Frank continued (part 2)

September 16th, 2019

Here is the second of three parts of my longish essay about Robert Frank, certainly the greatest influence on other photographers including myself in the years that followed publication of his book ‘The Americans’ in 1958/9. The final and I think most interesting part, in which I take a look at that book in some detail will follow shortly.


New York and Travel

As soon as he possibly could, in 1947, Frank left Switzerland and moved to New York. Art director Alexey Brodovitch encouraged Frank to photograph for Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion magazines. Frank soon found fashion restricting and also contributed to “Life”, “Look”, “Fortune”, “McCall’s”, and “The New York Times”.

Frank also began to travel, coming back to Europe in 1951, where he photographed in mining villages in Wales and in London, as well as photographing in South America for a book including work by Swiss photographer Werner Bischof and the French photographer Pierre Verger who devoted more than half of his life to the study, promotion, and practice of Afro-Brazilian culture.

In Wales he took a powerful if slightly predictable close view of a miner coming back from the pit, blackened by coal. It is a powerful portrait, the cheery face beneath a cloth cap heightened by contrast with the broader out of focus miner in the left of the frame. His picture of children playing on the slag heap, and of a miner at home scrubbing himself in a zinc bath while his wife sits at the table reading the newspaper are vibrant reminders of vanished times, and were surely informed by pictures from the 1930s of similar scenes taken by Bill Brandt.

In London too he was drawn to the stereotype, but rendered it in a personal and interesting fashion; men in bowlers and top hats stroll through the fog of city streets, carrying umbrellas. There are also some odd moments and places – a dog in a foggy street, an angel peering over a wall, mothers (or nannies) struggling with giant wrapped babies and prams in the park, bombsites and hearses.

Back in New York in 1953, Frank began to work with Edward Steichen in selecting work for an exhibition on ‘Post-War European Photographers’ at the Museum of Modern Art, and later on ‘The Family of Man’, although as Frank says, he did not share the ‘Captain’s’ sentimental vision behind this. Frank took Steichen to visit the studio of Jacob Tuggener among other photographers, and his work was included in the exhibition.

American Influences

Meanwhile, Frank had discovered another of the elements that was to influence him greatly, Walker Evan’s seminal book ‘American Photographs‘. Again this was a carefully and subtly sequenced work, with picture linking visually to picture and recurring themes. Evans possibly drew his ideas about sequencing more from literary than film sources. Frank took his work to show Evans, who was impressed; it was Evans who was the major support behind Frank when he successfully applied for a Guggenheim Grant to make a journey across America taking photographs.

A further influence on Frank was also largely literary (although at that time derided by the literary establishment.) This was the ‘beat generation’ – writers and poets such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Kerouac had written ‘On the Road‘, his second book, using a single long roll of paper in his typewriter so he could let his stream of thought flow out through its keys to paper without interruption, without pausing to think or editing. The book is based around a series of four largely pointless journeys by Kerouac (Sal Paradise), driving across America with or to visit his friend ‘Dean Moriaty’, whose wild behaviour and unreliability are legendary.

Written in 1950, Kerouac’s publisher turned it down, and it did not appear until 1957. Frank was probably not familiar with the detailed text, but certainly was aware of the movement and had met some of the principals including Ginsberg in the early fifties before his own road trip around America, and in his attitudes and view of America he echoed those of the beats.

On the Road

Frank’s journeys across America were however rather less frenetic than Kerouac’s and fuelled more by his experiences than drugs. Much of the the time he was accompanied by his wife and son who both appear in the final image of the finished book. Throughout 1955/6 he crossed America, driving a second-hand car given him by Peggy Guggenheim, shooting around 500 rolls of film, photographing on the streets and in post offices, Woolworth stores, cafés, small hotels, bus stations.

He started work early in the mornings and usually continued all day. He seldom talked to people and usually tried not to be noticed while he was photographing, though his subjects in some pictures are clearly reacting to his camera – and not always positively. After his travels he edited the roughly 18,000 images down to the 83 which appear in his book, on average around one from every six films.

The journeys were not without problems, particularly when he was arrested and held in jail for 3 days in Little Rock, Arkansas. A police officer saw a Ford with New York plates being driven by a badly dressed and dishevelled Frank; he stopped the car and spoke to him and discovered not only did he have a strongly foreign accent, but saw that there were several cameras and other boxes and bags in the car. Clearly this was a spy, and that he had a piece of paper with something about Guggenheim on it (another foreign name) made circumstances even more suspicious.

So Frank was arrested and left in jail for around seven hours before being subjected to a series of interrogations for another four hours. This was at the height of the cold war and McCarthyism, and the police were totally unable to understand what Frank was trying to do. Why was anyone photographing America other than to supply information to a foreign power? Every possible point in his papers and his attempted explanations was fuel to their paranoia –the name Brodovitch – one of his Guggenheim sponsors – was clearly Russian, one of his children was called Pablo – a foreign name, he had marked routes on his maps and so on.

Fortunately Frank was able to persuade them not to have any of his films developed locally as they had threatened to. When they asked him if he knew anyone in politics or the police or similar, he told them he knew Steichen, and that his wife’s uncle was a close friend of Mayor Wagner of New York.

What concerned Frank most after he had been released was that his fingerprints had been taken and sent to the FBI; he was worried that this might prejudice his application for American citizenship.


The final piece of this essay, first published on the web in 2000, will appear shortly and looks at the content of ‘The Americans’ and then concludes with a very brief section on his later work.

Me, Kerouac and Frank

September 15th, 2019

I can no longer remember what led me to the work of Jack Kerouac as a 15 or 16 year-old in an outer London suburb around 1960, though I think it was linked in some way with my addiction to jazz, and modern jazz in particular.

The old-fashioned Grammar School that I attended had a weekly lunchtime jazz record session for older pupils led by one of the younger staff and I became an avid fan, though it was a little later that I began to attend live music. But for several years the only record that I owned (and was very occasionally allowed to play on big sister’s record player) was the 1956 Esquire 7″ 45 rpm ‘The Mastery of Miles’, featuring The New Miles Davis Quintet, with Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Jo Jones. I still have it.

I can remember the look of disgust on my Headmaster’s face as he presented my prize for distinction in academic work for the year 1961/2 (we were allowed to choose books to a certain value), the Grove Press edition of Jack Kerouac’s ‘Dr Sax‘. It was a look repeated the following year when he handed over ‘Big Sur‘, with in an Andre Deutsch edition, its cover image of a man clutching a wine bottle lying on a mattress taken looking between the soles of his footwear.

It was of course Kerouac who wrote the introduction to Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ (the first draft is here) although only after Frank had been disatisfied with an earlier introduction by Walker Evans – and Delpire rejected both for the initial French edition, including instead texts by various authors which perhaps seemed to relegate the pictures to illustrations.

It was around ten years later that I came across ‘The Americans‘, possibly at Leicester University where I took a short and basic course in photography as a part of a teacher training year. A year or so later I managed to borrow a copy on inter-Library loan and later still I bought my own copy, probably from the ‘Creative Camera’ book room.

I still have that copy of the 1978 Aperture edition, possibly the best of many, but also the huge 2009 volume of essays edited by Sarah Greenough, ‘Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans: Expanded Edition’, a book too heavy to read but which includes much previously unpublished material as well as the 83 pictures in the original.

Frank took almost 28,000 pictures during his travels across America, and in 1978 sold his archive to pay for making films and living expenses. You can see a few in a New York Times feature, and at the Danziger Gallery, which also includes some earlier and later work. Although in 1976 Frank wrote in his volume in the Aperture History of Photography series:

1960. Decide to put my camera in a closet. Enoug of observing and hunting and capturing (sometimes) the essence of what is black or what is good and where is God.
I make films. Now I have to talk to the people who move across my viewfinder. It isn’t easy nor particularly successful.”

and continues in the entry for 1969, “Camera still in closet”, this doesn’t appear to have been strictly true. But I think for most of us what really matters about his work, and what remains his huge contribution to photography are those 83.


I’ll continue with some of my old essay on Robert Frank shortly – unless like today my mind gets diverted!

Women in photojournalism

September 14th, 2019

When I taught photography – which I did, mainly at beginner level to students between 18-20, though my oldest student was in his eighties – for around 30 years – the great majority of my best students were female. Partly this was because generally they worked harder and met the deadlines more often, and perhaps they listened more carefully in my lessons and made better notes, but I think there were also some differences in thinking, perhaps because of peer pressure which made boys reluctant to show sensitivity lest they be thought feminine.

Because many of my students were women I tried hard to show examples of work by women when I could – despite at one time teaching a syllabus with a number of named photographers in the history of photography in which the only woman was Julia Margaret Cameron. And when I wrote a popular photography web site I made sure it featured the work of women who I thought had been neglected in both the history of our medium and in current practice.

I’ve also known many good women photographers and although there are fewer women than men among the photographers I’ve known (and in most areas of the profession) I have the impression that a higher proportion of the women are photographers whose work I particularly admire.

Many women have shown they can do as well as men even in the more hazardous areas of photography including German photographer Anja Niedringhaus who was the only woman on the team of AP photographers awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for their coverage of the Iraq War. That year she also won the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage in Journalism award. On the web site ‘Menschen im Krieg: Das Lebenswerk der Anja Niedringhaus‘ buttons link to her work from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Gaza, Iraq and Bosnia. Her career had begun with a move from a local paper after covering the fall of the Berlin Wall and other events she covered included the aftermath of 9/11 in New York.

Niedringhaus died age 48 in Afghanistan on 4th April 2014, shot by an Afghan policeman while sitting in a car at a checkpoint near Khost while covering the presidential election. The officer walked up to their car, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” and shot killing her and severely injuring a woman journalist sitting beside her. He gave himself up and was later sentenced to death for wounding, murder and treason. The International Women’s Media Foundation founded the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award in her honour with the aid of a $1 million gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and it is given out every year to a female photojournalist whose work “follows in the footsteps of Anja Niedringhaus.

A feature in The Week’s ‘Captured’ photo blog shows the work of Niedringhaus together more stunning photography from this year’s winner Heidi Levine, Rebecca Blackwell (honorable mention) and Anastasia Vlasova (first runner up). All of their work is worth exploring.

Robert Frank – the Early Years

September 13th, 2019

My essay on Robert Frank started as my rather briefer teaching notes which I used with A Level and BTEC students in the 1980s and 90s which I later extended for publication in a photographer’s newsletter and then for a photography web site. Behind the first part of the essay was an attempt to show something of the sources of Frank’s inspiration in his photographic apprenticeship in Switzerland.

It amused me somewhat that many, particularly Americans seemed to treat Frank as an essentially American photographer, while to me it seemed to me that the strength of his vision came from the fact that he saw the country as a foreigner. Even though he had had longed to escape his native Switzerlandto find a new home in the States, his thinking was still from a European tradition – if one of which most Americans were unaware. So I began with an introduction about his early years and some of the influences on him.


Robert Frank was born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland; his parents were Jewish. He was part of a European generation most of whom fought in the Second World War, but Switzerland remained neutral; it was also a time when Jews across the border were being killed by the million. Although the German-speaking area of Switzerland was dominated by Nazis, freedom of speech and the freedom to create remained.

Frank learnt photography from a photographer who lived in the same block of flats as his family, Hermann Segesser. In 1942, at the age of 18, he was apprenticed to Hermann Eidenbenz and later worked for Michael Wolgensinger in Zurich. Wolgensinger (1913-90) had learnt photography from Johannes Meiner in Zurich before attending Hans Finsler’s classes at the Zurich School of Commercial Art and becoming Finsler’s assistant from 1935-7. Both taught Frank to use large format cameras and controlled lighting in the studio. Following this, Frank worked for a short time for a film company in Zurich, Gloria Films. Wolgensinger later also worked with experimental and commercial film – including ‘Metamorphose ‘ – and colour installations.

The young Frank was impressed by Paul Senn’s pictures of Spanish refugees, as well as by the resolutely Swiss pictures of Jacob Tuggener. Although Tuggener was right wing and conservative in his views, the ‘beatnik’ bohemian Frank admired both his work and his artistic intransigence. He compares Tuggener to the famous Swiss national hero, William Tell – Tuggener’s work was Switzerland seen totally without sentimentality. Frank was also impressed by the way he used his photographs in sequences – particularly in his book of factory photographs, ‘Fabrik‘, creating something like a film.

Montage was a term and technique developed particularly by the great early Russian film directors, Eisenstein – in ‘Strike’, ‘The General Line’ and ‘The Battleship Potemkin’ – and Pudovkin in ‘The End of St Petersburg’ and elsewhere. Pudovkin tried to analyse its use in his book ‘Film Technique’ where he states that montage is the foundation of film art. He set out five techniques of montage:

  • contrast – where for example the plight of a starving man is heightened by following it with a scene of a feast;
  • parallelism – which extends contrast by inter-cutting the scenes;
  • similarity – which makes use of similar content – as when Eisenstein cuts from strikers being shot to an ox being slaughtered in an abbatoir in the finale of ‘Strike’;
  • synchronism – which involves cutting between events happening at the same time – will the hero rescue the helpless female from the track before she is hit by the fast–approaching locomotive;
  • recurrent theme (Leitmotiv) – a recurring image or scene.

Although this schema was extended greatly by Timoshenko and usefully extended and clarified by Rudolf Arnheim in his ‘Film as Art‘ – still a useful resource for both the study of film and for photographers – it has the merit of simplicity.

Tuggener was not of course the first to sequence photographs with some care. One of the strengths of the great editors of the illustrated magazines of the 1920s and 30s such as Stefan Lorant was their skill in photographic layout. However in general this was largely a matter of linking photographs to a narrative line, often corresponding to a temporal sequence. Lorant also often worked with pairs of pictures as a contrast, often humorous, seen at its most obvious in the magazine ‘Liliput‘. Bill Brandt, the great British photographer of the 1930s-50s, was also adept at sequencing, for example in his book ‘A Night in London‘ (1938), where a temporal structure is used.

Tuggener’s approach in ‘Fabrik’ and other projects was more radical in its use of montage, making use in particular of contrast, similarity and leitmotiv. It represented a decisive move away from viewing the single photograph as the photographic work to seeing it in terms of the whole series of pictures.

By 1946, Frank was photographing on the streets of Zurich with a 35mm rangefinder camera, developing his own style. He was learning to use the camera in a fluid and intuitive manner, trying to capture his impressions spontaneously rather than to calculate and impose a composition on them.


More of my essay on Frank in a later post.

Frank dies

September 12th, 2019

Robert Frank whose book ‘The Americans‘ shook up photography when published in 1958 (and 1959 in the USA) died Monday, 9th November 2019. Born on 9 November 1924 in Zürich, Switzerland, he was 94. Frank was clearly one of the truly great photographers of the 20th century.

Studying that book changed photography for many of us, though many like me came to it rather late, though not long after I took up photography in the 1970s. As well as the direct influence there was also the work of a whole generation of photographers that were influenced by it, notably for me Friedlander and Winogrand. If you are a photographer you will probably already own a well-thumbed copy of ‘The Americans‘; if not, rush out and buy one.

In his Vanity Fair article written in 2008 about Frank’s visit to China, Charlie Leduff decribed the book as “his artistic albatross of sorts” and for many of us it stood head and shoulders above his earlier and later work.  It seemed to be a definitive statement that left him little or nothing to say.

Frank went on to make a number of films, of which the best known and almost certainly least seen is the 1969-1972 ‘Cocksucker Blues‘ of the Rolling Stones, never commercially released but which you can watch on YouTube. It’s a remarkably intimate film which epitomises sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and was rather too extreme for the image that the Stones wanted to make public. The sound track includes some great music but much of the speech is for various reasons unclear and if you are not a fan of the music and the musicians the film is difficult to watch other than as a document of that particular age and time.

Some of his other films are more conventional, and perhaps for that reason less interesting. Again for fans of the beats, ‘Pull My Daisy‘ (1959) is required viewing. Directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie and adapted by Jack Kerouac from an act of his play Beat Generation, it has an improvised narration by Kerouac and among others stars Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers, Alice Neel and David Amram.

Perhaps the best of the obits I’ve so far read is unsurprisingly in the New York Times, but The Guardian is also worth reading, and there a brief note on the BBC web page, and many more.

There are many obituaries of Robert Frank, and I don’t intend to write another, though I’ve previously written about him and his work at some length, though these pieces are not currently available on the web. Since this is no longer available, I’ll revise and post it, or at least some of the more interesting parts of it over the next few days.

The Falling Man

September 11th, 2019

Most if not all of us remember what we were doing when we heard about the tragic attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11, the 11th of September 2001.

I was just getting my bicycle ready to leave college after a morning’s teaching – I was then working part-time and had finished for the day – when a distraught colleague rushed up to me to tell me the news. She had grown up in New York, and had just seen pictures on her computer showing a plane flying into one of the towers. We shared our horror at what was happening, and watched for short time together unable to beleive what was happening.

After a few minutes I left her and got on my bike and cycled home. I couldn’t eat lunch but began to search for more information on the web, finding both the pictures on the news channels and also a number of posts of mobile phone pictures and video taken by those close to the events, including some making their way out of the building. It was these pictures, with their rawness, often blurred and indistinct that really brought home the horror to me, and I sat and wrote an article linking to them and to some of the professional imagery.

I don’t know that it was a very good article, but I clearly saw the event not only as a terrible act of terrorism, but also as a clear indication of the power of ‘citizen journalism’, perhaps the first major world event where the story was told and illustrated most immediately and effectively by those caught up in the tragedy rather than profesional journalists. And it was a story that attracted around a million views in the next 24 hours or so.

Of course we soon saw a great deal of fine coverage from the professionals, particulalry of the later stages of the event, but these lacked the rawness and immediacy of those first acounts – which their technical shortcomings emphasized (as does the grain and shakiness of Capas D-Day pictures).

Esquire Magazine has published a long and very interesting feature about the photographs of people who fell from the burning towers, and in particular the ‘Falling Man’ captured in a series of images taken by photographer Richard Drew. Originally published on the front pages, it quickly became the subject of controversy, and disappeared from view except on some insalubrious web sites. As the feature reveals, it caused considerable distress among at least one family of a man who died and was apparently wrongly identified as the man in the picture.

The story by Tom Junod is an interesting one, which also raises many issues about the use of these and other photographs, and about what photographs can tell us about what they depict. He concludes that this image of one of the perhaps 200 men who jumped from the upper stories of the WTC rather than await the death that seemed inevitable is of the man who “became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen.

Regents Canal – Kings Cross

September 9th, 2019

I had an hour or so to spare before a protest taking place outside The Guardian offices at Kings Place on York Way, the building at the left of the picture above and decided it was enough time to take some pictures along the canal, mainly to the east from York way to the mouth of the tunnel under Islington. The picture above is from where I walked down to the canal from York Way, and as you can see it was a good day for panoramic images like this, with plenty of interest in the sky. Skies do tend to take up a rather large part of such images, and either a dull overall grey or a clear blue can make them rather boring. The clouds in pictures like this also enliven the water with their reflections.

Walking under the York Way bridge I made an image showing the bridge and the building of Kings Place, with a waterside sculpture. There was little traffic on the canal and the water was a smooth mirror showing the buildings and the sky.

A few yards further on and I could see into the Battlebridge basin as well as the buildings alongside the canal and the moored narrow boats. When I first photographed here the buildings alongside the canal were industrial, but now they have largely been replaced by new flats. The canal here is more open and the water is rippled, making the reflections less clear.

A little further east and the canal was more sheltered, again giving a smooth mirror surface and clear reflections. The cylindrical perspective needed to acheive the extreme angle of view obviously curves the roof line of the building at left which is well away from the centre of the image. Vertical line and those through the image centre are rendered straight, but other lines curve increasingly away from the centre . The canal bank at the bottom of the building is less obviously curved as it is closer to the centre.

This isn’t really a distortion but a simple effect of the projection needed to get such an extreme view onto a flat surface. It could be made less obvious by cropping from the top of the image.

A few minutes later I had reached the tunnel mouth and found that there was a small garden across the top of it, though it wasn’t really possible to get a good picture as I was unable to get inside.

I wandered around a little more on my way back to York Way, and had time also to make a few non-panoramic images.

You can see some of these as well as other panorams on My London Diary at Regent’s Canal – King’s Cross


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


Biennial Thoughts

September 8th, 2019

The Whitney Biennial  according to its web site “is an unmissable event for anyone interested in finding out what’s happening in art today. ” That is in art in the USA, and this years show features “seventy-five artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound.”

It’s interesting to look through the list of artists and perhaps explore some of their work on-line, but even where I in New York, I think I might find the whole rather too daunting to contemplate.

My attention was drawn to it by a post on The Online Photographer with the site’s longest ever title:
Open Mike: What Danielle Jackson’s Artnet Review Tells Us About What the Whitney Biennial Tells Us About the Future of Photography—and the Reviewers and Curators and Academicians Who Will Shape the Artists Who Will Shape It

Though it was the content of the post rather than its length that caught my attention. It starts with a short reflection on the idea of ‘political correctness’ and then cites Danielle Jackson’s review as an example “written from the perspective of political correctness about a show that appears to be mainly about political correctness.” I felt I had to go and read it.

Jackson writes she was sent by Artnet with “a brief to consider the photography in the exhibition and left thinking about the power of affiliation.” In a long piece she suggests that the artists “come from nearly every conceivable historically marginalized group” and that they form the new mainstream.

It’s perhaps unsafe to make any conclusions from the installation views and example of work which accompany her post, or from the Whitney web site, but if this is the future then there seems relatively little in it that I find of any great interest.

Michael C Johnston looks at her review in somewhat greater length and I certainly have some sympathy with his views, and in particular with his opinion that “The actual photographs in the show seem to be secondary to the positions they take on various political implications” which appears to be at the base of both the curation and the review of the show.

But perhaps both he and I will be accused of thinking and writing from our own positions of age and race and privilege. And of course I am what I am, though I think I am rather more of an outsider than many of the established artists whose work is featured in the Whitney.

Visa pour l’image

September 7th, 2019

It’s always worth looking at the web site for Visa Pour l’Image, the annual festival of photojournalism which takes place every year around this time in Perpignan. It’s a festival like Arles that I’ve often though about attending but never got around to actually doing so. Back in the days when I would have got more out of both of them I was always still teaching when took place, Arles in early July and Perpignan in September, and now I feel too old.

The festival has a Facebook page and you can read more about Visa Pour l’Image in various sites on-line, many of them in French. In English as you might expect the British Journal of Photography has some coverage with an article with a lengthy title:
Visa pour l’Image returns with a focus on press freedom and fake news

A rather different approach comes from Euronews, whose feature is titled ‘Visa pour l’image: The story of the world from big food to defecation‘.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


Drivers protest at Uber offices

September 6th, 2019

Uber drivers in London claim that on average they earn £5 an hour after taking into account their expenses, well below the national minimum wage and less than half the London Living Wage, the independently assessed minimum needed to live in London.

United Private Hire Drivers, a branch of the IWGB – Independent Workers Union of Great Britain – has been recruiting and organising private hire drivers including those working for Uber and organised a protest outside the Uber offices in Aldgate on the day before Uber’s Wall Street share flotation. The flotation at $45 per share meant a bonus of billions for Uber’s founders and for early investors including Amazon’s boss, Jeff Bezos and disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong but absolutely nothing for the drivers.

Those who bought into the shares at the flotation may also have lost, unless they sold their shares at exactly the right time; the shares had lost around 7% at the end of the first day of trading and have only very briefly peaked above the opening price. In August they slumped down to around $32. Of course they may rise again – particularly if Uber ever manages to make money.

Despite cheating and exploiting its workers, avoiding tax and failing to properly recognise the status of the workers who drive for it, Uber has still never made a profit and may never do so. Of course it has done very nicely for the people at the top of the organisation – and those early investors.

In some respects, Uber certainly does point to the future of private hire, and highlights the antiquated and expensive nature of our London black cab system. And it provides a service many find very useful if not always entirely necessary, but at the expense of both its drivers and tax payers in general, cheated out of tax.

Better and cheaper true public transport services could do much to reduce the need and the desire for the service Uber offers, and there seems to be no inherent reason why a similar public service could not replace both Uber and black cabs and other hire services, although paying drivers decently and providing proer conditions of service as well as paying taxes would inevitably increase the cost to users.

The drivers say that fares need to be increased to £2 per mile and that the commission to Uber, currently 25%, needs to go down to 15%. They want an end to unfair dismissals for for Uber to respect the rights of drivers as workers which were confirmed by an Employment Tribunal ruling in 2016.

The protest involved drivers boycotting the Uber app from 7am to 4pm, and it was impossible to know how successful that had been. But there were rather fewer drivers than I expected outside the offices and blocking one lane of the busy road, though I left before the protest was over.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.