Archive for the ‘Photo Issues’ Category

Pioneering Women of Photojournalism

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

CNN recently published the article ‘These are the pioneering women of photojournalism‘ a story by Kyle Almond highlighting the website Trailblazers of Light, started by award-winning photojournalist Yunghi Kim who has covered stories all over the world for Contact Press Images and is best known for her story documenting South Korean “comfort women,” sex slaves used by the Japanese military during World War II.

Trailblazers of Light now lists more than 500 women who since the late 19th century have made significant work, reporting from around the world, including in war zones and other dangerous places, breaking their way into what is still – as a 2015 study by World Press Photo, the University of Stirling and Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism confirmed, very much a male dominated world.

The CNN article is illustrated by over 30 photographs of some of these women at work, some familiar names, and others I was not aware of, each with short notes about their careers.

I think there are at least ten of them who had got as a mention when I wrote about photography including the history of photography for a commercial web site, and some I had featured at greater length such as Dorothea Lange and Berenice Abbott. It was clear to me back then that our history of photography has been dominated by men and that there were many women whose work had been sidelined and largely forgotten, and whose work demanded greater attention.

I was also finding many contemporary features by women photographers that greatly impressed me and I could link to on the site. And on the streets where I worked it was also clear to me that although women were much outnumbered by men, their numbers among those whose work I admired were rather more equal, perhaps because women have to work harder to be recognised.

Friern Barnet Celebrates – Feb 5th 2013

Friday, February 5th, 2021

Friern Barnet Library supporters celebrated victory in overturning Barnet Council’s closure decision in a ceremony in which the Occupy squatters who had prevented its sale handed over the library keys to the local community who will now run it.

The victory by local residents, squatters and activists from the Occupy Movement against Barnet Council is not just a local matter, but one of national (and possibly even international) importance. A great example of democracy in action it shows how a combination of campaiging, lobbying, direct action and making use of the law can win against bureacracy and greed.

Today residents and squatters came together to celebrate their victory after Barnet had agreed to lease the building to a community company set up to run it as a library, Friern Barnet Community Library (FBCL).

Friern Barnet Library Victory Celebration

Eight years on, the library is still run by the community and up until closure for Covid lockdown, a thriving centre of community activities. Local residents had set up the ‘Save Friern Barnet Library Group’ when they heard that Barnet Council were proposing to close the library, and organised petitions, lobbied councillors, organised events and got the media involved, but the council wouldn’t listen to them and went ahead and shut it in April 2012. The council saw the site – including the large green space outside as a valuable site for sale to private developers rather than the community asset it was.

In September 2012 community activist squatters, including some who had been part of Occupy London, entered the library and re-opened it, beginning a long occupation. At first some local residents were wary of associating themselves in this direct action, but soon began to work with the squatters to re-establish library services.

The council went to court to regain possession of the building, but in December the judge ruled that they had to try to negotiate some form of licence to keep the library open to preserve proportionality between the rights of protesters and of the council. Eventually they agreed to allow a community company to run it as a library

At the celebration inside the library, the occupiers (at left above) handed over the library keys to the FBCL (at right), and we all cheered before getting down to the serious business of eating the cakes and dancing around the green outside.

But some of the press photographers covering the event weren’t happy with the pictures they had (or rather hadn’t got) of the handover, and later got the two groups to restage it outside the library. It just goes to show that you should never believe what you see in the newspapers. Of course as you can see I photographed it too, but made sure my captions made clear it was staged for the photograph rather than the actual handover. Some photographers don’t see it as important, but for me it crosses a vital line of journalistic integrity – it’s my job to record not to stage events.

People went out to dance around the paved area and green spaces in front of the library which are used to hold community events.

The local councillor who had supported the residents then cut a tape to let us all back into the library, where there were some more speeches before getting down to continuing the serious business of celebration.

This was the ‘bookworm cake’ and it took a lot of candles and quite a while to light them all,

but was blown out fairly quickly, and later we all ate some.

Many more pictures at Friern Barnet Library Victory Celebration.


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

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


The Curious Society

Wednesday, January 6th, 2021

The Curious Society is an initiative from an idea by Kenneth Jarecke of Contact Press Images to promote photojournalism, which is attempting to develop a different paying model for the genre, outside of commercial publications. Given the problems of photographers working for the current newspapers and magazines around the world I think we should welcome anything that helps photographers involved in serious photojournalism.

The underlining goal of the Curious Society is to preserve the institutional knowledge photographers and editors need to produce great photojournalism. This knowledge was once passed along in the field from old people to young people. today, most of the old folks aren’t working, so there exists a real danger of losing what they know.

https://www.curioussociety.org/faq

The major current problems putting the future of photojournalism under threat are financial and contractual. Often photojournalists now have to sign ‘work for hire’ contracts with magazines etc to get support for their projects, which means signing away their copyrights in their images for a risible ‘day rate’.

The Curious Society hopes to issue four high-quality collectable 256 page print issues a year, and to pay contributing photographers on a ‘space rate’ basis to licence their images, initially at $100 per page, but hoping to increase this as membership grows. It needs an initial 4,000 members to get off the ground for its first year, but hopes to get up to 20,000, which would enable it to increase the rate it pays photographers to $500 per page – the rate magazines like Time used once to pay.

The publications will not ‘technically’ carry any advertising, though they may accept some ‘sponsorship’ and turn it into grants or other things that will directly aid photojournalists, and they make clear that “we’re budgeted to be completely supported by our members, so the sponsors won’t be able to dictate what appears on our pages.” But this means that members have to pay the full cost of production, whereas most publications are largely paid for by advertising, turning them into vehicles to supply readers to the advertisers.

There is a lot more you can read on The Curious Society web site, with some stunning photographs. There is also an Instagram page, which they intend to be their only social media presence. Their publications will be only available to members and there will also be some member-only videos.

Although I welcome this initiative and wish it every success I do have some reservations. With individual membership at $300 per year it clearly isn’t something for me – and there are higher levels of contribution for those wanting to be more involved, as well as a half price student deal and some gift memberships for young aspiring photographers. It’s also a very USA-centric organisation, with an annual meeting in a small to medium sized town in the Rocky Mountain West – the first planned hopefully for September 2021.

Although a positive idea, it’s also one of a limited scale. At $100 per page it is only injecting around $100,000 per year into paying photojournalists, an amount that will not go far around. Welcome though it is, even if successful it will hardly have a huge impact on the industry.

I’m also just a little put off by the web site. Partly because of the kind of images that it presents, all very high impact and newsy, but perhaps sometimes more about the photographer than the subject. And perhaps not in the finest traditions of photojournalism, where the pictures that really tell the story are rather less dramatised. I also wish that the text was not all in CAPITAL LETTERS. I’m averse to being shouted at either in visuals or text.

The Curious Society
https://www.curioussociety.org/

Magnum called out

Saturday, December 26th, 2020

Magnum holds a hugely important place in the history of photography, and many of us grew up with a concept of photojournalism that was largely based on its founding photographers, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, William Vandivert and David “Chim” Seymour (three of whom only heard about it after the meeting in Paris.) From the start it was a co-operative and importantly the photographers retained copyright, and they divided up the world between them.

Magnum of course flourished and grew, but retained its basic structure, owned and administered entirely by it photographer members, employing staff to support them. As well as the full members who are shareholders and vote at its annual meetings, there are also nominees, associates, contributors and correspondents who have no voting rights. A Wikpedia article gives more details, and includes the sentence which is perhaps relevant now, “No member photographer of Magnum has ever been asked to leave.”

I don’t know how complete the list of members (of all grades) on Wikipedia is, but it names over 130 photographers, many now deceased or withdrawn from Magnum, almost all of the familiar names, and including many of the best-known photojournalists of the last 73 years. Among them is American photographer David Alan Harvey, active since 1993 and a full member since 1997.

Magnum began with five male photographers, though both the Paris and New York office heads were women (Maria Eisner in Paris and Ruth Vandivert in New York) and among those in the members list only around 20 are women. It could be seen as a photographic ‘old boy’s net’ and perhaps its structure and membership have both contributed to the current controversy over both some of the work available in its digital archive and its perhaps sluggish response to allegations of sexual abuse.

As Kristen Chick points out in her special report, Magnum’s moment of reckoning in Columbia Journalism Review, it was only in 2018 that Magnum issued a code of conduct for its members in 2018 while in the same year boasting that it had not received a single complaint against any of its photographers. 

Chick’s article rapidly disposes of that assertion, pointing out that complaints had been made nine years earlier over inappropriate behavior by David Alan Harvey but that no action was taken by Magnum until a scandal broke on the web. In August 2020 Fstoppers reported that Magnum was selling explicit photographs of sexually exploited minors on its website, including pictures taken by Harvey in Bangkok in 1989; this led photojournalist Amanda Mustard to tweet “alleging that sexual misconduct allegations against him were an open secret in the industry.”

Chick’s report goes into some detail about the allegations made by eleven women against Harvey, and also what appears to be a very inadequate response by Magnum. The exploitative photographs were withdrawn from their web site but apparently remain available through other suppliers, and although Harvey was suspended and an inquiry launched into his behaviour, the report demonstrates that it and Magnum have failed or refused to listen to women making complaints.

And perhaps rather surprisingly, although Magnum proudly claimed it had drawn up a code of conduct for members, it refuses to make this public.

Do read the full report at Magnum’s moment of reckoning in Columbia Journalism Review.

Shortly after I wrote this last Tuesday (22nd Dec) Magnum issued a statement that they were “deeply upset to read the allegations about David Alan Harvey that have been reported in the CJR” and that they “will immediately investigate them and consider the appropriate action.”

What this omits is any mention of the several allegations that Magnum failed to investigate earlier that are mentioned in the CJR report, and the apparent shortcomings in the investigation that resulted in his clearly inadequate one year suspension.

According to the report, Harvey’s behaviour over several decades was widely known among other photographers, and Magnum is an organisation run by its photographers; it seems more than likely that at least some of the other members were aware of it – yet nothing was done before the organisation was forced into action by the furore in August 2020.

Walk for Grenfell

Monday, December 14th, 2020

Every 14th of each month, my thoughts return to the terrible tragic events of 14th June 2017. It’s now three and a half years ago, and still none of those responsible for some of the worst crimes in our history which led up to the fire has been brought to justice, and with an inquiry that has seemed to be largely concerned with diverting blame it seems less and less likely that any of the criminals will ever be prosecuted and jailed.

I wrote the piece below back in November 2017, but it was never published, so here it is now, exactly as written.


The fire at Grenfell Tower shocked us all.  There was a huge immediate media response, and I felt that there was little point in my going there and adding to this, yet another photographer.  I felt my presence would do nothing to help the people and might well aggravate their distress.

As more emerged about what had led up to the disaster I felt an increasing anger. Although the council hadn’t actually lit a match, they had clearly created a situation in which what should have been a small and insignificant fire could lead to a major catastrophe by a serious of failures and deliberate acts that each increased the risks to those living in the block, compounded by a government who had seen vital safety legislation as red tape and successive administrations that had failed to set proper standards and to properly enforce those that existed.

Then came Kensington and Chelsea Council’s almost complete failure to properly respond to the disaster, a lack of urgency and lack of competence. Part of their failure that led to the deaths was a failure to listen to the community who had pointed out some of the major problems and they still are not listening – and the official inquiry appears to be taking the same route, making many feel it will be just an empty exercise.

Over the months since the fire I realised how many people I knew were in some way involved, some as volunteers, doing the work that councils and other bodies should have done, others in other ways. I still didn’t feel I could commit myself to Grenfell in a way that was truly meaningful, but did feel able to at least do a little on the issues, including covering the monthly ‘Silent Walk for Grenfell’.

I’m wasn’t sure what I felt about the silent walk. Obviously it is important to keep the community together and to keep the memory of Grenfell, but perhaps something more is needed than a event that takes place largely out of sight in the area around the tower, emerging only briefly into the stronger light of Ladbroke Grove.  And a few months later, in February, the walk organisers perhaps agreed, moving the start point to the council offices and beginning the walk along High Street Kensington.

But perhaps it still needs to be more. Their seems to be a great emphasis on the walk not being political – though a number of political groups were taking part. But to be effective I think it has to become much more political and rather more active. Otherwise – as appears to be happening now – Grenfell will soon be largely forgotten, with few if any prosecutions of the guilty parties, little tightening of the regulations, most of the Government promises being history and the safety of other largely working-class communities around the country still at risk. I still hope for something rather more powerful on the anniversary of this terrible event.

Silent Walk for Grenfell Tower

The event was still something of the media circus I had felt it best to stay away from rather than add to, with photographers and TV and video. Most of the march was through dimly lit streets, on the limits of photographic possibility without using my LED light (or flash), with a few areas of strong an contrasty light at crossings. Things got rather easier on Ladbroke Grove and I stayed there until the end of the march passed into the gloom before taking the train home from there rather than go on to the end.

______________________________________________________

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

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

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

To order prints or reproduce images

 

________________________________________________________

The Language of Photography

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

Thanks to a tweet by duckrabbit I went to read an article on the blog of London portrait photographer Andy Barnham, From weapon safety to the language of photography. I know little or nothing about weapon safety – and the St. Louis couple who stood outside their home pointing weapons at Black Lives Matter protesters seemed to me appallingly dangerous for their mental attitudes rather than the important points of firearms etiquette that Barnham points out.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey have been charged with unlawful use of a weapon and evidence tampering. They had a card printed using the photograph of themselves taken by UPI photographer William Greenblatt without permission, and he sent them a polite letter asking for a fee of $1500 for the usage. On 6th November they went to court in St Louis asking for ownership of the photo, stating it was taken on their property, claiming damages from Greenblatt and UPI and asking for a ban on the use of the photo by UP and others including a company producing t-shirts and other memorabilia. According to The Hill, the St Louis Post Dispatch (unavailable in the UK except by VPN) “the couple have a long history of suing their neighbours … over small neighborhood issues“. This case seems unlikely to enjoy any success.

But Barnham goes on to think about the language of photography, and in particular the way many talk about ‘shooting’, ‘photo-shoots’ and other related terms when describing photographs and the act of making photographs. He goes on from there to write “at a time when BLM is questioning the country’s historical connection to the slave trade and has seen statues removed, is the termmaster/ slave’ appropriate, especially when the terms have ready alternatives such as primary/ secondary, key/ fill and so on? “

You can read more in his post, and in the various comments on it. Here is the comment I added to those already there.

Now we mainly use wireless flash triggers for multiple flash, the terms ‘master’ and ‘slave’ are in any case redundant. But the terms never referred to the lighting function but to how the units were fired. When I used multiple flash set-ups, the slave was usually the main light, set up to one side, while the master was a subsidiary light used as fill but physically connected to the camera sync socket or hot shoe. Sometimes the master might even be masked to that no light from it reached the subject, but it was still able to trigger the slave or slaves.

I’ve long tried hard to avoid the word ‘shoot’ in my thinking and writing – like Paul Halliday, I’ve always ‘made’ pictures. In similar vein the word ‘capture’ now favoured by some uses of digital cameras also raises my hackles, and I’m not that happy with ‘take’ either – it has that suggestion of ‘stealing souls’.

Back to multiple flash, where one flash is used to trigger another I would suggest the terms ‘lead’ and ‘echo’ are suitably short and clear and perhaps better express the essential difference.

Of course we should still use terms such as ‘main light’, ‘rim light’ and ‘fill’ to talk about what the lights are doing, but ‘master’ and ‘slave’ were never about that.


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


Violence or Photography?

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

According to some I should be confessing my sins for the criminal behaviour of taking pictures of people in public places like this without first gaining their permission. Of course I don’t see it that way.

On the streets we have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” and while I think we should all – whether taking photographs or not – generally try not to behave in ways that give others reasonable call for upset, making a photograph does not usually fall into that category. Of course there are some photographers who have adopted a very aggressive approach which I feel is questionable, and there are offences such as stalking and ‘up-skirting’, but in general photographing people in public is not a criminal offence, even if those being photographed may not like it. And of course there is sometimes a strong public interest in photographing people who make it clear that they do not want to be photographed.

Mostly those I’ve photographed, at least in recent years, have been involved in protests, and making a protest implies a clear statement that you wish your actions to be recorded and there is also a clear public interest in doing so. But there is also a public interest in the recording and making statements about everyday life, the ordinary behaviour of people often unaware they are being photographed. So while I may occasionally have upset people by taking their pictures, and I may apologise that they feel upset, I’m not apologising for taking pictures or for my actions, but that I’m sorry that they think that way.

This doesn’t mean that I never ask people if I may take their picture. There are times and places where I do, usually when I need to work closely with them and take more than a single image, but more often to do so would mean missing the moment and failing to express what I saw as important to say.

I had to sort through my own ideas on this back around 1990 when I worked on a transport project taking pictures of people on buses. I don’t think there is a single picture I took for that where I asked for permission, and few that I could have made had I done so. Some were clearly aware that I was taking their picture, but most were not.

Only one person actually objected. He was a man sitting on a seat in a bus dressed in shorts with a snake around his bare upper body. I didn’t get a chance to reply to him, as two elderly women sitting to one side immediately butted in, telling him clearly that if he travelled on buses dressed like that he should expect to be photographed. I think his real objection was that I was not paying him – this was his working outfit, and he was on his way to pose with tourists in Covent Garden for a fee.

These thoughts were aroused by an article on PetaPixel, a response by Kansas City photographer Brandon Ballweg to an opinion piece published in the New York Daily News by writer Jean Son titled “When your photograph harms me: New York should look to curb unconsensual photography of women“. In Street Photography Is Not a Crime. Let’s Keep it That Way Ballweg describes her premise that any photographing of women in public places constitutes “gender-based violence“, as “hyperbolic and irresponsible” and goes on to comment on her behaviour and and arguments, as well as what seems to him (and me) her totally inconsistent later claim that “Garry Winogrand is one of my fave artists btw“. Somehow it was fine to photograph women (and men) on the street without their consent in the 1950s, 1960s, 70s and 80s as he so consistently did but now she considers it an offence.

Ballweg ends his piece – worth reading and illustrated by a number of Winogrand images – with a suggestion of a “rational, mature, adult way of dealing with a situation of you’ve been photographed” and don’t like it and goes on to suggest that if having someone take your picture causes you “such distress that you lobby to convene a task force to ban it” then it may be due to “some underlying personal issues that you need to work through and confront as an individual” rather than a problem with photography.

It’s perhaps a little harsh a statement, but reflects Son’s failure to distinguish between actual gender-based violence and the taking of photographs. It’s a vital line to draw if not always clear exactly where it lies, and one which the US Legal system has clearly failed to do in some cases as Son rightly points out.


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

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


The Perfect Camera

Monday, November 16th, 2020

I recently came across a post on Petapixel, My 10 Year Search for the Perfect Camera Brought Me Back to APS-C written by international photographer and filmmaker based in San Francisco Kien Lam. Although I try to avoid thinking too much about gear, like most photographers I suffer from a considerable amount of insecurity and the feeling that somehow a better camera or lens would improve my work.

It’s a feeling that over the years has led me to buy numerous cameras and lenses, most of which now lie unused in cupboards either because I can’t be bothered to sell them, or because of a feeling that one day I might just take them out and use them again.

Things were rather easier in the days of film, and there were usually what seemed to be very good reasons to change to a new camera. I got fed up with the Zenith B because it was a clunky beast that required so much force to wind on film that it was easy to rip a film in two. Its one camera I didn’t hang on to when I moved to the Olympus OM1, which compared to it seemed an almost perfect camera – and one I used until various bits fell off and I replaced it with an OM4. I still have two of these, to my mind still the most perfect cameras of their type.

But I still bought other cameras. For some types of photography I preferred a rangefinder Leica. Starting with a battered secondhand Leica M2, I later bought a nearly new Minolta CLE, another great camera with decent exposure metering well before Leica’s own. Leica’s shutter was noisy and intrusive compared to the Hexar F, another camera I loved, though its fixed 35mm lens wasn’t quite wide enough. The main problem I had with its silent mode was that I was often not sure if I’d actually taken a picture or not.

Then there were cameras of a more specialist nature, each with their uses. Several swing lens panoramic models, medium format and even 4×5″ cameras, and another favourite, the Hassleblad X-Pan.

The came digital. After some compact cameras I started seriously with the Nikon D100. The pictures were fine but the viewfinder was abysmal, reason enough to upgrade to D70, then the D200 when that came out. Then the D300… Cameras were beginning to seem disposable, each new model offering more pixels. Then came full-frame, and really I should have resisted, but I didn’t. I didn’t really need the extra pixels, but again the viewfinder was better, though I ended up taking a lot of images in DX mode and enjoying being able to view outside the frame lines.

Most of those digital cameras I’ve actually passed on to friends or swapped including the disastrous Leica M8 with its colour problems. It was that swap that really got me into Fuji, with the X Pro1. A nice optical viewfinder but rather poor with lenses outside its range which needed th electronic version.

I’ve still got my Nikon kit, two working bodies, though a couple went beyond economic repair, and various lenses. The D810 is now mainly used to ‘scan’ negatives, though occasionally taken out until the virus lockdown for its low light capability. But I find the kit too heavy for me now, and looked around for a lighter system.

For a while I used an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II which seemed in some ways very similar to my old and well-loved OM film cameras. Some fine lenses – both Olympus and Panasonic Leica – but just occasionally I felt there was something lacking in the images from the smaller sensor.

Eventually I went back to APS-C, and like Kien Lam to Fuji, though to the less expensive options of a Fuji XT-1 and an XT-30. It was the latter than decided it for me, roughly as small and as light as the Olympus, and I bought it rather than commit to Olympus by buying a second Olympus body. Unlike Kien Lam I’m not searching for a perfect camera, and I certainly spend a lot of time swearing at the Fuji cameras with their complicated buttons and menus. But the lenses are excellent (though some are rather expensive) and I’ve yet to find myself thinking that any particular image would have been better on full-frame.

Bokeh Bunkum

Friday, November 13th, 2020

I’ve never really understood the hoo-hah about bokeh which has become far too dominant since photography came on the web; it really was not an issue, not even a term photographers had heard of before 1997 and the blame for its introduction can be clearly laid with Mike Johnston, then editor of Photo Techniques (but now author of The Online Photographer blog) who published three articles on it in May of that year, as well as changing its spelling from the Japanes ‘boke’ to reflect its pronunciation for us anglophones. And it was on his blog that I found the link to the video Bokeh Is Overrated by Andrew on the Andrew & Denae channel.

Bokeh is a term to describe the different rendering by different lens designs of out of focus background areas, particularly highlights. The differences become more obvious at wide apertures and with longer focal lengths. Some designs retain a more wiry core, while others are smoother, though the differences can be subtle. The most extreme example of a bokeh that I almost always find unpleasant is the doughnut shaped out of focus highlights produced by all mirror lenses; typically 500mm or more, their mirror design gives these despite the limited apertures – usually f8.

Bokeh has I think become so popular because it gives people a kind of plug-in solution to producing “better pictures”. You don’t need to think but can simply buy a f1.2 lens and use it wide open for your portraits etc. Lazy photography. And now getting lazier still when you can apply it in software after the event or in camera.

Andrew’s experimental study which he describes in his video isn’t really about bokeh, but about out of focus backgrounds and I think all his relevant pictures in it were taken with the same lens but at differing apertures. But its results still show the largely irrelevant nature of the holy grail bokeh quest to actually making better pictures, pictures that other people and not just fellow bokeh-obsessed nerds will prefer.

While the details of the survey which occupy much of the video are a little tedious, and it clearly – as the video and a disclaimer makes clear – is not a scientifically valid survey, its hard to fault the conclusions and advice Andrew gives in the final section of the video, which I hope will do something to cool the bokeh obsession.

Among his conclusions are that the “strength of a photograph is not measured in terms of background blur” and “what is in focus is always more important than what is not in focus” but there is a lot more that makes sense.

There are, as he says, valid reasons to want fast lenses, mainly to work in low light, where as well as for taking images, with cameras that have optical through the lens viewfinders such as DSLRs they give a brighter image. Of course they are far less necessary than used to be the case with film, when ISO 1600 was about as far as we could push; now we have at least 3 stops more to play with. For static subjects we now have image stabilisation which enables us to use much slower speeds hand-held – and as a last resort there are tripods, though I now seldom need to dust mine off.

I do own a f1.2 lens, a Fuji XF56mm short telephoto, but I’m not sure I’ve ever used it wide open. Usually the depth of field is simply insufficient. Stopped down to F2.8 it gets noticeably sharper too. But usually I’ll trade any advantages of a fast lens for the smaller bulk and lower mass and price of an F2.8 or f4 counterpart – and will take the great majority of my pictures between f5.6 and f11, except by accident.


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

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


Japanese hand colour

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Although I knew something about the history of Japan and of photography in the country in the nineteenth century, and had written a little about it and in particular the work of European photographers such as Felice Beato, the video in ‘How colorized photos helped introduce Japan to the world‘ from VOX which was featureed on Digital Photography Review with a useful introduction showed me much that I hadn’t previously known. It was particularly interesting to see the comparisons between some of the photographs and Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings.

The introduction of photography led to redundancies among Ukiyo-e artists (as it did to miniature painters in Europe) and some found new employment using their skills in photographic studios hand colouring prints in a much more subtle manner than in other countries. Soon some of them were becoming photographers too and setting up their own studios. I haven’t read Photography in Japan 1853-1912 by Terry Bennett which the video credits, but it looks an interesting volume.

Japanese art was in the same period being taken back to the west and had a strong influence on many western artists, and I think largely through them on photography around the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the 20th century which can clearly be seen for example in some of the work exhibited by members of the Photo-Secession some of the best of whose work was published by Alfred Stieglitz in his fine magazine Camera Work.

Recent years have seen a new interest in hand-colouring of old pictures, now made much easier by digital means. It’s something that while it may add some life and a greater sense of reality to old photographs I find rather upsetting when applied to many well-known images. As a photographer I feel that there is a disrespect in changing what was a carefully considered black and white image into one in colour and I imagine the photographers turning in their graves at how their work is being done to their pictures.

It also bothers me because the digital recolouring is creating a false reality – as hand colouring could also do. For a long time we had on a mantelpiece a hand coloured picture of my wife sitting in a Manchester park wearing a red jumper; it had been hand-coloured and although the grass had been coloured in a fair approximation to its actual colour, her green jumper was not. It’s a trivial example, but what the colouring produces is false colour and fake reality. For most subjects it probably isn’t a great problem but it seems to me to undermine one of the fundamental aspects of photography, the physical link between subject and depiction. The camera with our help lies but it doesn’t invent.


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