Archive for the ‘My Own Work’ Category

Crane River

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

The River Crane became famous in 1949 with the formation of the Crane River Jazz Band, the real fount of Trad Jazz in this country. It all took place very close to where I was living, but since I was only four at the time I knew nothing about it.
Like me, trumpeter Ken Colyer was living in Hounslow and got together with a few mates, including Monty Sunshine and Lonnie Donegan to play together away from everywhere in the park on the the banks of the river so as not to annoy the neighbours, and finally decided they were good enough to play at the local pub, the White Hart pub in Cranford, where they set up a jazz club. The pub is no more, and probably just as well as it would be hard to listen to music there now as the jets come in and out of Heathrow at rooftop level. Though presumably those who now frequent the KFC and Starbucks that replaced it either wear headphones or have had their hearing permanently impaired by their use.

Fortunately the rehearsals didn’t take place a mile or so further south, or it might have been called the Duke of Northumberland’s RIver Jazz Band which wouldn’t have slipped so easily off the tongue. Though they could have been the Crown and Sceptre Jazz band but that sounds far too English as well.

A wide-angle can make the planes seem quite small

The Crane runs along a short distance the east of Heathrow, and the pleasure of this walk was considerably diminished by the deafening noise of large flying machines threatening to land on top of us every minute or two. Fortunately none actually dropped short out of the sky during our passage.

I got plane spotting out of my system early, standing out in our back garden in the days when planes had large registration letters on the lower surface of their wings and crossing them off in my book, probably produced by Ian Allan publications, another local business just a few hundred yards from the suburban home to which J G Ballard moved a few years later. But seeing them go over so close is rather disturbing, as they do sometimes seem a little precariously Heath Robinson. Thinks did occasionally drop off in our back garden back in the old days, but fortunately missed all of us.

We began and ended our walk at Hatton Cross, right at the edge of the airport, and stayed on to have a meal in the Green Man, which still looks like the country pub it used to be, and inside the noise of the aircraft is not too noticeable over the general background of a busy pub.

I played in the Crane as a child, paddled and fished and failed to swim. Played too in the woods and ruins and trenches of Hounslow Heath. When I grew older it was time for a little Chemistry, and we made bombs to attempt to destroy the remains of the gunpowder mill close to Baber Bridge, in what where then known to all as the ‘Crown and Sceptre’ woods. I’ve no idea where people got the name now used, Donkey Wood from – it certainly wasn’t called that in my youth. The Crown and Sceptre is no more either, transmogrified into a Tesco Express.

Fortunately I wasn’t injured in those explosions, and the damage to the massive concrete blocks was pretty superficial, though we did often come home bleeding from falling out of trees or sledding down gravelly slopes on sheets of corrugated iron or other abandoned rubbish. Kids definitely were tougher in those days, and our parents would all now have their children taken away be social services for the freedom we all took for granted.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been back – most of the riverside we walked along is now on the London Loop, and where we had to squelch in deep mud there are now raised walkways. Wear good earplugs and it makes a pleasant day out in a little country inside London. You can walk most of the way to the Thames close to the river if you have time.

The Crane is something of a mystery, which most sources avoid by stating it runs from somewhere near North Hyde Road in Hayes to the Thames at Twickenham, the lower third or so of a river that gathers water from a large area of Middlesex, and is known for most of its course as the Yeading Brook. Its name in the lower course comes from Cranford, which got its name from the flocks of heron – cranes – that used to live around the ford on the Bath Road. The source of the Yeading Brook seems to be just to the north of the Kodak Sports ground at the back of the houses on Pinner Park Lane, just to the west of the Kodak factory at Headstone Drive, Harrow. It used to provide the water for the moat of Headstone Manor.

But there are many small streams that contribute to the river (which used to be called the Fishbourne, certainly back in AD 704, possibly for obvious reasons.) Though many of them are largely now culverted, and it is hard to trace the course .

Housing & Mental Health

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Sometimes luck smiles on you a little, though often only if you are awake and keeping your wits about you.  I’d seen the adverts on the side of a bus for the London Property Show and was ready when it drove slowly behind the protesters, but it was a fleeting opportunity and there were no second chances. But while for the rich ‘Your Dream Home Awaits You’, for most Londoners, housing is a nightmare, and for too many becomes, as the poster below says, ‘A Mental Health Issue.’

London property prices are now simply beyond the reach of most Londoners, partly because property here has become an investment opportunity for the wealthy around the world, particularly in the Far East.  Developers advertise properties in Singapore and elsewhere, suggesting that prices will increase at rates much higher than bank interest rates or most investment bonds, and their predictions have proved correct over the years.

Market rents for even relatively small flats in less popular areas of the city are now too expensive for most,  and while they used to be advertised with their monthly rates (pcm), increasingly in the agent’s windows the figures are weekly, with little below £400 a week. A worker doing 40 hours a week on the legal minimum wage that the government now refers to as the living wage of £7.20 per hour (starvation wage would be a more accurate term) would make £288 per week before deductions, and even those fortunate enough to get the real London Living Wage of £9.75 per hour would find it entirely swallowed up.

There is still some lower cost social housing, though the current government policies seem aimed at getting rid of it, either by bringing up rent levels to the market rent, or at least to 80% of that,  which is ridiculously called an “affordable” rent – still usually well above the weekly earnings on that so-called ‘living wage’. There is of course housing benefit – though generally that is capped well below market rents in London, and its main effect has been to push up rents and put money into the pockets of the landlords.

London urgently needs more social housing – and that should really be council housing, which Margaret Thatcher put a stop to councils providing – while forcing them to sell off existing stock at knock-down prices to the sitting tenants. Just one of many policies that have earned her the eternal hate of a large section of the community. Relatively few came out to dance when she died, but many, many more celebrated in the privacy of their homes, pubs and clubs. And as they say to those who want to set up some monument to her, she already has one in the thousands of food banks around the country.

The protest by Focus E15 housing campaigners and mental health activists was in Stratford, the centre of the London Borough of Newham, which has one of the largest housing problems in the country, one of the longest waiting lists for council housing, the great majority of whom will never get it, and is currently in the middle of a huge building site, with tall blocks of apartments going up. But few if any of these huge schemes will offer accommodation at prices locals can afford – over a third earn below the London Living Wage.

Newham puts many into temporary accommodation, often of a very poor standard, dangerous and infested with vermin, provided by companies that fail to repair or maintain them properly and a long way from friends and jobs. They try to force those with urgent housing needs that they have a statutory obligation to rehouse to move to towns and cities in distant parts of the country, breaking the links they have to family, services and schooling. And scandalously they have been trying to empty and sell off one of their best loved council estates close to the centre of Stratford, the Carpenters Estate, where people have been moved out of hundreds of good quality homes, some now vacant for well over ten years.

A 1 bed flat to be completed here in Spring 2017 was recently on offer at a bargain £420,000 – the market price was £470,000

Newham is a one-party state, with 60 Labour councilors and an elected Labour Mayor, Sir Robin Wales (who campaigners refer to as ‘Robin the Poor‘, though financially he has done pretty well out of the job he has held since 2002. Recently Private Eye revealed the ballot rigging in Newham that made him the only Labour candidate for the 2018 elections. Party members voted 424 members to 351 in favour of other members being allowed to stand, but then affiliated groups were allowed to vote and their votes overturned the local party decision.

Its long past time that Labour Party members in Newham began to take a good look at how their borough is being run, and to get back to asserting the values that the party traditionally stood for. But the chances of any real change in policy seem low at the moment. It’s boroughs like this that are far more in need of investigation than the neighbouring Tower Hamlets, where the Mayor Lutfur Rahman was deposed. Had he, like Robin Wales have been Scottish rather than Bangladeshi he would still be Mayour – and still doing a rather better job for his residents.


Dosta, Grinta, Enough

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

You don’t often see horses on the grass in Parliament Square these days, though the odd mounted police officer rides past (and occasionally a troop of them will charge protesters) and I think the Queen still gets her post by a small horse-drawn coach which daily rattles past, and herself appears in a rather more ornate vehicle on special occasions. But while the horse-drawn vehicles brought to the square by Roma, Travellers and Gypsies as a part of their ‘Dosta, Grinta, Enough!’ protest, are very much a part of our heritage, they were not welcomed by the Mayor’s ‘Heritage Wardens’, cut-price security officers who police the bylaws here and in Trafalgar Square.

Eventually they were told the horses had to leave the grass to people, and instead they made a number of circuits of the square, followed by protesters on foot, effectively holding up but not entirely stopping traffic. Eventually the real police got fed up with this and warned them that they would think up some offence they could stick on them, though I’m not quite sure what that could be, but the travellers didn’t want to do anything illegal and drove away down Millbank while the protest continued in Parliament Square.

Life on the road has become increasingly difficult for these people, with more and more bylaws and restrictive legislation. Recently local authorities have been allowed to stop providing sites for them, and even where they own land – as at Dale Farm – they have not been allowed to stay on it.  Planning laws are used against them in a discriminatory fashion – and that site now seems likely to be developed as a housing estate despite the travellers having been evicted at huge expense because it was a part of the ‘green belt’.

It’s hard to argue against their conviction that the changes being made by the Government to the  Gypsy and Traveller planning guidance and other actions are an attack on their ethnicity and way of life. There has been a long history of persecution of the Roma and other travellers in this country, and there some changes to a more civilised attitude in the last  century which these new attitudes have reversed. More pictures at Dosta, Grinta, Enough!

Earlier in the day I had covered two other protests, with Foil Vedanta protesting inside the Royal Festival Hall against Vedanta sponsoring the Jaipur Literary Festival attempting to enhance its extremely blemished reputation through support of the arts, and the latest in a series of actions to get the Chancellor to implement his promise to remove the VAT on tampons and related products – pictures at Tampon tax now Osbourne!

But I still had another protest to cover – and will write about it in a later post.

Capita accused of racism

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

I’d got a message from the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union that they were going to stage a protest in the city against an employer who they said has sacked two African workers because they were African, and was given a time and place where they were meeting.

They hadn’t advertised the protest in advance, hoping to keep it secret, and I knew that they hoped to be able to rush into the entrance hall of some offices and protest inside, leaving after a short time to continue the protest outside.

The group of around a dozen cleaners gathered close to an underground station and when everyone had arrived walked together, stopping just a few yards before the offices to get out posters and other materials for the protest. I still didn’t know exactly where the offices were we were headed to, and was slightly taken by suprise when some of them rushed down a few steps and into a door, but managed to take a picture before following them inside.

The sacked cleaners had cleaned offices for Capita, who had offices on one or two floors of the building, but were employed by the contractor Mitie; there were three African workers at the site and Mitie had sacked two of them, and reduced the hours of the third. They were among the group of workers in the CAIWU who had put in a demand to be paid the London Living Wage.

Some of the cleaners, including those who worked in the building, stayed to protest on the pavement outside, but the group who went inside protested noisily, while people who worked inside came in and out for lunch. Betwwen bouts of noise, union organiser Alberto used a microphone and a sound system in a trolley to explain the reason for the protest, demanding the re-instatement of the sacked workers and the London Living Wage.

Several security men approached him, and one made an attempt to snatch the microphone away, but he shrugges them off and continued to speak. Eventually after a few minutes of protest, two of them managed to push him out through the door and the other protesters followed.

At a later date one of the security men came and asked me not to publish his photograph, as he was worried about the safety of his family in another country, and I have pixelated his face in these images. It isn’t something I normally do, but there were special circumstances in his case.

The protesters then made their way around to the rear entrance to the block which was now being used by more of the workers to go to lunch and continued to protest noisily and hand out fliers explaining the protest. After a few minutes they were joined by a police officer, who talked briefly with them and then stayed to wtach and ensure the protesters kept on the pavement but did not block it.

The officer came in useful a few minutes later, by which time the protesters had moved back to the front of the building. A man in a suit walking by suddenly got angry and tried to grab Alberto’s microphone, told me I should not be taking pictures and then grabbed one of the protesters by the shoulder.

If there is one way to make sure I take your picture, it is to tell me I can’t when I know have a perfect right and an interest in doing so, and of course I took his picture, and the police officer came over, asked the protesters what had happened and then took the man to one side and told him to leave the area – and warned him about his actions.

At the end of the lunchhour the protesters packed up and I went home. More pictures at Cleaners protest at Capita.


Hull Photos: 9/2/17-15/2/17

Friday, February 17th, 2017

9th February 2017

28j44: Air Whistles, Great Union St, 1981 – East Hull

I think this office on Great Union St was roughly opposite Hyperion St. As well as air whistles you could also order a diesel engine and other things you might need for your ship. The site is now occupied by The Crossings, a centre for the homeless which opened in 2011.

In the book ‘Still Occupied’ I placed this image in the East Hull chapter, though it would have been more sensibly in the River Hull chapter, close to the river and with an obviously strong connection.

I also took a second picture through the same window, this time concentrating on the reflection and seeing the line of whistles only dimly through it.

28j45: Air Whistles, Great Union St, 1981 – East Hull

I think in 1981 I preferred the second version, with the air whistles floating rather insubstantially above the roofs opposite, but it was the first image that I chose for the book in 2011.

10th February 2017

28j54: River Hull view upstream from North Bridge, 1981 – River Hull

Peeling paint on a wall advertises the coal and sand wharf belonging to ‘Henry’, which I think may be Henry Mead & Co at 15 Lime Street, which was wound up in 1973. On the west bank of Hull are a long line of wharves and buildings on Wincolmlee, with the towering silos of R&W Paul (now Maizecor) in the distance. A single vessel is visible moored at one of the Lime St wharves.

Floods from the Hull, mainly because of a tides coming up from the Humber, were fairly frequent before the tidal barrier was built, because the corporation failed to get wharf owners to maintain adequate flood defences. A number of derelict properties made their job more difficult. More recent floods have been because of excessive rainfall in the Hull valley.

11th February 2017

28j55: North Bridge Warehouse (Hull Ships Stores c.1850), Charlotte St, 1981 – River Hull

The old North Bridge replaced a ferry here in 1541, and the remains of the old bridge (many times renewed) can be seen to the left of the warehouse in my picture. It was replaced by the current Grade II listed bascule bridge in 1928-30. Above the ruins is the large building of Hull College and in front of that the buildings, some Georgian, of Dock Office Row.

Hull Ships Stores, a ship supplies warehouse built in 1870, architect RG Smith, were Grade II listed in 1994, a few years after they were converted into flats as Northbridge House.

12th February 2017

28j56: River Hull, view south from the east bank below North Bridge, 1981 – River Hull

The path on the east side of the River Hull between North Bridge and Drypool Bridge was blocked in 1981, but limited access was possible. This picture was taken close to North Bridge looking south towards Drypool Bridge.

The Rank (later Rank Hovis) Clarence Flour Mill immediately left of the bridge opened in 1891, designed by one of Hull’s best known architects, W. Alfred Gelder. Much of the mill was destroyed in heavy wartime bombing in 1940, when Hull was often used as a secondary target by any bombers who had failed to drop them in Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool etc, and was one of the most heavily bombed of all UK cities. When I was taking these pictures older Hull residents still complained that their city was never named in the wartime reports of bombing, just referred to, if at all, as “a north-east city.”

The tall silo is mostly the original Victorian build but the mill was rebuilt and enlarged post-war. This former Hull landmark was demolished in 2016.

Obscuring much of the mill is another brick building which was probably a part of the Gamebore Cartridge Co. Ltd, whose Shotwell Tower at the left still produces the lead shot for use in their world-leading shotgun cartridges.

At the right of the picture are the gates of the Yorkshire Dry Dock, with a crane, and beyond them what remains of the entrance to Queen’s Dock Basin which used to lead into Queens Dock, filled in as a rather dull and still part-sunken public park in 1930-34.

13 February 2017

28j62: Wright St & Charles St corner, 1981 – City Centre

Both Wright St and Charles St still exist on the map of Hull, but they no longer meet as they used to, and the surrounding area has been changed by the building of the Freetown Way, opened in 1986, five years after I took this picture.

Charles St was on the northern edge of Hull when it was developed by the Rev Charles Jarratt in the 1830s and 1840s, and there are still a few buildings from that period surviving in both it and Wright St.

Although there are broken windows and boards over the shops at right, the corner shop appears to be still in business, though not open early on a Sunday when I took the picture. Under the cloths in the windows are what look like cakes or doughnuts, and the notice in the doorway states ‘Golden Touch Bingo Vouchers Accepted Here’.

Charles St has been described as a long street of almost continuous small shops where you could buy almost anything you might ever need. And of course pubs. And it was in this street that one of the least likely ‘Jack the Ripper’ suspects, writer and journalist Robert Donston Stephenson (aka Roslyn D’Onston) was born. He was in the London Hospital when Mary Ann Nichols, the first ‘Ripper’ victim was killed only a couple of hundred yards away, and took a great interest in the case, suggesting an unlikely link to occult practices which he had studied. Others suggested he might really have been the murderer, not least because his wife had disappeared without trace a couple of years earlier. Of course there is really no mystery about the ‘Ripper’, just a huge industry of profit in denying the facts.

14 February 2017

28k11: Cawoods, Essex St, Gipsyville, 1981 – Hessle Rd

The Dairycoates (Gipsyville) Industrial Estate is a couple of miles west of the city centre and was purpose-built with 8 streets of terraced housing named after English counties running south from the Hessle Rd around 1900. THe first companies there were F. Atkins & Co making canisters (later they became part of ‘Metal Box’ and then moved away) and Hargreaves Bros, & Co, a black lead company, whose “Gipsy Black Metal Polish” gave the whole area its name, including the extensive inter-war council housing to the north. The industrial estate was enlarged in the 1980s, with large factory sheds of little interest.

Cawoods fish curing works are the most distinctive part of the estate, and they produced dried salted fish in Hull for around a hundred years. There Grimsby factory came later, and they moved all production there in 2002, a few years before the Hull fish market closed.

15 February 2017

28k22: Tenfoot, near end of Essex St, Gipsyville, 1981 – Hessle Rd

A ‘tenfoot’ is any side or back alley, often 10 foot wide, though not always. There are also some ‘twentyfoots’ in Hull. Some tenfoots are now gated, while others have been recognised as public rights of way – restricted byways. In some places they were used by refuse collectors and others making deliveries, as well as play areas by the local children, but in other areas are seen as problem areas with fly tipping, access for burglaries, drug-taking and sex. Gating them is currently a controversial subject in some areas of Hull.

This tenfoot runs along the end of all of the 8 streets of terraced housing built around 1900 as workers housing for the Dairycoates industrial estate, with a long brick wall on the south side. There were a couple of entrances to the estate from it, from one of which I took the previous picture.

You can see the new pictures added each day at Hull Photos, and I post them with the short comments above on Facebook.
Comments and corrections to captions are welcome here or on Facebook.

More on Banners

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

There was a rather more exciting banner drop the next day I was up in London, and I more or less missed it, walking past the British Museum in a rush to get to the TUC for another event. I saw some police activity, with several vans, but I was late and hurrying, and didn’t bother to investigate – which was pretty stupid.

THe TUC building is just a couple of hundred yards away, and whn I got there, nothing was happening. It took me a few minutes to go inside and find that the protesters were mainly still in a morning conference session which had overrun, and I decided I really ought to go back to the museum to see what was happening there.

By the time I arrived back at the museum, things seemed more or less over. The whole area was taped off and police weren’t letting the press inside, so all I could do was to talk to some of those outside and, like them, poke a long lens through the railings.

While most press photographers tote large heavy telephoto zooms, I’m too old for such body-building exercises (or rather from me body crippling) and my telephotos are petite and slow, and the difference rather tells in situations like this. The Nikon 28.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 is beautifully small and light but optically isn’t a match ofr the heavyweight glass such as the 70-200 f2.8 at 3 or 4 times the weight and size – and even that is rather small compared to some of the heavyweight lenses particularly favoured by Canon users.

Size may make photographers feel more virile, and certainly size will matter in terms of image quality, but even my midget lens can deliver a decent result, and I took a number of pictures of the Greenpeace activists on the columns of the British Museum where they had hung 7 giant banners on the opening day of the BP-sponsored ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition. And since there was enough light to work at around f8, I didn’t need the heavy glass that most of the others were using.

What would have been useful would have been a considerably longer lens, perhaps a 500mm or longer, to enable me to show the individual climbers , but the longest lens I have is a relatively small 70-300mm, but that only gets in my bag when I know in advance I’m likely to need it.

‘Sinking Cities’ banners at BM/BP show

I didn’t have time to stay long, as I had to get back to the TUC where during the lunch break in the TUC disabled workers conference, activists from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) and Winvisible (Women with visible and invisible disabilities) were about to show others how to protest effectively.

They marched the short distance to the Tottenham Court Rd and blocked it to hold a short rally. Police diverted traffic away from the usually busy road and after a while came to ask them to leave. And after a while they did, because it was time for the afternoon session of the conference.

The banners with the message ‘No More Deaths from Benefit Cuts’ were rather long, and I was please to find the solution above, where the two bannerscropped, one high and one low spell out the message between them. Otherwise I would have needed to be twice as far away to get the whole message in, and of course the banners rather neatly frame the protesters.

More usually I like to work from one side, so that at least those nearest to me are in the picture at a sensible size. I’ve never understood why so many photographers want to work from dead centre – and there is often quite a lot of competition to get that centre spot. Usually it seems to me to be the most boring place to be.

No More Deaths from Benefit Cuts



Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

CETA is the CETA Canada EU secret trade deal which has been negotiated for some years behind our backs, a companion to the slightly better-known TTIP deal between the US and the EU. While TTIP appears to have been stopped, thanks to several million signatures on a European petition (and now a President who thinks that any deals he hasn’t made are an attack on the USA), CETA looks increasingly likely to be finalised.

London Green MEP Jean Lambert

For once, Trump is at least in part right. TTIP and CETA are not made in the US’s interests, but neigther are they made to advantage the EU. THe interests they primarily serve are not those of any state but of the huge corporations, although the US’s position is more aligned with these compared to the EU.

These and similar treaties are aimed at marginalising state interests in favour of corporate intesters, and ending the ability of states to act in a way that disadvantages corporate profit. Democracy goes out of the window when treaties provide a mechanism for corporates to challenge government policies on the grounds that these may limit their right ot profit.

Free trade isn’t necessarily a good thing, and rather more important as the basis for gree trade is that trade should be fair, and in particular fair to those who actually produce the goods or services that are to be traded. Unfortunately this isn’t what trade agreements are about.

We started the day outside the Dept of Business, Innovation & Skills in Victora St, a few hundred yards from Parliament, where protesters had erected a mock reading room. In the other EU countries MPs can read the secret agreements at the US Embassy, though they are not allowed to take in phones, cameras or iPads or to make any exact copies of the texts. But in the UK there is no such reading room, the government having agreed to set one up but it has failed to do so. Our government – and the others involved – want to keep these deals secret, and to approve them without subjecting them to any public scrutiny.

If we were allowed to see the details it is almost certain these deals would be rejected. SO the idea is to push them thorugh in secret, only revealing the details when they are signed and approved and it is too late – and one of the details is that it will then be imposible to withdraw. If they are completed while we are still in Europe, one of the details is that we will still be bound by them when we leave.

There were a few minor moments of friction when security at the BIS objected to the parotesters fixing anything to their building and refused to let them enter the building to deliver a letter to the minister – though a civil servant did come out, talk civilly with the protesters and accept it. But is was perhaps a little dissappointingly low key and rather small, though one of our MEPs, London Green MEP Jean Lambert, who I think had been able to view the agreed documents in Brussels (but not to copy them) did come along to speak.

After the protest at the BIS came a banner drop, one of my least favourite froms of protest. While it can be of interest when made from a particularly interesting or apt location, usually these are simply rather boring and offering few chances of an interesting picture.

This one was from Westminster Bridge and the idea was to photogaph it with the Houses of Parliament in the background to highlit the fact that ours is the only EU Parliament that will not be allowed to vote on either CETA or TTIP, as our government can apparently make treaties without needing the approval of Parliament.

I’ve written before about Banner Drops, and in particular about the problems of doing them on Westminster Bridge. This again demonstrated the problems – and showed that a merely big banner isn’t enough, you would need one that was truly huge for it to work well.

Since the day was mainly aimed at CETA, which is much closer to being approved, largly because very few people have heard of it, the logical place to end the day of protest was outside the Canadian High Commission at the west edge of Trafalgar Square.

Sewcurity there didn’t share that view and tried to get the protesters to move away, and made them remove any of the banners and posters from the walls or railings. But the pavement outside is the public highwy, and the protesters knew that their rights meant they could protest there, and they did so. Among those speaking was Maude Barlow, Chair of the Council of Canadians, and MEP Jean Lambert came to speak again.

The day was to continue with an evening meeting (where these two were among the speakers as well) but by now I’d had enough. And though meetings are vital in campaigns, they seldom have much to offer for photography.

BIS protest against CETA & TTIP
Banner Drop against CETA & TTIP
Canada House vigil condemns CETA


Upsizing & AI

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Back in January 2016, when the Chinese bought up Corbis and Demotix where I was placing many of my pictures and handed their entrails to Getty, I began to put many of the pictures I was taking into Facebook albums as well as sending them to agencies.

I hadn’t been happy with Demotix for some years – particularly since they sold out to Corbis, but they had the advantage for me of presenting my work as coherent stories with text and captions that were easy to link to – so I could post links to these stories for my friends on Facebook and also others, particularly those who had taken part in the events I had photographed.

I’ve lost count of how many albums I put on Facebook in 2016, though at a rough guess they would contain around 5000 pictures. So when I read an advert on Facebook offering to make an album of my year I was intrigued to see what they would make of them, and clicked the links, though I had at the time no intention of buying the book from ‘Re-Snap‘.

It took several minutes before the book appeared as a 100 page A4 hardback and I was able to page through it’s roughly 100 pages, each with 5 images in a variety of layouts, mostly more or less uncropped. The selection they made wasn’t entirely random – they state:

“The images are selected by analyzing all the images step by step. For instance, we filter out photos by looking at several quality aspects (like blurriness). Our system also automatically looks at the amount of faces and the micro expressions of the faces. Of course we filter out similar photos by looking at the pixels. After this part our deep learning network will look at correlations the pictures in your uploaded photo set. In this way we analyse what kind of picture you would like to have in your photo book.”

All of my images on-line at Facebook are uploaded at 600×400 pixels and with my watermark – exactly the same images as I post on My London Diary (though sometimes these are a little tidied up as I generally post them there rather later.) Printing at the normal standard of 300dpi would result in images only 2 inches wide, and while the smallest images in the book are not much larger than this (I think around 3.5 inches) others are significantly larger – around 8 inches) and on the covers and a few inner images cropped to an 8.5 inch square they are even further stretched – to 12×8.5 inches on the cover (which also requires a slight crop. A little simple maths gives a figure of around 47 dpi.

The book actually looked pretty good on screen, and I couldn’t resist going ahead with the order. Of course I could have done a better job myself, more selective and with better quality originals, and the selection algorithm hadn’t included a number of my favourite pictures from the year.  There were just too many pictures from some events that were just a little too similar for me to have included them. But as a fairly random selection of typical images from the year it seemed useful, the kind of thing I could possibly had to people who ask me ‘So what do you photograph?’ as a view of my current work.

Possibly one day I’ll make a better book of 2016, but it would probably take me a week or so to put together, and still cost almost as much as the roughly £50 for this volume (allegedly on special offer), so I clicked and went ahead. It’s possible to edit the book, take out pictures and choose replacement images, but I decided to make only a single change, removing an awards certificate for this blog. Essentially I wanted to retain the automatic selection which was reflected in the title I added to the cover, ‘Peter Marshall 2016 – A random selection‘. I missed one picture that I should have removed, by my friend Townly Cooke who died last year – though I was happy with it appearing once, I should have removed a second, smaller version of the same image, but I must have turned over the page too quickly to notice it.

Obviously the quality of the highly upsized images is noticeably poorer, but the pictures still work, and however Re-Snap upsizes them, it does a pretty good job. Obviously the larger images don’t stand up to detailed scrutiny, but if you saw them in – for example – the pages of a newspaper, they would be acceptable. My main complaint is that the printing inside the book lacks vibrancy, almost as if it had been printed with watered-down inks, rather than any lack of detail or sharpness. It’s acceptable but lacks the punch of the original sRGB files, though the colour balance seems more or less spot on.

Seeing the result, I’m rather pleased that I now watermark all the new images I put on Facebook – and the watermarks are present throughout this book. It doesn’t stop people using my images without permission, sometimes complete with watermark, but more often cropping it or even removing it in Photoshop, both of which seem a clear admission of guilt. If only I could find a few abusers worth suing in the UK courts. I wrote a post here some while ago about an images that I had found used without permission on over 80 web sites, none of which on investigation I felt were worth pursing.

And recently, Google have published a paper on Pixel Recursive Super Resolution which doesn’t make for easy reading, but essentially shows how a believable image (rather than the actual original) can be created using neural networks from even a very small 8×8 pixel pixillated image. Unsurprisingly it works better on reasonably predictable subject matter, such as faces (which after all generally have the same number of eyes, a nose and a mouth) than other subjects.

And the most predictable images of all must be the photographs of ‘celebrities’ that so obsess our popular media. There can’t really be any need for yet another photograph of any of them, yet outside the Albert Hall yesterday was a pen crammed full of photographers with hardly room to swing a lens, when inputting a little blur and typing in a name – for example ‘Ken Loach‘ – could surely have generated an equally newsworthy image.

It was of course not his image, but his film, I Daniel Blake, and his speech that were newsworthy, telling to the nation the truth about the terrible treatment of benefit claimants by the DWP, something that all those who visit our job centres or talk to those who do already know, but which the complacent well off like to assure us doesn’t happen. And while some news outlets reported it, the BBC did their best to play it down, ignoring it in their early bulletins, though rather grudgingly reporting it later.

I mention him mainly because I’ve photographed him on a number of occasions in the past, but there was no way I’d ever cover an event like that. I was having much more fun a few miles to the west at the Willesden Green Wassail.

Streets of Shame

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

I’ve never sat down to really write my views on street photography at length, partly because I’ve never taken it that seriously as a category. The defining text is still ‘Bystander – A History of Street Photography‘ by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz published in 1994, which deserves a closer reading than the flip-thorugh on Vimeo, but this does demonstrate that it attempts to annexe a signigicant proportion of the history of our medium to its rather flimsily described genre.

Of course it isn’t the fault of these authors that street photography has now gained the popularity it has nor that most of what passes under that title is sloppy, self-indulgent ephemera. There are some fine photographers who call themselves ‘street photographers‘, (and I’ve written about some here and elsewhere) but they are in a small minority. It’s probably the same for any other genre, but it shows more simply because everybody and his cat is now a ‘street photographer’.

My murky thoughts on the subject were stirred up a little this morning by two articles I read. One on PetaPixel, Why Street Photography Matters in 2017 by London-based street photographer Temoor Iqbal, and the second a feature on Amateur Photographer, Ali Shams: iPhone Street Photography with his pictures made in Qazvin, Iran.

As I write this, there are 18 comments on the first article, and some of them are worth reading, but none on the second, which has to my mind the far more interesting images. But your opinion may differ.

I’m getting ready to go out and photograph on the streets in a few minutes, my first call being at Downing St. But while I might have been a ‘street photographer’ back in the 80s and 90s, these days I’m just a photographer. As for Downing St, I’ll finish with a link to a verse written 95 years ago by “socialist MP, poet and lion-tamer amongst many other thingsJohn S Clarke.

Fleet Street used to be referred to – at least in ‘Private Eye’ – as the ‘Street of Shame’. That accolade has now firmly passed to Downing St.

An Afternon in London

Friday, February 10th, 2017

The protest outside Holloway Prison overran its scheduled time, and was still continuing when I rushed off to catch a bus down to Oxford St, where ‘Victory to the Intifada!’, a campaigning group of the Revolutionary Communist Group and friends were mounting a ‘rolling picket’ along Oxford St to mark Nabka Day, the ‘day of the catastrophe’, remembering the roughly 80% of the Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes between December 1947 and January 1949.

This was a peaceful protest, with music provided by a mobile sound system, banners and posters making its way along the pavement to protest for a few minutes outside various businesses with short speeches about the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people, and against current Israeli government supported attacks on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement which attempt to brand any opposition to the actions of the Israeli government, its miilitary forces and companies that support Israel as anti-semitic.

Police tried hard to keep the small group of Zionists who waved Israeli flags from getting in the way or attacking the protesters, and their presence certainly made the protest considerably move visible.

The Zionists made no real attempt to present facts or information, but simply shouted that the facts and figures from well-verified international reports by UN and other agencies and by well-respected human rights organisations were lies and shouted insults at the protesters, who largely ignored them, refusing to sink to their level.

I left the protest outside Topshop (where I would return later in the day) and went to Trafalgar Square where I knew a group was holding a protest calling for human rights, fair treatment and support for refugees. It was rather smaller than I had hoped, but I took a few pictures, and also found a protest by Vegans taking place, wearing white masks and holding laptops and tablets showing the film ‘Earthlings’ about the mistreatment of animals in food production, bullfighting, etc.

While I was taking pictures a farmer who was visiting London came up and tried to talk with them, saying how he cared for and looked after the animals he farmed, who made use of land that would otherwise not be productive, but there was no meeting of minds.

Finally it was time for the major event of my day, at Topshop in Oxford St, following the sacking of two cleaners from the United Voices of the World union after they protested for better pay and conditions. A long line of police stood in front of several of the entrances to the store, and there was a little pushing and shoving from both protesters, many of whom wore masks showing Topshop owner Philip Green, and police at the largely peaceful protest.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, MP and Ian Hodson, Baker’s Unions General Secretary outside Topshop

The protest received widespread support from various supporters of trade union rights, including the two in the picture above, Class War and many more. And after a noisy protest outside the Oxford Circus Topshop, Class War and others led the protesters onto the street to block the road at Oxford Circus.

More police poured in and started to threaten the protesters with arrest unless they moved, though by the time they arrived Class War were already moving on, leading the way to protest outside John Lewis, where cleaners have been protesting for years to be treated with dignity and respect by the management. They play an important role in the running of the store but say they are ‘treated like the dirt they clean’.

Here there was more pushing and shoving as police stopped the protesters from entering the store, and some angry arguments between UVW General Secreatary Petros Elia and the police about their handling of the protest.

The protesters moved off and marched down Oxford St to continue their protest outside the Marble Arch branch of Topshop.

Here the staff had locked the doors and shut the shop early as the protesters arrived. The protest continued noisily outside for a while, but seemed to be coming to an end. I was getting tired and hungry, having had a busy day and decided to leave for home.

68th Anniversary Nabka Day
Vegan Earthlings masked video protest
Refugees Welcome say protesters
Topshop protest after cleaners sacked