Archive for the ‘Uncategorised’ Category

NHS Bursaries

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

‘Short-sighted Tories’ says a poster held up by a nurse behnd a man carrying Unite union flags, and the decision, recently confirmed, to end NHS student bursaries seems a good example of that.  Student nurses and those training for other medical professions deserve bursaries because during their training they actually work alongside trained staff in the NHS, providing essential services. They need bursaries because these placements remove the opportunities other students have to supplement their student loans with part-time jobs. Their placements are essentially unpaid part-time jobs.

The government sees we have a shortage of nurses, so it wants to create more training places, but with bursaries that would be expensive. So it decides to cut the bursaries, with little if any thought on how that will impact on those who train.

People at all levels of the NHS have supported the campaign by some current nursing students – who won’t themselves be affected when the bursaries are stopped – to get the government to change its mind. As well as seeing the hardship it will cause for students, they see it as a part of the Tory plan to privatise the NHS, a process that is well under way, and seems only likely to be stopped if we get a radical party coming into power at the next election.  Given the current in-fighting in the Labour Party it is hard to see that happen, though there still remains a chance that Jeremy Corbyn will prevail and end up in charge of a coalition government; it is the only chance for the NHS.

You can read more about NHS student bursaries and the march and rally in January in NHS Bursaries rally before march and NHS Bursaries March, though there was a longer rally at the end of the march I was unable to cover.


There will probably be a few days without more posts on this blog as I take a little break – but I’ll be back soon.
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Bill to Kill Social Housing

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

You don’t expect a huge turnout for a protest on a Tuesday lunchtime in January, and the few hundred who came to show their anger at the proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill being debated in Parliament was actually more than I expected. Like too much legislation at the moment it’s a measure that has received very little of the attention it deserves, either inside parliament or in the press.

The Labour Party is of course totally absorbed with its own infighting, few if any Conservatives have any idea of the pressures faced by those who don’t own several properties, have high incomes and savings and extensive family support – and even fewer seem to care. It was a bill about housing in England, so the SNP were not greatly involved, and the effective opposition in the House of Commons was thus the Green Party – all of one MP. To be fair the House of Lords did rather better, though in the end were forced to concede to government pressure.

The mainstream media weren’t interested as it didn’t greatly involve personalities or celebrities, and it was hard to use the issue to show Jeremy Corbyn in a bad light. So despite it being accurately described as “one of the most dangerous and far-reaching pieces of legislation passed in this country in a long time” and representations to parliament by 150 housing sector organisations which were ignored, as well as opposition from a wide range of other groups concerned with housing and poverty issue, the bill continued on its way to becoming law almost unnoticed. You can read a more detailed and less biased view of it on ‘Inside Housing‘ (free registration needed.)

Even London Labour councils busily selling off council estates and getting into bed with private developers were up in arms about the Bill, and joined in protests such as this one. Or at least came to them though perhaps tried to rather stand aside from the actual protest. So when things got a little lively they tried to disassociate themselves from people who make noisy speeches and loud chants, let alone let off smoke flares. Perhaps surprisingly, so did at least some of the Socialist Workers Party members present, though perhaps they were more against the fact that they were not being allowed to take charge of the protest.

When Class War along with ASH (Architects for Social Housing) and activists from the Aylesbury Estate decided to lead off on a march around Westminster, the Labour Party and others decided to stay put, a small group having a quiet protest where nobody would notice them.

It perhaps wasn’t a great march around the area, but certainly many more people will have noticed it going on, including many more MPs as it went along the street past the House of Commons and then Portcullis House, as well as those on Whitehall as they protested outside Downing St before leaving to go back past Parliament to the small group left in Old Palace Yard, who were packing up as they arrived back.

More at: Kill the Housing Bill protest

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USA – The Dark Side

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Mental Floss is not a magazine I’ve come across before, but The Photographer Who Captured America’s Dark Side by Lucas Reilly which originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue is a well-written introduction to the work of Robert Frank and his travels across the nation to take the pictures that became ‘The Americans’.

It doesn’t say a great deal about his actual work but does a good job in situating it, which is perhaps something that those who have only come across his work in more recent times needs saying. I’ve written so many times that ‘The Americans‘ is a book every photographer should have a well-thumbed copy of on her/his bookshelf that I feel sure that if you are reading this you already do, but if not, it is readily available in many editions – and although a copy of the first edition might cost you £10,000 you can buy more recent ones secondhand for a more sensible price – less than £20 if you look around. The various editions all differ slightly, but not enough to make a real difference; I think the best is perhaps still the Aperture version from the late 1970s, but that is now a little dear.

There is enough about Frank to keep you busy for a week or two on American Suburb X, but Mental Floss turns out to be something of a disappointment. In the middle of the Frank piece is a box reading ‘For more stories like this visit mentalfloss.com‘ but if you do you find yournself on a page of pretty average clickbait, fluff with little or no photographic interest linking to other web sites and blogs. Diligent wading through half a dozen pages of trash only yielded a single piece that enticed me at all, on a unique mansion for sale in Mile End, London.

Clicking on this was a little disappointing, as I’d already read a far better article At Malplaquet House on the same house some years back on Spitalfields Life, though the MF piece did link to its own inspiration, the more recent Mysterious 265-Year-Old Mansion in London Is Rediscovered and Being Sold for Millions by Kristine Mitchell published on June 18, 2016 on My Modern Met. I you have around £2,950,000 to spare it might be worth viewing.

Meadows & Mitchell

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Daniel Meadows was fortunate to come to photography in the short period when the UK Arts Council actually supported photographers rather than galleries and curators in 1975 work from his ‘The Free Photographic Omnibus’ was among that by 8 UK photographers features in their ‘British Image 1’. The series was meant to be published twice a year, and most if not all of the photographers featured had received grants under a scheme started by the Arts Council in 1973, including Meadows. The series didn’t last long, nor did the grants.

His portraits from this project, taking pictures of people as he toured the country in a double-decker bus which served as living space, free studio and mobile gallery provided an idiosyncratic cross-section of the country, largely from people who would otherwise only have appeared in family albums rather than those who might attract media attention.

This month’s Life Force online magazine has a good feature on this work, Living Like This, with text and pictures by Meadows.

More work from the UK in the 1970s appears in the book ‘Strangely Familiar‘ by Peter Mitchell, published in 2013. I think the edition was a fairly small one and the book is now hard to find, particularly since his work was shown at Arles this year.

You can also read about Mitchell and his work in various online newspaper articles, including The Independent and a recent article in The Guardian.

Although many of us took pictures in colour in the 1970s, Mitchell was one of the earliest to work consistently in colour as a documentary photographer and his show A New Refutation of the Viking 4 Space Mission at the Impressions Gallery in York in 1979 was, as Martin Parr notes “was the first colour show, at a British photographic gallery, by a British photographer.

Personally I was rather put off by the extraordinary presentation, with the work mounted on space charts and the conceit that these represented the view of an alien from Mars who had just landed in Leeds, where Mitchell’s day job was driving around the city making deliveries – with a step-ladder in the back of the van from which he made the pictures. It was for me a barrier to seeing the true documentary value of his images, as too was the sometimes rather odd colour rendition of his prints at that time.

But it was a show that I think inspired Martin Parr to make his move from black and white to colour, or at least persuaded him that the time was ripe and that serious photographic work in colour – which he was familiar with from Eggleston and Shore in the USA – could now be acceptable at the rather stuffier UK galleries.

Early Colour

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Although I’ve never really been a great fan of pictorialism, the attempt by photographers around the end of the nineteenth century to establish photography as an artistic medium by showing that they could produce effects using photography that in some respects mirrored the work of artists using other media, there are many pictorialist images that I find highly satisfying.

We may not want to follow their example, with the use of processes such as bromoil, gum bichromate and the like, though I did at one time produce images in most of them, not because I really wanted to use them for my own work, but that I felt making images using them was the only way to truly understand the work of this period. And there was some processes that did have something to offer, notably platinum printing and carbon printing.

If you’ve seen the architectural images of Frederick Evans you will understand what attracted me about that process – and I felt very honoured that one of my platinum prints was exhibited next to one of his in a show to celebrate 150 years of photography in 1989. And some of the most beautiful prints I know in any medium are carbon prints, and if I had a larger studio in which to make my own carbon tissues and prints I might well have made portfolios in that medium.

Fortunately I was saved from this time-consuming labour by the coming of the inkjet and Peizography, a system of printing using carbon-based inks which enabled me to get images with very similar qualities on matt papers to platinum prints. And while nothing else can quite attain the luminosity of the best carbon prints, prints on fine silver materials such as the long discontinued Agfa Record Rapid and Portriga ran it close enough to satisfy – and similar qualities can now be achieved with inkjet prints.

What got me thinking about this was a feature in Dangerous Minds,
The astonishingly beautiful three color photography of Bernard Eilers. Eilers (1878-1951) was a consummate technician and a Duthc pictorialist whose most famous image was probably an atmospheric view of Trafalgar Square in the rain.

You can see a fine collection of his work from the Stadsarchief Amsterdam on line, including the images produced using his tri-color foto-chroma eilers process featured on Dangerous Minds.

Probably a better way to get an appreciation of them is to watch a video using his images of Venice, taken in the 1930s. Where I think the article in DM is misleading is to suggest that he was in some way a pioneer of colour photography, someone whose work might have led to his process being as well known as those of Agfa and Kodak.

Three colour separation processes essentially the same as he used were invented ten years before he was born, although they only became really practical with the invention of panchromatic films in 1903. It was only two years later that Schinzel introduced the first integral tripacks, combining the three layers of emulsion which were the precursors of later colour processes.

Eilers does not even rate a mention in the classic and encyclopedic History of Color Photography by J S Friedman (first published in 1944, but with a revised and updated edition in 1968.) But he does appear, and rightly so, in In Atmospheric Light : Pictorialism in Dutch Photography 1890 – 1925.

Teeth and Kurds

Friday, July 29th, 2016

I don’t think I made any resolutions at the start of this year, though I was hoping to take things a little easier. I was also suffering from toothache, which isn’t something that makes for clear thinking. Toothache almost always seems to strike when there is little chance of seeing a dentist for some days – perhaps because holidays put more stress on teeth, and I went back to work on the same day as my dentist, after an early morning appointment had done something to ease my pain and started me on a course of antibiotics.

I wasn’t feeling at my best, and was not happy at my dentist’s verdict that one tooth was beyond redemption and a second might be saved, but only by expensive specialist treatment (and two weeks later I heard the bad news that the specialist dentist had studied the X-rays and advised that extraction was best for that tooth too.)

Going out to take pictures at least took my mind off of my teeth, and reminded me that worse things go on in the world. Not least in Turkey, where the Kurdish population was increasingly coming under attack by Turkish military, and across the border in Syria, where Turkey was aiding Da’esh (aka ISIS/ISIL/IS) to attack Kurds there. In my introduction to Kurds protest Turkish army killings I’ve tried to provide some basics about the very murky situation involving ISIS oil, Turkey, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), Russia, Israel, the CIA etc., though of course nearly every account in the press or on the web is an attempt to mislead rather than clarify.


Kurds call for release of Abdullah Ocalan, 1999

We’ve seen recently more of what President Erdogan is capable of, and his clampdown on the opposition and press freedom in Turkey, but this is a long-running issue, with the Kurds suffering long before he founded the AKP and brought it to power in 2002. I first remember photographing them in London in 1999, after the Turks with CIA help captured and imprisoned the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

I’d come to Westminster to photograph another protest when I came across the Kurds in Parliament Square. Because I was on my way elsewhere I didn’t go with them from the square to the Conservative Party headquarters where they went to deliver their letter. There they walked into the foyer and occupied it and the steps outside for several hours, which put their protest into the newspapers and TV. Peaceful protests that don’t involve such direct action are seldom treated as news by mainstream media, even when they involve thousands or tens of thousands of campaigners.

Ocalan is still in prison in Turkey, and is still regarded by many Kurds both inside and outside Turkey as their great nationalist leader. It looked for a while as if there might be peace made between Turkey and the Kurds, and in June last year a pro-Kurdish party gained a considerable presence in the Turkish parliament, pursuing their aims by democratic means.  But later in the year Erdogan called another election, in which many of these seats were lost, and military attacks against the Kurds increased.

Teeth sometimes seem to feature rather prominently in my pictures which often show people shouting, and there were some good sets on display at this protest. Things can look even worse on occasions when I use fill-flash, which tends to light up the inside of people’s mouths in a sometimes alarming way – and often calls for a little local burning in with Lightroom’s adjustment tool.

My parents were still of the generation where those who could afford it had all their own teeth removed, and a ‘full set’ of false teeth, often as a 21st birthday present or a wedding gift to each other. On each side of the marriage bed in many working class households you would find a ‘toothmug’ or ‘toothglass’ in which these lay overnight, often soaking in a mild antiseptic cleaning solution.

Things had moved on a little by the time I had teeth and we had a National Health Service, though dentists managed to keep out of the free provision, retaining charges. There was however a ‘School Dental Service’, which was free, but at least at my local clinic, extremely off-putting and rather basic, and which only operated up to school-leaving age. They filled some, pulled others, told you not to eat sweets and that was it.

When my own children came, they went to an NHS dentist and we were fortunate to have an excellent one, who looked after them and sent them on when necessary to an NHS orthodontist, something unheard of in my youth.

And of course there have been advances in dentistry that have helped us all, and made time spent at the dentists generally almost pain-free. Though as I was to find later in the month and those following, after an extraction it can be a long and painful healing process. And of course there are still so many treatments not available on the NHS, and even NHS treatment is now priced beyond the means of many, with even the simplest filling coming as a Band 2 treatment at over £50 – though some still qualify for free treatment. Others find ways of self-treatment with superglue from the Pound shop and pulling teeth the old ways – which don’t bear thinking about.
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BP or Not BP? challenge Greenwash

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

When I was young there were still many reminders of the First World War, though probably most still called it the Great War, or the Kaiser’s War, which we have now in the middle of celebrating the 100th anniversary. My father joined up towards the end of it when he was 18, having been working in munitions previously, and went to France, but fortunately only came under fire on one occasion. He was in the Royal Flying Corps (though I don’t think he ever actually became airborne) which became the RAF, and the planes were generally flown from fields a little back from the front line, but at one time when the Germans were retreating they advanced too far, and a shell landed nearby while they were sitting at a table outside having breakfast. He kept hold of his plate and finished his porridge, though there were a few more shells close by him later in the day, and some vehicles were damaged.

He was fortunate, and seems to have enjoyed the life, particularly when he was largely left on his own to look after the stores when they moved to occupy Germany and many of the older airmen went home, while he was kept on until 1920. Late in his life he wrote down some pages about his life which I think went to a local history museum, though I have a copy which one day I’ll edit for the web.

But the Great War had a very direct effect on my life, though I was only born at the end of its successor. It decimated a generation of young men, with the result that I had a whole clutch of maiden aunts, who played a large part in my upbringing, particularly since my own mother often spent long periods in hospital, suffering relapses of the puerperal psychosis which had led to three years in hospital following the birth of her first child (I was her fourth and last.)

My favourite aunt was ‘Flo’ or ‘Aunt Florry’, one of my father’s five sisters, only two of whom married. She worked in the local registrar’s office, and had actually registered my own birth in her position as temporary interim registrar, but more importantly would take time off from work to take me and my elder brother and sister on days out during our school holidays. Almost always we would go on the tube – a great treat it itself – up to South Ken or Holborn for the museums and we would spend the day there.

Museums then were far more serious places than now, with few or any of the special displays that now take pride of place, and very little attempt to be child-friendly, though there were a few exhibits at some with handles you could turn or buttons you could press. But there were the actual things, often in glass cases, with typed labels that sometimes took a lot of reading. My favourite was of course the Science Museum, but others had their fascination.

I think then that the museums all charged for entrance, although some may have had free days, but most of their income will have come from the taxes that we paid to the government. Back in those days I don’t think my father earned enough to have to pay income tax, and before we joined the Common Market we had purchase tax, which had different rates but was only levied on ‘luxury’ goods – and so we will have contributed little.

Nowadays we all, even the poorest pay VAT on most goods and anyone in full-time work will earn enough to pay income tax. Before the war only around a quarter of families paid income tax, though that fraction increased rapidly in post-war years.

And museums have changed dramatically, losing what was essentially their didactic and educational aspect and instead aiming to entertain visitors. Many of the exhibits that used to fill cases are now locked away in back rooms and storage, replaces by colourful display graphics, screens designed to titillate, sounds and more. Of course they are still educational but in a different way, and seemingly made for people with a very limited attention span.

And for many museums and galleries now the main attraction is not their permanent collections, fine though these may be, but in expensively mounted special exhibitions, sometimes bringing together artefacts from other collections around the world.

These things of course cost money. And more money than the government makes available, so museum often turn to sponsorship. Of course I’ve nothing against companies working together with museums, donating relevant examples of material or equipment, supplying information and expertise. If a museum wants to put on a display about – for example – cane sugar – Tate & Lyle would be an obvious company to assist them, and if they want to put on something about environmental pollution, then BP with their huge experience in the field, including Deepwater Horizon, would have a great deal to offer.

But of course that isn’t what BP’s sponsorship of museums like the British Museum and the arts is about. It’s about hiding the facts about one of the world’s worst polluters behind a facade of promoting the arts and the world heritage their activities are actually helping to destroy through exhibitions such as ‘Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation‘, the ‘Mexican Day of the Dead‘ and ‘Sunken Cities‘. As BP or Not BP put it in their unannounced performance inside the British Museum, thes shows give BP “cheap branding and a social license to operate through all the oil spills“. What the protesters call ‘Greenwashing‘.

You can read more about the protest performance in http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2015/12/dec.htm#bp End BP’s British Museum Greenwash and of course see my pictures – or some of them – from the event. Unusually I was commissioned by them to photograph the event, which in some ways made it easier and in others a little more stressful. It meant I knew what the performers were going to try and do because I’d watched them rehearse for several hours before the event, but I – and they – had no idea how the museum security staff would react. And on this occasion, like the performers, I had plenty of time beforehand to worry about it.

It didn’t quite happen as expected, with a little forgetting of lines and actions, but the performance went remarkably well, and the security who were informed at the start that it would be short and people would leave without any trouble at the end didn’t create any real problems either for the performers or for me and two other freelance photographers who I knew who turned up to take pictures – having, doubtless like the security read the rather sparse details published on Facebook.

I supplied a set of the best images to the clients for their use, and the images on My London Diary with a couple of exceptions are alternative frames – I took a few more exposures than usual with this in mind. The differences are often rather small – often just a slightly different expression or gesture.

As usual I used the D700 with the 16-35mm lens and the D810 in DX mode with the 28-200 (42-300 equiv). Before the performance began I took a few pictures in the Great Hall and decided I could work there without flash at EI 1200, which would give me a shutter speed of 1/125 at an aperture around f4-5.6. The speed was just fast enough to stop most movement and with the wide-angle even working wide open at f4 would give sufficient depth of field for most pictures. Looking back I might have used a higher ISO to give a slightly faster speed, but wanted to avoid extra noise.

I’d decided not to use flash during the main performance in the hall, partly so as not to attract too much attention from security. I certainly did not want to be told by museum staff I could not take pictures, though I would have been prepared to try and ignore their requests citing the public interest.

When the protesters moved into the darker foyer I need flash, and again when they moved outside to the portico there was relatively little light. I kept on working with flash on the D810, but flash on the D700 is now unpredictable – the camera needs a full overhaul, but given its exposure count I think the expense isn’t sensible – better buy a new camera. And I have one on order now, waiting for when Nikon production gets back to normal.

Quite a few of the images taken without flash outside were a little too blurred and I should have should have increased the sensitivity; although the shutter speeds were not particularly slow, I was often rather close to the subjects, where a faster speed is needed to stop movement, and I think the performers were perhaps a little less inhibited.

I think we should support museums, but that they should operate without sponsorship from questionable commercial enterprises. Perhaps protesters might continue the campaign by printing and handing out notes to put in the boxes in the entrances to our splendidly free museums soliciting contributions with a message along the lines “I am not making a contribution as you accept sponsorship from BP, the worlds biggest corporate criminal. If you were not taking their money I would have given you …” and a series of boxes where you could tick to show what you might otherwise have been donated. The amounts from sponsorship are relatively small prepared and might well be replaced by contributions from visitors.

Or perhaps museums and galleries should be happy with a lower profile without the special sponsored shows. In the National Gallery which I often visit when I’ve a little time to spare in the centre of London, it’s often difficult to see the pictures for the crowds, especially around popular works. I’m certainly no fan of the expensive block-buster shows which most big galleries seem to put on now, and much more inclined to revisit the works that they keep for me on their walls. I wouldn’t actually want to own Cezanne’s Bathers, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Turner’s Fighting Temeraire or most of the other great paintings in the National Gallery (there are a few small works I could fit in if they were going spare), but it’s great to be able to pop in from time to time and look at them on the walls.

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Thinking of Christmas

Monday, 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

Sunday, 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

Tuesday, 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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