Thinking of Christmas

July 25th, 2016

It seems odd to be thinking of Christmas in July, though I’m sure some of the shops are getting their Xmas displays ready – and certainly ‘Back to School’ displays have already appeared in some although for most children today is the first day of their Summer Holidays.

But although this was a Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees, its unfortunately true that little has changed for many of them, still stuck in camps at European borders, including our own small cities of shame at Calais. Its all the more shameful as some of those stuck there are children with relatives in this country they almost certainly have a right to come here and join. But our government (and to be fair the previous coalition and, before that, Labour governments) have an obsession with migrant numbers which prevents them from acting in a humane manner.

One of the posters held by the relatively small group of protesters read ‘Canada 25k in one year, Britain 20k in five years. WHY?’ The short answer is that for many years the great majority of our press – owned by a handful of millionaires like Murdoch and the Barclay Brothers – has pursued a racist campaign against immigrants, and forced successive governments and oppositions to outbid each other in shifting to the right.

If we think about it, we know that we need immigration and have benefited from it. Vital services at all levels would collapse without it, from hospitals down to the many offices and public buildings that rely on migrant cleaners. One of the most stupid and cruel aspects of our treatment of refugees is that so many are locked away in detention centres, as if fleeing from danger and persecution was a crime. Even worse that the real motivation behind imprisonment seems to be to make it harder for those locked away to prove their right to asylum and thus make it more likely they will face forced deportation. And even if they are not locked up, they are denied the right to work, even though many have skills that would benefit society.

The protest was organised in defence of Syrian refugees and took place opposite Downing St to remind David Cameron of the need to meet his promises and to act as a decent human being. It was quite a gusty night, and it was difficult to light the candles and even harder to keep them alight, though eventually some windshields improvised from plastic cups helped.

The street lighting in Whitehall is surprisingly dim, and on the pavement a few yards from the roadway has little effect. For many of the pictures the main light source was the candles, and the protest began around dusk so there was enough ambient to make working at ISO3200 reasonably practicable. As it got darker I cursed that I’d forgotten to bring my hand-held LED light, which, though not very bright, would have made life much easier.

In the top picture I grasped the opportunity as a video light from someone else working there lit up just a part of the subject from one side; although video mounted lights generally produce very flat and boring images on video, here the light from well to the left of my camera spilling from where someone was being interviewed was doing a fine job for me.

Earlier in the day I’d been at a protest in Stratford, where I number of those present were wearing Santa hats. Free the Focus E15 Table came a week after Focus E15’s regular weekly street stall calling for housing for all and an end to social cleansing in Newham had been visited by police and Newham council officials who had ‘arrested’ the table they were using – an action that they later agreed was illegal and led to considerably on-line jollity.  The event was celebrated with speeches, songs, posters and a very small table, see here on top of a rather larger one. This week police and council avoided the area.

I’d decided not to cover the annual Santacon crawl around London this year, mainly because more important things were happening, but there were still quite a few Santas in Trafalgar Square after I’d finished photographing the refugees, so I stopped for a few minutes to take a few pictures.

I’m not against people having a little fun from time to time, and Christmas is a good excuse – why the Christians borrowed Saturnalia for their own festival – to cast a little light into the gloomiest time of the year.  And I do rather enjoy seeing a large pack of hundreds or thousands of red-clad figures taking over the streets of London. It would be good to see it encouraged by the authorities and for cars to be banned for Christmas.

Other Santas were out having fun for a more serious  purpose – and were keen to tell me they had no connection with the drunken frivolity of Santacon. Just as well as they were riding BMX bikes, as this was a BMX club fund-raising charity run.

A few more pictures of Santacon and BMZX riders in Santas in London.

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Drive Challenged

July 24th, 2016

A little of a shock to my system this morning when I suddenly got a message that one of the external hard drives connected to my system, a pretty full 3.63Tb (that’s 4 TB to the manufacturer) Samsung D3 Station, needed to be formatted to be used by the system.

I looked at the drive and tried unplugging the USB3 connector from it and replugging, then rebooted the system, and the drive was still missing. I traced the cable back to the system box, unplugged it and then put it back in, and fortunately that did the trick. Thinking back, it had gone AWOL just after I’d taken a memory card from my card reader close by, and I think I’d perhaps caught my had on the cable from the hard disk and pulled it out slightly, enough to cause the error, but not enough to be noticeable at a glance.

Back when I taught a little networking as a part of a Cisco Academy program, the mantra for error solving went ‘cables, cables, cables’ and it has often proved true. One old friend of mine spent 9 months trying to connect a new scanner to his Mac, and I told him I couldn’t help him as I knew nothing about Macs – and it took several Mac repair services before one of them simply tried it with a new cable, and it worked.

I’ve been having a problem with a little external power bank I carry around in my camera bag for when my smartphone runs out of juice; small light and very cheap it used to do the trick, but not the last time I needed it. I tried recharging it again and it still didn’t seem to work, so bought another slightly larger model on E-bay – for around twice the cost, at a fiver it was still cheap. I charged it, and tested it and it was working fine. Then I remembered ‘cables’. The new model had a rather nicer looking cable – and when I tested the old power bank using the new cable, guess what? Well, I now have a choice of two usable power banks, and the larger one I’ve just bought will be handy for longer trips.

But the hard disk problem made me think and worry. Did I know exactly what was on that Hard drive? And was all of it backed up elsewhere?

For this particular drive the answers were mainly positive, though perhaps I do need to think more about where I back up my Lightroom catalogue. Though I do have xmp files saved for all of the images just in case something goes wrong. But I should really spend the time to check that everything is backed up, and not just on my Drobo 5N. If you are an active photographer, then the size of RAW files does make this something of a challenge.

The problem for me has really been that storage capacities of cheap media storage haven’t kept up with the increase in RAW file sizes. The RAW files from the Fuji XP2 are around 33Mb, though those from the Nikons are a bit smaller- and with good compression options.

Until some time in 2013 I kept every usable image, copying them all to DVD (I’d moved up from CD a few years earlier) but it just became an impossible burden to keep up. The D700 RAW files are around 11Mb (12 bit, lossy compression) a time.

Hard drive sizes have increased a little – I recently added an 8TB drive to my Drobo array – and 4GB USB3 drives have become relatively affordable. I’m slowly copying files to one as I write simply for backup – and when it is full I’ll take it off the computer and store it in a plastic bag to keep dust out on the shelf. Maybe give it a spin every now and again to check it is still working should my other copy become unreadable.

It isn’t a perfect solution, but nor is anything else. If my house burns down I’ll lose all those images that aren’t stored online. But online storage can’t be relied on either – as some friends have found when companies go out of business.

A Red Line

July 19th, 2016

Photography is often largely a matter of solving problems. It isn’t just a matter of pointing a camera, thinking ‘I like that’ and going snap, though occasionally that works, but there are acres of images on Facebook and other online sites that show you the success rate is fairly low. Even where the camera or phone has looked after the technical stuff (and if only more would, but too many people manage to make ordinary scenes as if they were taken in muddy underwater locations) many images simply fail to convey what the person taking them wanted.

Of course they may still convey it to them, and obviously do, or they would not have posted them, but too often they fail to communicate to others.

But photographs also benefit from an openness, trying to leave room for interpretation rather than determine what viewers think, and also trying to avoid cliche; they need a freshness that stimulates.

Viewpoint – angle, distance, angle of view – depth of field, lighting, timing, duration etc are some of the tools we have, and perhaps what distinguishes the truly professional photographer is taking into account the other bits of the picture apart from what they see as the ‘subject’. As I used to tell students, you are responsible for every pixel of our photograph – even those over which you had no control over at the moment of taking.

Some of the trickiest problems come when other people create ideas that may sound great, and may even look great, but are impossible, or virtually so, to photograph. And the thin red line on Westminster Bridge was a good example. Campaign against Climate Change‘s idea of carrying a red line three hundred metres long across Westminster Bridge as a protest against the inadequacy of the COP21 Paris decisions was a good one, but not the easiest of things to photograph.

An object 300m by 1m doesn’t nicely fit the 35mm frame, even if there had been a suitable viewpoint – perhaps hovering far below the legal height in a helicopter mid-Thames – and my budget certainly didn’t run to that. The closest I could have got would have been at the top of the London Eye, and from there I think the line would have been too insignificant. Better in any case to draw it by hand on an image from Google Earth or some bird’s eye source, along with a few little dots for the people holding it.

It could have made a long tracking shot on film or video, hoping not too many people got in the way as you dollied along, perhaps with the camera attached to a bicycle. But as always I was making still images.

It was too a fairly fast moving event, and with other photographers trying their own way to photograph it – and so far as possible I tried to keep out of their away and to avoid getting them in frame. It was important in at least some frames to show clearly the location – with the Houses of Parliament in the background.

Considering everything I don’t think I did too badly, as you can see from the few frames here and more at Climate Activists Red Line protest on My London Diary.
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Whitechapel Murders & ‘Banners’

July 15th, 2016

It wasn’t quite in Whitechapel. I’m not quite sure what to call the area on Cable St where this violent attack by Jane Nicholl of Class War, witnessed by police, was taking place. A hundred years or so ago it might have been called ‘Wellclose’ or ‘St. George in the East’, but today we’d probably call it Wapping or Shadwell, though historically it lies on the wrong side of The Highway. But the bloody massacre was taking place on Cable St, where local communities fought police who were trying to force a way for the fascists to march into the East End, a battle commemorated by a fine mural around 600 yards to the east.

Class War were protesting with others, including fourth-wave feminists, outside London’s tackiest tourist attraction, the Jack the Ripper so-called museum. A whole industry has built up over the years to obfuscate the case, but the police at the time were I think convinced that the vile murderer was Montague Druitt, whose body was fished out of the Thames on December 31, 1888, and no other convincing suspect has emerged, despite the many books and articles devoted to the subject. The murders attracted great attention at the time, largely because of the gory dissection of the victims, but to revel in this so long after is surely pathological.

As many have pointed out, there is a great history of working class women in the area, and the Ripper shop got planning permission as a museum to display this, rather than the gory details of an ancient crime against women. More pictures and text about the Ripper and the event at Bloody Murder at Ripper ‘museum’. Fortunately the ‘blood’ this time was washable.

The few nights later I was out again with Class War, though only with a couple of them (I’d expected more), Ian Bone and Simon Elmer, on Bermondsey High St. 
When I first went to Bermondsey it was a resolutely working-class area, though the industries that had kept the people working had largely disappeared. London’s docks had moved out east to Tilbury, with larger vessels being unable to make it to the Pool of London, and containerisation replacing older and less efficient methods of cargo handling, and changes in technology and globalisation killed off most of the smaller industries of the area.  Workshops were now empty, or occupied by artists and the process of gentrification was beginning – and is now almost complete so far as Bermondsey St itself is concerned.

One large site is now home to the White Cube Gallery, and there a show was opening by Gilbert & George. I imagine Class War see them as parasites rather than artists (and I’ve never been a fan, regarding their trademark suits as practice rather like the Emperor’s New Clothes, but lacking in much interest – part of an Art World money bubble) and certainly would detest their political views,  but here it was their exploitative appropriation of political slogans in the show ‘Banners’ (and I think any actual political banner is really worth more than their feeble images in the show with their childish signature), as well as the whole elitist nature of the gallery that I think was more the target – and made the show a suitable launch pad for a new campaign against gentrification.

The two protesters stood quietly holding posters on the large yard outside the gallery – an empty paved space worth hundreds of thousands at London property prices, and although it was rather dark I managed to take a few pictures.

Their presence of course attracted the attention of the gallery security, who came and talked with them and were told they were a part of the act as it was a show about protest. One security man then went inside to consult the gallery staff, while another stood watching to see the two behaved themselves.

A woman came out from the gallery staff and talked with the two protesters, but asked me to stop taking pictures. Since I had already taken enough I didn’t argue, and after some discussion she agreed the protest could continue for a few more minutes so long as the two didn’t interfere with those attending the opening and then left quietly.

I sat on the wall and waited to see what would happen – and perhaps was a little surprised that nothing did, and after a short while the two rolled up their posters and walked out. We walked together up the street to another space used for temporary community displays at the rear of a supermarket. There was a little more light, but it was almost all from inside and I had to use flash to avoid making the people and the posters they were putting up silhouettes.  But the main technical difficulties were non-photographic; it was a gusty night and Blutak wasn’t strong enough to hold the posters in place on the glass.

Finally we walked back up the street, pausing briefly in front of the White Cube, but on the street. Without flash I could photograph the people inside the gallery with the two protesters standing in front, but they were very much underexposed. Given enough time I could have added just the right amount of flash, but the two moved on before I’d got it quite right, as you can see in Class War at Gilbert & George ‘Banners’.

Finally the pair decided to hold up the posters to be photographed in front of several estate agents – who they see as the villains of gentrification, though in reality they merely make excessive profits from it, rather than really driving the process. And as a bonus they found the Fashion and Textile Museum, Zandra Rhodes’ baby.

Working with just two protesters made it rather difficult to maintain my normal non-intervention in events, but I was careful not to suggest or tell the pair what to do. If some of the pictures appear posed, it was because they posed, and not because I directed them, though of course I reacted to their actions. And had I not been there they would probably have gone directly home (or more likely to the pub) after their initial protest outside the gallery.  Or had they walked along the street perhaps one of them would have been able to photograph the other holding up a poster. Certainly my presence changed what happened considerably, and much more than is normally the case when I photograph protests.

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June 2016

July 12th, 2016

Unless I’ve miscounted there are 34 stories on My London Diary for June, along with a few images taken as I travelled around.  I was trying hard to take things a little easier, but events were against me.

And events were also against the country. Although I can understand why so many people voted for Brexit, I think the reasons had little to do with the actual merits of the case and that it’s a decision that many will come to regret. Of course we don’t yet have any real idea of its consequences, though I think it almost certain that we will come out of it worse in every respect than if we stayed in.  Certainly politically, where Europe has at least acted as a brake on some of the wilder dreams of the right ring fringe which seems likely now to drive our Tory government.

I’m not a member of the Labour Party, but it’s sad also to watch its attempts to self-destruct. In Jeremy Corbyn they elected a leader who at least had a chance of winning the next election, with many policies that – according to the opinion polls – have a great deal of popular support, but from the start many MPs have been plotting determinedly to sabotage his leadership. He seems so far to have done pretty well despite this, perhaps why the establishment is so much against him, and determined to do him down. I’ve been listening to his speeches and photographing him for over 20 years and while I don’t always agree with him, I think he would make one of the better prime ministers we’ve had. Things are I think changing in politics, and much of the old left/right stuff is now irrelevant, just a silly political game which the media love for its simplicity.


June 2016

UVW Wood St Strike continues
Act Up for Love
London Still Stays
Thousands rally to Keep Corbyn
Kaya Mar’s Brexit Breakdown
Keep Corbyn – No Coup
Solidarity for Victims of Torture Worldwide
Pride London 2016
Migrant Rights & Anti-Racist Pride

Defend All Migrants
Yes to Europe Rally
UVW Wood St Strike Day 10

Rip Down the Ripper Facade!
Central Hill Open Gardens Estates
UCL Rent Strike Victory
Axe the Housing Act March

Municipal Journal Awards

Advance to Mayfair
London Traffic Deaths Vigil
Day 3 UVW Wood St Cleaners Strike
Hoxton Mini Press Book Launch
Punk London 1977
No Red Arrows Over Pride
Capita Racism Protests Continue
UVW Cleaners on Strike in City
10 Years of Cleaners’ Struggle at SOAS 100
Syrians demand break the siege of Alwaer
Congo Massacre protest
Call for a Greater Hungary
Rally against axing NHS student bursaries

March to save NHS student bursaries
Boycott HP against Israeli apartheid
Capita Cleaners strike against racism
Guantanamo Diary author remembered

London Images

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Ansel Adams’ Darkroom

July 11th, 2016

Like many who came to photography in the last century, I learnt to make fine black and white prints from Ansel Adams. Not in person, but from his ‘Basic Photo Series’, in my case the ‘New Edition’ published in 1968, a series of five slim but information-packed volumes of which I bought two, Volumes 3 and 4, The Print and Natural Light Photography. Somewhat surprisingly I’d come across the first two volumes (Camera & Lens and The Negative) in my local library, where they comprised almost the whole of the photography section, or I might have saved up for at least the second of these, and I bought both in the early 1980s when they came out in a rather less pithy form in ‘The New Ansel Adams Photography Series’.

I was never a huge fan of Ansel’s photography, and never more than dabbled in large format photography – I can count the number of exposures I made personally on 10×8 on the fingers of one hand (and wouldn’t show them even to you), though I acted as an unpaid assistant for rather more. I still own two 4×5 cameras, though they’ve long been gathering dust, a monorail I think only ever used for copy work and similar, and an MPP folder that I perhaps made a few hundred exposures with, particularly when I had an interest in alternative processes that require contact printing. But I’d been very impressed by the quality of Ansel’s prints when I saw them exhibited in London, something at a quite different level to the work at other exhibitions I’d seen here in the UK, both in the tonalities and presentation.

When I joined a camera club and decided to put work into their monthly competitions, I printed following his precepts and also presented my work following him as guide, working with large white (or slightly off-white) archival board window mounts. It was probably this departure from the then accepted norms rather than my different subject and approach that caused more derision from many established club members and some club judges, though it also gained me some friends and a few others who began to follow my lead.

I certainly would not make a video of my darkroom, cramped and lacking in facilities, though a good example of how much you can pack into a very limited space, but you can see Ansel Adams’ darkroom – and some brief glimpses of the man himself at work on line at PDN Pulse. Of course it’s nowadays a historic record – rather like an exhibit at the Science Museum – than of any practical use.

Some photographers continue to use film, and if you are happily doing so, then that’s fine. But those who are evangelistic about it are I think in the main deluded – there really are no good reasons for doing so. Technically digital wins in every way, and even if you want the kind of incorrect colour rendition we had to put up with on film, or the excessive grain when pushed in low light, or any of the other defects that some film aficionados seem to prize, you can more easily produce them on digital files. Of course digital isn’t limited to this, it can also do much that film never could.

While I’m sure that were Ansel still around and still sprightly despite being 114 he would still be in that incredible darkroom, I’m also sure he would be relishing the possibilities of digital imaging and particularly digital printing and of software such as Photoshop that would give him even greater control over his images than he ever managed in the darkroom. I’m still making use of what I learnt from him in front of the computer, even though my darkroom has long been gathering dust.

Too Many Terrible Photos

July 8th, 2016

No, the heading isn’t a description of my own My London Diary, though I have to admit that I have often posted too many pictures of a particular event, but part of the headline of an article I read on PetaPixel, Rant: Street Photographers are Posting Too Many Terrible Photos Online.

Its an article worth reading, though I think I start with a more basic objection to much so-called ‘street photography’, which is that too often its concerns are essentially trivial. For me photography isn’t about the paragraph in the article which I think clearly expresses the article’s writer Nicholas Goodden’s view of what photographs should be about:

Is it outstandingly beautiful in the way it contrasts light/shadow, or the way the lines, silhouettes, and shapes come together? Is there some clever juxtaposition? Will the viewer be hit by a tornado of emotions? Will it make people laugh, blush, or cry?

Of course it’s sometimes nice to make pictures that use some of these things, though I’m rather doubtful about that “tornado of emotions”; I’d prefer to have photographs that make people think and that are more open to different interpretations. And that have perhaps a certain mystery. But above all photographs that are not just about making pictures, but that have something to say about the society we live in.

And of course much that has been called ‘street photography’ does. One of the books on the shelves next to my computer desk is perhaps the bible of street photography, ‘Bystander’, by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. It’s a work that everyone who wants to think of themself as being a ‘street photographer’ should read and digest, full of great work by photographers I admire, including Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, Garry Winogrand and more, although one of the photographers dealt with at greatest length in the book, Robert Frank, refused to let his pictures appear, so they should read it together with his ‘The Americans‘, a book I think you can’t really call yourself a photographer unless you own a well-thumbed copy of.

I spent some years working on the streets of London (as I still do) when I thought of myself as a ‘street photographer’, and have hundreds if not thousands of contact sheets from those days, which perhaps one day I’ll revisit and publish something from. Back in 2008 on this site I wrote Street a State of Mind? which I think is still worth reading, with a more or less random selection of black and white images (including the one above) which I just happened to have scanned for various articles from that large body of work. Here’s my first paragraph from that post:

I think I’ve more or less got over being a street photographer, though I work most of the time on the street, if anything I do think of myself as a ‘post-street’ photographer. Been there, done that, eventually got bored.

Rather than repeat myself, I’ll leave you to read what I wrote then.

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Arles from a distance

July 8th, 2016

I’ve mentioned before l’Oeil de la photographie, or as I should probably call it now that it seems to have fully sorted out its English version The Eye of Photography, and for those of us not in Arles, its perhaps one of the best ways to follow the festival.
Today’s editorial (July 8, 2016) by Jean-Jacques Naudet, Photography is dead, long live the image! is an interesting introduction, with its second paragraph announcing the end of much that made me reluctant as a photographic outsider to attend:

‘All of a sudden, we, the dinosaurs, the old hands, feel a bit lost. Gone are the eternal meetings, incestuous and mortifying, which one had to attend annually since the beginning of the century: such-and-such lunch, a BMW events, a wink from Madame So-and-So, tips from Olympus over tea, dinners with Pictet and after-hour drinks with Picto!’

I’m not sure I believe it, those dinosaurs have a remarkable resilience, but then I’m sitting a long way away, living through ‘interesting times’ in London. Given our Brexit vote, perhaps I should give it all up and move to the south of France while I still can and hope I’ll be allowed to stay after our break becomes final.

Lower down the page on ‘l’Oeil‘ (I’m afraid the English short-form ‘Eye‘ is long taken by a magazine of a rather different nature, where you can often read the truth behind British politics that the establishment would prefer was kept private but lacks much appreciation of photography) you can follow links to some of the exhibitions and events you are missing. I’m not worried about missing Don McCullin‘s show as I doubt it has anything to add to what I’m already familiar with, powerful though some of his images are, but there are other shows that I’d love to be able to stroll into, and I’ve just wasted some minutes on walking around the city on Google Streetview – which makes me wish I was there rather than in front of my computer on a dull morning on the edge of London. Perhaps a little later I’ll sit in the garden and treat myself to a glass of wine, close my eyes and dream.

But then I’ll have to wake up, rejoin the real world and pick up my camera bag to cover a rally opposite Downing St against the continuing siege of Gaza and an end to the UK’s arms trade with Israel.

Bursary or Bust

July 7th, 2016

One of the meaner and crazier cuts planned by the Tory government is the proposal to axe the NHS student bursaries. There are good reasons why nursing students etc get a bursary while undergoing their training, but on 25 November an announcement was made that from 1 August 2017, new nursing, midwifery and allied health students will no longer receive NHS bursaries.

Apart from nurses and midwifes the list includes some specialities I would have to look up, but here it is in full:

Chiropodist, Podiatrist, Operating Department Practitioner, Dental Hygienist/Dental Therapist, Orthotist/Prosthetist, Orthoptist, Dietitian, Physiotherapist, Radiographer, Radiotherapist, Speech and Language Therapist and Occupational Therapist.

Currently there are awards which cover (up to certain limits) tuition fees, as well as maintenance, in part means-tested and reduced by expected contributions from parents or partners. It’s a complicated scheme, and not particularly generous, but it does allow many students who would otherwise be unable to train, particularly mature students, to do so.

Instead of bursaries,  in future NHS students will have to rely on student loans – and end their courses with large debts which will have to be repaid.

Student nurses don’t just go to lectures and take notes. Much of there time is spent actually in hospitals looking after patients just as they will do when they have finished their training. They learn on the job, and are an essential part of the provision of services for patients. They  are doing useful and necessary work for the NHS and deserve to be recompensed for it.

Because of the long shifts they work in hospital, student nurses have far less opportunity to supplement their  income with part-time work than other students.

We have a shortage of nurses and many hospitals have to advertise overseas and bring in trained nurses from abroad. We simply do not train enough. Health Minister Jeremy Hunt wants to cut the cost of training by axing bursaries, making it possible to offer more training places; but doing so will certainly make it much harder for many students to take up the places, and will penalise all those who train for these vital jobs, who will suffer hardship while training and also have to continue paying back their loans long into their careers.

Nursing isn’t a career that people go into for the money,  and it involves a great deal of work at unsocial hours. It seems unfair to further penalise them by removing the bursaries.  The protests are being led by current nursing students from Kings College, and supported by those from elsewhere as well as across the whole medical professions. The changes will not affect those currently studying, but only new students from 2017, and the protests are because they see the effect it will have on future generations of students, and also on the NHS.

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Unprocessed from the 1950s

July 5th, 2016

A day or two ago on Petapixel I read a fascinating story ‘1200 Rolls of Unprocessed Film Found‘ which took me to Indiegogo to find out more.

There Levi Bettwieser, the founder and film technician for The Rescued Film Project, writes:

Around 1 year ago, we acquired 66 bundles of film. Each bundle contains anywhere from 8-36 rolls of film, totaling what we’re estimating to be about 1,200 rolls, all shot by the same photographer in the 1950s.

Bettweiser goes on to explain how the film was extremely carefully and systematically wrapped up, although not in any truly archival fashion. But back in the 1950s people were generally pretty clueless about exactly how to preserve photographic material of any kind – and even companies like Kodak were selling colour film that we would now regard as highly unstable, and making colour prints that faded almost as fast as Wedgewood’s unfixed images on leather (which as my late friend Terry King demonstrated by making an image in a similar way, would keep for quite a few years if only briefly taken out of its black bag for the occasional viewing.)

Fortunately the photographer concerned used black and white film, which even then had fairly good keeping qualities. Although it’s still best to process film shortly after exposure, a few years of post-exposure storage in a sealed and chemically neutral environment like a film can makes little difference. I’ve still got a few films from around ten years ago, some of the last few I took, that I’ve not got around to developing. I keep meaning to process them, but somehow never seem to have the time. I sent some of them that were taken on chromogenic films off for C41 processing last year and they were fine.

The photographer who took these pictures went to considerable trouble, replacing the exposed films in the box in which they were sold. Those shown in the picture on-line are Kodak 620 Panatomic-X films, a format that disappeared in the 1990s, with film and backing paper identical to that on 120 film but wound around a much slimmer spindle. This tells us virtually nothing, as many cameras were made to use the format, from Box Brownies to more sophisticated models such as the twin-lens reflex Argus C40 and folders such as the Kodak Vollenda 620 which had a 10.5cm Leitz Elmar f4.5 lens which were capable of entirely professional results.

Putting the film back in its printed card boxes was not a good idea, and neither was including “a hand written note detailing what was shot” inside the aluminium foil which then swathed the package. Wrapping this in “athletic tape” will have helped in sealing the package, but may also have introduced substances that might damage the film. It did allow labelling on the outside of the package, which appears also to have been done meticulously. 620 film, like 120 film, could be used in different format cameras, giving 8 exposures in a 6×9 (cm) camera (or its imperial equivalent) and 12 on 6×6. That the photographer appears to have recorded that one roll had 12 exposures perhaps suggests he had more than one camera with different formats.

Further archival sins were to then pack these wrapped films into wooden cigar boxes (presumably the photographer had connections in the cigar trade, or he would have died from nicotine poisoning before finishing this work)  and then wrapping these in newspaper covered with yet more foil and tape. And then presumably put into storage.

It is certainly the work of an obsessive, though his or her motivations are unclear, and although we may suspect Bettwieser knows more, he isn’t telling. According to the Petapixel article, all he knows is that his “name was Paul and that he was a steel worker“. Certainly the work would appear to be an incredible time capsule, but we can’t really assess whether it is of any real interest, either in photographic or in social terms as so far only one of the estimated 1200 rolls appears to have been processed. The six pictures from that one roll appear to show us work that would be largely of interest to Paul’s grandchildren, though perhaps the 50 rolls that have now been sent off with reveal something of more value.

I’d certainly want to know more before making a donation to the appeal for $15,000 to get the rest of the films processed – though as I write, the project is well over half-funded with 2 months to go and seems likely to reach its goal. And unlike the Rescued Film Project I don’t believe that all photographs are worth preserving – it may well be that the best place for most of these 66 bundles of films is landfill. Others share some of my scepticism, as you can see from the comments about the project on Digital Photography Review.

On the RFP web site are the two statements:

Copyright of the collection of images on this website is Owned By The Rescued Film Project.
Duplication of Any Images Without Prior Consent is Prohibited.

Like me, you may be wondering about this, as copyright – except in some cases of work for hire, or where the photographer has assigned it – belongs to the photographer, even if they are unknown, and when the photographer is deceased it becomes a part of his estate.

I find on their web site that when  you send unexposed film to the Rescued Film Project, you have to include a signed form which states that by “donating your film you are granting The Rescued Film Project full print/publish copyright of recovered images.” In return they promise to “email you a digital copy of all discernible images for your personal use.

It’s perhaps a fair exchange for getting your family snaps free, but it does make me think that if Paul or his heirs who donated the film really thought the images were of any real worth they would not have given them away. Or if they came from some third party, although they owned the material, they may well not own the copyright, though you would need to ask a lawyer to be sure. If it turns out they are worth something, we may see an interesting court case.