and easing them up. They have a V on their top and are easy to spot, one fairly near each corner of the glass bed. Once the screws are removed the top can be pulled off – mine caught a bit at the front a needed a little persuasion. Fortunately fitting it back on again after cleaning turned out to be as simple.

Using Epson Scan

The Epson scanner software isn’t bad when used in ‘Professonal’ mode, though some features – like the ‘Thumbnails‘ which always seem to crop your images are best avoided. I do a Preview scan, click the Normal tab if thumbnails have appeared, then drag a marquee roughly around the first neg I want to scan, and click to ‘zoom’ in. It’s best then to adjust the marquee to be entirely inside the image area to avoid any black and white areas outside the frame which might affect exposure before clicking on the auto-exposure icon.

Auto-exposure will always give a less than optimal result, but does get in you the ballpark. It’s best to keep the Histogram panel open all the time you are scanning and click on the ‘show output’ button to check if there is any black or white clipping. Adjust the input values to get rid of all or almost all of this, then move the midpoint slider to get the image looking roughly how you want it.

I can’t see any real point in not having the output as the default visible in this panel as it is what you really need to see, although sometimes you might want to be able to view the input. It’s one of several minor annoyances about the software, but otherwise it works well. I could instead use Vuescan, which I’ve used with the other scanners, but somehow never bothered with the Epson. Perhaps I’ll download the latest version and give it a try, certainly when I start to scan some colour negs.

It’s best to scan in 16 bit grey for black and white (48 bit RGB for colour) as then you can make final adjustments to brightness and contrast in Photoshop (or other image editor.) You are going to have to open the images in Photoshop anyway to retouch the dust etc. So concentrate on getting all you can from the neg by avoiding clipping.

Re-adjust the marquee boundaries to the edge of the image, and then you are ready to scan. Of course you will have already set the directory for the image to save in and for it to be saved as 16 bit tiff, as well as a suitable stem for the name – to which Epson Scan with add 001, 002…


Closed Turf Accountants, Micawber St, Islington, London. July 1986

When the scan has saved, click on ‘Full’ in the preview pane, shift the marquee to the next image on the page you want to scan, and then ‘Zoom’ to view it and adjust exposure. Only use the auto-expose icon if it comes up way out, otherwise it is generally quicker to adjust from the previous values. And ‘unsharp mask’ has a habit of sneaking itself on. You don’t need it – if you want sharpening, Photoshop can do it better.

One further hint. Always go through the negs and decide exactly which are worth scanning – I mark the contact sheets, but if you don’t have these, you can write down the negative numbers. Otherwise if you are like me you will end up scanning twice as many.


* Not quite as effective as those Polonium 210 based StaticMaster brushes we used to use, but which now appear unobtainable in the UK. Quite safe so long as you remembered not to stir your tea with them!

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Bomb Syria

May 12th, 2016

Don’t Bomb Syria was a big protest, attended by several thousand people, and obviously rather larger than the police had planned for, and it soon became obvious that their attempts to keep traffic flowing had been a mistake. It’s hard to think of any road in London which is a vital route – there are always other ways to drive from A to B, and there are often closures for various ceremonial or sporting events, but sometimes the whole purpose of policing protests appears to be to keep traffic moving.

The numbers present forced them to  close the southbound carriageway a few minutes before the rally started, but they continued to keep traffic flowing northbound, having to keep clearing off groups of protesters who kept coming onto it from the pavement to get closer to the speakers. Finally enough people decided they had had enough of the police action and a large crowd moved on to the road and after a while sat down and blocked it.

London has been very slow to take the obvious move of pedestrianising some of its central areas; while many suburban high streets are now traffic-free, Oxford St is still full of traffic and Parliament Square remains a large traffic island. Almost everyone feels that Trafalgar Square is so much improved after the North Terrace was finally pedestrianised in 2003 – except for the National Gallery, which is upset by the buskers and ‘living statues’ who lower the tone by performing there. Much as I hate ‘living statues’,  and would certainly welcome some form of cull, it is far more pleasant now than when the area was full of buses, lorries and diesel fumes.

I wasn’t happy with some of the speakers at the protest, although I agreed that a military intervention by the UK at this time was unlikely to have any positive effect. We should have acted much earlier, though not directly, rather than speaking in support the Syrian opposition and against the dictator Assad but refusing to give those who opposed him any material support.

While the Russian position perhaps made it impossible to act directly it would have been possible to find ways for the Syrian rebels to have much more effective defence against the air attacks of the Syrian regime, and to stop the huge oil exports, mainly smuggled through our ally Turkey which have largely financed ISIS.

What I waited for in vain as I photographed the speakers at the event was for anyone giving a view from the Syrian opposition – instead we got many of the same speakers who get paraded at every Stop the War protest. Some of them are worth listening to, others too predictable to be really worth the effort. And several did stress the need to take effective action about the Turkish oil smuggling that is funding ISIS – something the Russian bombing and press releases have made us all aware of.

From a purely technical point of view it is always a pleasure to watch and listen to speakers such as George Galloway and Tariq Ali, whether or not what they are talking makes sense (and usually at least some of it does.)  Some of the others can reliably be expected to speak good sense, but  as I say in Speakers at Don’t Bomb Syria

” I was left waiting and wanting. There with notebook poised ready to write down the names of the speakers representing the Syrians and the Syrian Kurds, who should surely have been at the forefront of this protest rather than so many old ‘Stop the War’ war-horses. None came, not because none were available or willing to speak, but because the politics of those most closely involved don’t accord with those of Stop the War.”

Eventually I lost interest in the speeches and concentrated on the large group by now blocking the road, as you can see in the third part of my report:  Don’t Bomb Syria Blocks Whitehall.

After around an hour, people were beginning to leave, and the arrival of more police who then went around telling people they would be arrested if they continued to sit in the roadway fairly quickly persuaded the others it was time to end their protest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cyclists Die in London

May 10th, 2016

It was on my sixth birthday that I got my first two-wheeler. Before that I’d had a pedal car and then a basic trike, both of which I rode along the pavements of our street, and just occasionally on the road. There wasn’t a lot of traffic then. It wasn’t a main road, a side road in what is now one of London’s outer boroughs, then a part of Middlesex. On the stretch of a few hundred yards on which we played, there were a handful of shops and perhaps 50 houses. Usually only one car was ever parked there, owned by the parents of one of my boyhood friends, often playing around our house or on the street. He and his parents lived in his gran’s small house; they could afford a car because both his parents went out to work – something my mother definitely didn’t approve of. A few years later they moved out to a council flat a couple of miles away. Times have very much changed.

Of course it wasn’t a new bike. Like the trikes and the pedal car it had been handed down. It wouldn’t have been new when my elder brothers had ridden it, but probably my father had cleaned it up and given it a new coat of paint, keeping it hidden in a corner of his workshop so it came as a surprise.

For a few hours I was on it, riding up and down the pavement with an older brother’s hand on the saddle running with me, until eventually I realised I was on my own and had travelled a few yards before putting my feet down. Then I had it, and could ride, and after a little more practice could both start off and stop without falling off. It was freedom.

It wasn’t long before I was riding to visit friends from my class who lived half a mile away, and when they too got bikes we would ride around the local heath, and to parks and woods to play. And to get chased by park keepers, as cycling there certainly was not allowed.


Event organiser Donnachadh McCarthy (left) taking part in the die-in

A couple of years later I graduated to a larger model – again ten or twelth-hand – but with hub gears, and there was no holding us back. Soon we were cycling out to Box Hill or Virginia Water and other places around the south-west edges of London, often making our way along major roads such as the A3, A4, A30. A few sections built in the 1930s had cycle paths, but most didn’t, and we made our way in often heavy traffic.

Even so, it was safer than today. Traffic speeds on the open road were generally slower and lorries were smaller. Now my parents would probably have their children taken away by social services if they allowed them the freedom we enjoyed. But then they made sure we knew the rules of the road, taught us to keep our bikes in good order and left us to it.

Many reasons have combined to make our roads now less safe for cyclists – and some of the changes have been deliberate. Traffic engineering for many years only considered how to allow cars and lorries go faster, realigning junctions, roundabouts and one way systems, designing them with this in mind. It’s still happening with many local authority transport departments, increasing the danger to cyclists and pedestrians at many junctions.

In recent years, things have begun to change. Cycling in London got a boost from the 2005 bombings, which made some people reluctant to use the tube, and numbers of cyclists continue to increase. Folding bikes like the Brompton I sometimes now use have increased many people’s choices, making bikes easy to store in small flats or at the office and allowing commuters to combine cycling with tube or rail. And those misnamed ‘Boris Bikes’ that Ken set in motion have encouraged many more to get on a bike.

Safety is a major reason many people give for not cycling in London, and there is good reason behind this. At last November’s protest there was a row of 21 mock coffins, one for each of the cyclists killed on London’s roads in the previous 2 years. The great majority of them killed by heavy goods vehicles, particularly skip lorries, designed with very limited vision to the rear and along their sides.

The protest was organised by ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’, a pressure group calling for a much greater emphasis on cycle safety. In Stop Killing Cyclists Die-in you can see and outline of the list of demands for safer cycling they presented to London’s then prospective Mayoral candidates. The response from Sadiq Khan, now elected to the post was not too encouraging (though a little more positive than than of his main rival, the allegedly green Conservative Zac Goldsmith, both probably deciding that there were few votes for cyclists and promising more might upset motorists) but we can expect to see some progress under his reign. And outgoing mayor Boris’s last official engagement was to open the latest part of a cycle superhighway, a segregated bike path across Blackfriars Bridge.


Green Party Mayoral candidate Sian Berry (centre left) at the protest

Photographing the cyclists’ die-in just a quarter of a mile down the Blackfriars Rd from that bridge Bridge in front of the Transport for London offices presented some problems. Of course there wasn’t a great deal of light almost two hour after sunset, but it was more a matter of both giving an idea of the sheer number of bikes involved and of also of getting some strong foreground interest – and of avoiding other photographers, a few of whom were something of a nuisance wandering into the centre of the die-in.

I made use of the 16mm fisheye, as well as the 20mm f2.8 and the 28.0-200 mm  to try and make effective images, and felt I’d done a reasonable job. There are examples from each of these lenses above (the fisheye images converted using FisheyeHemi as usual.)  Of course I photographed other things than the die-in and Sian Berry, though you will find more pictures of both as well as more about the event at Stop Killing Cyclists Die-in.
Read the rest of this entry »