Archive for the ‘Photographers’ Category

Photojournalism 2017

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Here’s a piece you shouldn’t miss if you have an interest in photojournalism and its future – if it has one, though this is really more about its past. In its way it doesn’t say a lot, but I think even that says something. Donald R Winslow has been in the business for 40 years, at all levels. James Estrin, a staff photographer and regular writer for the New York Times, has also been around a while – he started with the NYT in 1987 and founded their Lens blog.

Also recently by Estrin are his comments on the 2017 World Press Photo. In The Guardian you can read the thoughts of the jury chairman, Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin, in This image of terror should not be photo of the year – I voted against it.

Early Days

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

One of the sites I like to look at occasionally is the Blogs page of British Photographic History, launched in 2009 by Dr Michael Pritchard, where there are often posts from members that interest me, though I write far less about photographic history than I used to when I was writing for another place.

There of course I chose to write about many of the important figures in the medium, including its inventors and many of the early greats of the medium, drawing very much on the lessons I’d earlier given on photographic history as well as published works and the generally rather small amount of information on the Internet in the early 2000s. But although I spent some time looking at actual photographs in collections, exhibitions and museums and was involved for some time in actually creating images using some of the early techniques, I was never really a historian, relying largely on the contributions of others though occasionally with a little of my own interpretation and perspective. And just a few times being able to point out some of the errors in published work.

I wrote at least four full-length features on the work of W H F Talbot, both about the processes he developed – photogenic drawing, salt paper printing and the calotype – and his use of photography, particularly in his ‘Pencil of Nature‘. And while I had access to a number of books on him and his work, the William Henry Fox Talbot catalogue raisonné now available in a beta version and formally announce this Friday would have been a great extra resource.

You can read more about the project, led by Larry J Schaaf on the site itself, so I need not waste your time with details here. There are some parts of the site which are not yet complete, but there is already a very large searchable collection of the work of Talbot himself, as well as a number by Calvert Richard Jones and a few by others.

From the catalogue record you can click on the image to go to the image viewere, which as well as allowing you to zoom in, also has some tools (at top left) by which you can alter brightness and contrast, change from colour to greyscale, and invert the image – particularly useful when viewing the paper negatives.

There are some exhibits that seem almost to be blank paper – either because they were greatly underexposed or because images have faded with time. But perhaps as a scientist, Talbot beleived in keeping the result of every experiment he made with the new medium. Fading of prints was certainly a major issue in the early days, and many surviving Talbot prints have faded badly, sometimes to the extent that they have little value as pictures, though this doesn’t stop them being sold for silly money.

Photography on paper really became practical with Talbot’s calotype process, and the two people who produced the best-known body of work in the early days were Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill (who I think should be thought of in that order) working as a team in Edinburgh in the early 1840s. Also on British Photographic History was a post about the sale of their former premises, Rock House, next to Calton Hill in Edinburgh for more then £1.7m. The post links to both the estate agents site for the property and to an article in The Herald about the sale. Although it would be a grand place to live, I didn’t put in a bid for it, as the “house was recently redesigned internally by Jonathan Reed, a designer who had worked for figures such as David Bowie, Giancarlo Giammetti and Queen Rania of Jordan” and I think I would want a complete redesign for comfort before trying to live there having seen the pictures.

The studios, later home to other notable Scottish photographers, have been bought by an individual who wishes to remain private, but Adamson & Hill’s real studios where they made the great majority of their portraits are the Edingburgh cemeteries which remain open to the public.

Tish Murtha

Monday, February 6th, 2017

I’m not a fan of the Metro, the free newspaper that litters our trains in the mornings. It’s useful if you have to wait for a train, to put underneath your bottom to sit on those cold metal benches, but otherwise I never bother to pick up a copy myself, and when occasionally I pick up a copy someone else has left on the train, a quick flick through confirms my belief that it isn’t worth reading. Which is what you expect given it comes from the same stable as the Daily Mail, a sorry excuse of a right wing newspaper.

But for once the Metro web site has published something worth reading – and my thanks to friends on Facebook for point out Ellen Scott‘s article Powerful photo series captures unemployed youths of Thatcher’s Britain, about the work of Trish Murtha (1956 – 2013), a photographer who lived the life she photographed in Newcastle’s west end.

Murtha first used a camera to frighten away men who would proposition her on the streets where she lived, taking it out and threatening to take their pictures – even if there was often no film in the camera, but soon got hooked on photography and aged 20 went to study at Newport’s School of Documentary Photography in 1976, returning to photograph in the community where she lived. Later she spent some time in London.

The Guardian published a piece written by her younger brother Glenn Murtha, in their That’s me in the picture‘ series in 2015, and you can find out more about her on Wikipedia, which also links to a number of sites with her work on them. She died suddenly of a brain aneurysm just a day before what would have been her 57th birthday in 2013.

Her daughter Ella Murtha wants to make sure that her mother and her pictures are not forgotten, and manages an official Facebook page dedicated to her. She is planning to create a Kickstarter page shortly to fund the publication of a book of this series of pictures and her essay, Youth Unemployment. I’ll add details here when they become available.

My opinion about the Metro was confirmed by the two stories listed under the heading ‘MORE’ at the bottom of the piece which includes eighteen of Tish Murtha’s pictures.

MORE: Photo series celebrates hard-working cats on the job
MORE: Photographer captures the weird and wonderful things people have flushed down the toilet

Frank Herzog & Early Colour

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

I don’t often mention Amateur Photographer here, though it’s a magazine that I used to read many years ago as a schoolboy – well before I started taking pictures – probably mainly attracted by pictures of scantily-clad women which occasionally appeared in its pages, or even those carefully posed nudes with strategically placed accessories or gauzy fabrics that amateur photographers were wont to produce in the 1950s and 60s (and they still dominated many club contests when I was on the edge of that world in the 1970s.)

Later, before the web, it became the magazine to go to in the UK when you were searching for cheap materials or equipment, or wanting to sell cameras, with pages of secondhand listings and adverts from Marston & Heard and others, as well as the first camera discounters. There seemed to be several times the pages of adverts as editorials, and much of the editorial was hardly worth reading. Compared to the US magazines such as Modern Photography and Popular Photography, their reviews were decidedly amateur. AP’s idea of a lens test was to open a window, take a few snaps of a ship at anchor on the opposite bank of the Thames and blow up the results.

There were the occasional articles that were worth reading. Once in a while there would be an interesting historical article or series by one or other of the few British photo-historians, or perhaps an extended review of a new book or exhibition which enabled the magazine to print some pictures without having to pay reproduction fees.

I even wrote a few articles for the mag, illustrated by my own photographs, including one with some of the Hull pictures I’m currently putting on my Hull Photos site, as well as several, intended to be amusing, on the outings and exhibitions of a small and atypical group of club photographers that got me more or less thrown out of the camera club, whose august members became aghast and I was summoned to appear before the committee. Some people had no sense of humour.

I’ve not looked at a print copy of the magazine (you can also subscribe to a digital version) since my local library stopped having magazines in some earlier round of cuts, but I do occasionally glance at its news feed online, and sometimes find something of interest. And a couple of days ago my attention was caught by a review of a book, Modern Color by Fred Herzog, written by Oliver Atwell, illustrated by several of Herzog’s pictures. The book was published last year by Hatje Cantz in Berlin.

I wrote about Herzog back in 2013, having seen some of his work in a lazy show at Somerset House, in which his work had stood out, along with some pictures by other photographers whose work I knew well, and I’ve seen more since. You can view many of his images online at the Equinox Gallery which brought his work to a wider audience with two shows in 2007. Before then he had previously had one-person shows also in Vancouver in 1994 and 1972 and had work in a few group exhibitions.

Herzog, who worked as a medical photographer at the University of Columbia and also as a Fine Arts Instructor, apparently took to working with colour because he didn’t have the time to make black and white prints, though his work suggests that he had a strong feeling for colour. It wasn’t unusual for photographers to work in colour at the time he started back around 1960 – and I took my first colour film – before I was a photographer – a year or two later. It’s the quality and intention of his work that were different, at a time when colour photography was largely the province of commercial photographers and amateurs like myself photographing their holidays or their girlfriends sitting in cherry blossom as I did.

Herzog chose to use Kodachrome, an excellent choice in terms of longevity, and a film with an attractive and distinctive pallette, if not the most accurate colour. It was also a film with high contrast, rather restricting the subject matter and lighting if you wanted to avoid large areas of empty shadow. Over many years of working he produced an extensive archive and you can look through 162 of the 100,000 or so at Equinox. They were taken from around 1958 to 2009, but it is work from the first 10 or 15 years that I find more appealing.


When I began working as a photographer in colour, Kodachrome was a rather expensive option, and I generally used less expensive alternatives, either process paid, or films which I could buy in bulk and process myself in E4 (later E6) chemicals. To cut costs I kept away from expensive Kodak chemicals too, making use of alternative and cheaper brews. Usually these produced good results, but keeping the solutions at the correct temperature and accurate timing was difficult.

Although producing transparencies was in some respects an easy option, it created a problem if prints were needed for exhibition. There were reversal papers available – and I used an Agfa version for the colour prints in my show German Indications – they were fiddly and it was hard to get good prints. More expensive were colour prints made from inter-negatives, which could be good, especially when paying for professionally made 4×5″ negatives from 35mm, and For those on very large budgets it was possible to get excellent dye transfer prints, but a single print would have cost around half my monthly salary.

Things changed a little with the introduction of Cibachrome-A by Ilford in 1975, making it possible to produce prints from slides in amateur darkrooms. The prints were brighter and bolder than those produced on conventional colour papers, and more long-lasting, but it was difficult to tame the contrast. Good for many commercial uses, Cibachromes were death to more sensitive images.

The chemicals used for the Cibachome dye bleach process were also pretty nostril-searing and disposal required some care. They were never very suitable for those of us with small and not too well-ventilated darkrooms, probably shortening the lives of many of us.

I abandoned colour transparency and moved to colour negative film for my own work in 1985, either processing the film myself or using cheap amateur film processing services, which also provided enprints as proofs. The change for me made sense because of new and better colour negative films and paper from Fuji becoming available. Until I moved over to digital almost of my colour work was made on Fuji materials, though I did try out some of the newer Kodak films that emerged after Fuji had disturbed their complacency.

But the advent of high quality negative scanners and archival inkjet printing have opened up new possibilities for all of use, and particularly those who worked with transparencies, giving a degree of control over contrast and colour that was simply impossible in the past. And it meant a new lease of life for Herzog’s Kodachromes.

Laughlin’s Third World

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

One of the books I’ve had on my shelves for a very long time – since soon after it was published in 1973 – is is ‘Clarence John Laughlin: The Personal Eye‘, a catalogue for the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition and a double issue of Aperture, Volume 17, Numbers 3 & 4, also published ‘as a book for general distribution’.

I don’t think its distribution in the UK would have been very wide, but like many US photographic publications of the time it would have been available at the Creative Camera bookshop in Doughty St and doubtless advertised in the magazine.

For those without a copy on their bookshelves, you can get a good idea of Lauglin’s thinking from ‘First Principles of the Third World of Photography – THE WORLD BEYOND DOCUMENTATION AND PURISM ONE – TEXT AND IMAGES BY CLARENCE JOHN LAUGHLIN’ on Carnival of Dogs. His 12 point manifesto there begins “In Photography, as in all arts, the quality of the human imagination is the only thing that counts – technique, and technical proficiency, mean nothing in themselves” and ends “The limitations of photography are nothing more than the limitations of photographers themselves.”

Much of Laughlin’s work is now in the Historic New Orleans Collection, where you can view and zoom into many of his pictures, so many indeed that it is hard to know where to start. But it is worth paging through the many pages of thumbnails and picking some to look at.

Although in the end I learnt that my own creative interests were in purism and documentation, in my early years in photography work such as Laughlin’s made a strong impression on me, and I’m rather surprised that although I wrote about him and other photographers who might be considered to follow in his footsteps such as Arthur Tress in another place, this is the first time in several thousand posts I appear to have mentioned him here.

Laughlin’s work was brought to my mind by two posts Clarence John Laughlin: In Memoriam on Photocritic International by A D Coleman, who wrote about Laughlin in his 1977 critical survey The Grotesque in Photography.

The first piece takes its sub-title Prophet without Honor from the subtitle of the Laughlin biography, Clarence John Laughlin: Prophet without Honor by A. J. Meek, professor emeritus of art at Louisiana State University (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), and one of two stories in it recounts Coleman’s meeting with Laughlin around 1975 when the photographer showed his of work to collector Sam Wagstaff. He set out a strict set of conditions about what he expected anyone who bought his pictures must do – and after looking through the work, Wagstaff rejected the idea that a photographer should have any rights over their pictures after they had been sold.

Over the ages, artists have almost always had an uneasy relationship with those who have provided them with a living, but it is only in relatively recent times that photography has succumbed so entirely to patronage by individuals and corporations. Most of the early photographers were themselves wealthy and others have maintained some sort of independence based on various commercial practices and around the reproducibility of the medium.

The second piece, subtitled Lament for the Walking Wounded, is an article published by Coleman in his “Light Readings” column in the December 1977 issue of the magazine Camera 35, together with a postscript.

Published at the time without names, it recounted the speech by Hilton Kramer, then chief art critic for The New York Times, at a New York City national meeting of the Society for Photographic Education, in which Kramer held Laughlin up to ridicule not for his photography, but making tasteless jokes about his eccentric nature. Coleman himself felt ashamed after the event at having joined in the whole-heated laughter at a man he describes as on of “the walking wounded of photography” who have suffered from their dedication to the medium and “never got their due and are beginning to realize that they may never get it.”

Though relating events now around 40 years in the past, these are stories which are still relevant, perhaps even more relevant, today.

On this day…

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

Once upon a time I had to write a daily post on photography for several years as a part of my job. Of course I still write here most days, but then I wasn’t really allowed to write about my own work, which made things a lot harder, and I couldn’t take a day off whenever I felt like it.

Of course you don’t actually have to sit down and write a piece every day. You can write stuff when you have time or the mood takes you amd schedule it to appear later. I’m actually typing this at 10.25 on Wednesday but it will most likely appear on Saturday – unless something more urgent to publish means I will put it back a day or two or even longer. Just occasionally I get things wrong – as I did this week, when the post intended for Friday accidentally got published on Thursday afternoon when I pressed the wrong button.

Sometimes when I had to write those daily pieces there were plenty of things happening that I could write about – exhibition openings, books, new web sites, and inevitably obituaries etc. But there were days when I was stumped and would turn to various ‘On this day…’ sites for inspiration. The Library of Congress has its Today in History page which often features some interesting photographs from its extensive collection that might prompt a thought.

Those daily blog posts were a relatively small part of the job I was employed to do, and some were fairly short, though one of the reasons I eventually got sacked was for writing too much and writing for photographers rather than people who’d just bought a camera and had no idea what to do with it.

When I read a post by James McArdle on the Photohistory blog about his project On This Date In Photography I was interested but perhaps a little sceptical about his intention to present “an event that happened, or is happening, on the date of posting. Journalistic, not necessarily academic, it aims to broaden the interests of devotees of photography, with some posts specifically on British photo history, others more wide ranging.”

He goes on to state that the site is “a ‘labour of love’ I am undertaking for one calendar year to revive my research and writing in preparation for penning a book on an aspect of photography next year.”

I have to say that I’m very impressed by what I’ve seen so far, and suggest that his is a site you should all add to your bookmarks/favourites.  I haven’t read all the entries which he began in October, but enough to make me want to go back and read more. One almost at random, for December 27th, with the title Dream, looks at the photography of  Latvian photographer Gunar̄s Binde, born 27/12/1933  who I was pleased to meet and see his work in Poland in 2005.


Gunars Binde looks through the catalogue as Eikoe Hosoe, Ami Vitale and I  for a photograph at the first international FotoArtFestival in Bielsko-Biala, Poland, where I represented the UK with pictures from London. You can read the more about the festival in my Polish Diary. Picture by Jutka Kovacs.

Charmes de Londres

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

I have quite a collection of books of photographs of London (as well as probably a few hundred thousand of my own pictures) but one of my favourites is ‘Charmes de Londres‘, credited to Jacques Prevert with photographs by D’Iziz-Bidermanas. Although most of the texts are poems by Prevert, it also has some quotations by others including William Blake and a Picasso drawing.

I didn’t buy this when it first came out in 1952, as I was then only seven and penniless – and it wasn’t in any case for sale, but came across it in an Oxfam shop perhaps 15 years ago, paying £19.50 for a copy in good condition. Perhaps remarkably you can still find copies of the original edition, published ‘hors commerce‘ for members of La Guilde Du Livre in Lausanne and printed by heliogravure (photogravure) on wood pulp free paper, for only a pound or two more. The previous year’s collaboration, published in the same way,  Grand Bal du Printemps, will set you back around 25 times as much.

Part of the reason you can still find copies of that original version (there are also later editions) is that it was a relatively large print run, with 10,300 numbered copies (mine is No. 4871) as well as 30 labelled I to XXX for the organisers of the guild. Although photographers often complain about getting second billing to writers when then works are published, Prevert had a much larger fan base!

The book is a reminder of the fine printing that could be achieved with photogravure, and it matches the mood of Iziz’s images perfectly. A recent post on Spitalfields Life,  Israel Bidermanas’ London, reproduces a fine selection of over 20 images from the book, without Prevert’s poems (which are of course in French) and gives a good impression of the subjects, but shows them in a more modern tonal interpretation, more contrasty and with intense blacks, which perhaps loses something of the gloomy charm of the original publication. This was a post-war London still under a gloomy miasma, though probably the real pea-soupers defeated the photographer few if any images have a clear distance.

The best way to see more of his pictures on-line seems to be to search on Google Images or Pinterest for ‘Izis Bidermanas‘.

Iziz was one of many fine photographers of Paris, and another was Willy Ronis (1910-2009). In 2004, French editor Alain Dhouailly published a limited edition of 130 copies of a set of 12 or his images printed by heliogravure which gives some background on the process. Ronis’s work is fairly widely avaialable and on galleries on the web, for example at Hacklebury Fine Art.

Grossman & the Photo League

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Around 15 years ago, I wrote a series of articles and short notes about what was still then a very much overlooked part of American photographic history, but which is now referred to as ‘New York’s famed Photo League‘. An organisation that was destroyed by McCarthyism as ‘anti-American’ it remained largely outside the pale until this century, and I was pleased to be able write about it and to mention some of the photographers still alive and working who learned and developed their craft there, largely under the critical eye of Sid Grossman (1913-1955). I’ve mentioned it before on this site, including two posts with the same title, The New York Photo League where I quote from my 2001 article, and a longer version here.

You can get some idea of the critical blind-spot by reading the lengthy introductory essay by Gerry Badger to the 1985 Barbican show ‘American Images: Photography 1945-80’ which relegates Grossman and others to what is essentially a footnote to the later work of Robert Frank and the Photo League to an introductory sentence to the work of Aaron Siskind which makes clear that his importance as a photographer was due to breaking away from his early work with the League on Harlem Document.

Although none of Grossman’s work appeared in the Barbican show, that the work of several others involved in the Photo League does probably owes itself – as did much of the show – to the ideas and graft of John Benton-Harris, a native New Yorker who studied with Alexey Brodovitch, and who grew up with the work of the Photo League photographers and their successors and their views of his city.

As his artist page at the Howard Greenberg Gallery states, Grossman, who had founded the Photo League with Sol Libsohn in 1936, “had a tremendous influence on a large number of students who studied with him including Weegee, Lisette Model, Leon Levinstein, Ruth Orkin, Arthur Leipzig, Rebecca Lepkoff and numerous others.”

The main show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York until Feb 11, 2017 is the “first solo exhibition in 30 years to explore the legacy of Sid Grossman” and the exhibition also includes “a small selection of work by some of Sid Grossman’s students including Rebecca Lepkoff, Leon Levinstein, Marvin Newman and Ruth Orkin.” Also showing at the gallery is a “companion exhibition with work by Sy Kattelson, a student and close friend of Sid Grossman.

Last September, Steidl co-published with Howard Greenberg Gallery ‘The Life and Work of Sid Grossman ISBN, 9783958291256′ with a biographical and critical essay by Keith F Davis, the first comprehensive survey of Sid Grossman’s life and work, with over 150 photographs “from his early social documentary work of the late 1930s to the more personal and dynamic street photography of the late 1940s, as well as late experiments with abstraction in both black and white and color.”

England, and Saint George!

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

A few minutes on Wikipedia convinces me that April 23 has more than its share of famous births, deathas and commemorations of which the best known here is of the man the Eastern Orthodox call “Holy Glorious Great-martyr and Victory-bearer and Wonderworker George“, a Palestinian (or Turk) of Greek parentage and a Roman soldier – if he actually existed. Certainly the dragon didn’t, and was not involved in the legend that made him a saint, in which, undoubtedly like some Christians of the era, he was tortured at length before being beheaded for refusing to convert to the Roman gods following an edict by Emperor Diocletian in AD 303 which led to three years of such persecution, though applied with differing severity across the Roman Empire.

April 23 is a day George shares with a number of other saints, with Wikipaedia listing around a dozen for the Eastern Orthodox, including George’s mother, two soldiers converted by witnessing George’s martyrdom and the wife of Diocletian, as well as another 14 pre-schism Western Saints, post-schism Orthodox saints, new martyrs and confessors (though due to our change to the Gregorian calendar they celebrate these April 23 events on our May 6th.) In the West, George shares his feast day with Adalbert of Prague and Gerard of Toul, while both the Evangelical Lutherans and Episcopalians in the USA commemorate the life of Japanese Christian pacifist, reformer and labour activist Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960) which seems to me admirable. It’s a shame we’ve never heard of him here.

Shakespeare was probably born on April 23 1564, and certainly died on April 23 1616, giving us another reason to commemorate – and UNESCO chose April 23 as UN English Language Day, (one of six promoting its official working languages,) for that reason. It’s also UNESCO World Book Day, though in the UK we celebrate this on on the first Thursday in March instead, as April 23 is often in the Easter school holidays.

In England, St George’s Day once ranked with Christmas as a major celebration, an occasion for feasting and drinking, but its celebration became less important after the union with Scotland, and had almost disappeared in the last century. One or two people still wore a red rose, and some official buildings flew a flag, though usually the Union Flag rather than the English flag of St George. The day never became a bank holiday, partly because of its closeness to Easter (and the Church of England even moves his feast day when it gets too close to Easter, moving it from April 23 to the Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter.)

Back in the last century, even English sport teams and their supporters would often use the Union Flag rather than the English St George Flag, but it was sport and particularly football that led to a resurgence for the red cross on white, and pubs showing England games at the World Cup on TV that led to its proliferation across the land. It became associated with football supporters, and with the largely right wing hooligans involved in football violence who dominated many ultra-nationalist groups, often styling themselves as patriots, and looking back to a mythical past of an all-white England ruling an empire around the world, or even launching crusades against the infidel foreigners.

A strange alliance between these ‘patriots’ and others who have tried to reclaim the English flag from the bigots has led to an increase in official commemoration of St George’s Day this century, which has involved groups including the BBC, English Heritage and London Mayor Boris Johnson, as well as some churches, and it’s a mixture that has been reflected in my photographs of the day over the years.

In 2016, St George’s Day actually fell on a Saturday, and I expected to see more activity than in other years, but was in the end rather disappointed. The Mayor’s day of events in Trafalgar Square seemed rather lacking in spirit, and all more organised events by ‘patriots’ in the London Area seem to have evaporated, perhaps because of increased militancy by anti-fascist groups. I paid a brief visit to Trafalgar Square, but found little to photograph – perhaps things got better later in the day, but the few pictures I’ve seen by others don’t encourage that thought.

South of the river in Southwark things were a little better with a festival ‘A Quest for Community’ with the aim of ‘Taming the dragon of difference’ involving a St George’s Day procession from the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St George to the Church of England St George the Martyr in Borough High Street. As well as St George, Diocletian and his daughter, a sooth-sayer and of course a dragon, it also included drummers and the Mayor of Southwark, to whom I was pleased to be able to point out a blue plaque and tell her a little about one of the Borough’s more famous son’s, photographer Bert Hardy, who grew up in ‘The Priory’ which was on our route.

She had been unaware that one of Picture Post’s best-known photographers and a pioneer in using 35mm in press photography had come from her patch – and never really left it, though advertising brought him enough money to buy and live in Chartlands Farm, Limpsfield Chart near Oxted. And about how his powerful photography had powered the textbook example of an unsuccessful advertising campaign, ‘You’re never alone with a Strand’ along with an outstanding ‘noir’ TV ad shot by Carol Reed with music by Cliff Adams that would have topped the charts had the BBC not banned it for advertising cigarettes. Even at 3s2d for 20, nobody wanted to be seen as lonely enough to buy them.

The procession ran late, and I didn’t have time to watch more than a few minutes of the play that followed, and missed the free pint that was waiting for me in the City where Leadenhall Market was also celebrating our patron saint. Instead I met with friends at the Old Kings Head in Kings Head Yard just off Borough high St, a welcome survival of a traditional English pub – and where better to meet not just one St George, but two, the second accompanied by his very own dragon.

I forget why we left. Perhaps it was the thought of a good dinner waiting for me at home, but I stopped for a minute or so in the yard outside for a last picture of St George with his dragon holding his own and George’s pint in the alley outside, a rather different and very English version of the legend, and my favourite picture from a long day.

More at:
St George in Southwark Procession
St Georges Day in London

(more…)

Whose Streets? Our Streets!

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

My thanks to writer on the New York Times Lens Blog for pointing out the exhibition ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!‘ currently taking place at the  Bronx Documentary Center until March 14, 2014, but more importantly for most of us, on-line.  Curated by photo editor Meg Handler  and historian Tamar, it features work by 38 photographrers, including a few familiar names.

But as Handler says in the Lens feature, few of the pictures  were widely seen when they were taken; “It used to be, you’d show your contact sheets to a couple of your friends and that was it,” she said. “They’d rarely get seen.”

Handler goes on to say that the freedom of movement for photographers ended in 2002, but she continued by saying that any demonstrator with a phone can now project images to the world almost as the events are happening.

I’m not sure how different things are in New York to here in London, but here there is certainly no shortage of photographers covering protests, and while it’s obviously true that protesters with smart phones now tweet and post images as events take place, this is a rather more recent phenomenon.  When I first got a mobile phone, a little after 2002, like most at the time it didn’t have a camera, and it was only at the end of that decade that phones with cameras began to be widespread.

Things did change around 2002. Photographers got digital cameras – like the Nikon D100 I bought towards the end of the year. A few professionals had used them earlier, but mainly in more lucrative areas than photographing protests. For a few years after most of the photographers at demonstrations here were still using film – and I continued to use both film and digital for several years.

Back then, unless you had something that was startling news, you took your pictures, came home, developed film, looked at the contacts, maybe made a few prints and took them to the agency a day or week or more later. If you though you had something special, you would phone a paper and if they were interested take them the film to rush through for the next day. Staffers would of course take in their films – and most of the protest pictures published were from photographers on the staff of the major agencies and papers. They only bothered to attend major events, and seldom stayed for more than a quick photo-op.

Photographers who really covered protests were a different breed – and it shows in the pictures in the Bronx show. Here – as there – some worked for the left-wing magazines and small circulation newspapers – such as Mike Cohen who gave me advice at times when we covered protests and whose work appeared regularly in the Morning Star, Socialist Worker and Searchlight, which also regularly featured pictures by David Hoffman, a photographer who some on the extreme right confuse me with and I get a share of his abuse along with that really intended for me.

The other thing that has changed and encouraged more photographers to cover events is the growth of online photo agencies that have little or no bar to submissions. Sites like Demotix (bought out and closed down a year ago by the Chinese to end its competition with Getty) encouraged people to put much unfocussed (often literally as well as metaphorically) photography online – with many more people becoming photographers, and a few of them producing work at least as good as that of the professionals who disparaged such sites. And of course there are professionals around the world who now contribute to such on-line agencies.

The freedom of movement all ended in 2002,” states Handler, but here protesters have often managed to avoid being penned by police, and except for those on the extreme right and some anarchists, protesters have largely remained on good terms with most photographers.

So we have more photographers than ever taking pictures at protests, although no more pictures are being used. Many that do appear are pretty poor because what matters most is not quality but getting the images in first, with many photographers rushing into a corner before a protest has even started to file some pictures. It’s a race I refuse to take part in, but then I’m in no danger of going hungry or getting evicted if my pictures don’t make the news. Like those photographers in the Bronx show I’m more interested in telling the stories – but at least now I can get them out on Facebook and My London Diary even if the newspapers don’t pick them up.

Another big change is of course the move to colour that came with the move to digital. There are rather more colour pictures in the Bronx show than I would expect from any similar UK show of the same era, but it is still black and white that dominates. Now using black and white is largely only an affectation practised by a few largely younger photographers hwo have never really learnt how to use it, other than clicking on a button in Lightroom or other software.