Archive for the ‘Photo Issues’ Category

Sex, Lies and Lemmings

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

Sex, Lies, and Lemmings: Hossein Fatemi and the Toxification of Photojournalism is the provocative title of a detailed article by on PetaPixel by Benjamin Chesterton, known to many of us through his Duckrabbit blog, where this and many other thoughtful and incisive articles first appeared.

In it, Chesterton looks in some detail at the abysmal failure of World Press Photo‘s ‘investigation’ and the equally guilty collaborations by Fatemi’s agency, the generally well-respected Panos, Time, the New York Times and others in dismissing the evidence from fellow Iranian photographers and two Iranian women who worked with him in the making of the pictures (though not in their subsequent misuse), one of whom was falsely labelled in the caption as being a prostitute working to support two young children, a complete fabrication, which could result in severe penalties for the woman in the picture.

Rather than make investigations and take appropriate action, WPP and others appear to have decided on a campaign to discredit fellow Iranian photographer Ramin Talaie who first raised the issues about Fatemi’s work, which has now been shown by WPP around the world. The evidence against Fatemi, as related by Chesterton, much of which comes from investigations by Talaie as neither the WPP, Panos, Time or others has bothered to contact the people in the pictures, seems completely damning.

One of the strengths of Chesterton’s article is that he doesn’t stop there, but goes on to suggest how the matter should have been dealt with – an approach which he says he suspects would have made Fatemi withdraw his work before the issues became public, rather than lead to “the charade on show.” It seems good sense, and an approach that were it taken would lead photographers to think much more carefully about photojournalistic standards rather than, as in the current case, to put forward theatrically staged images with false captions. They may be powerful pictures and I have nothing against the creation of fictional narratives using photography, but it needs to be clearly identified as such and has no place in photojournalism.

You should read Chesterton’s article, and I’ve deliberately not given much of its content here to encourage you to do so. The real scandal is not the photographs themselves, although Fatemi appears to have used them and his subjects irresponsibly, but “the incomprehensible decisions that led to Fatemi’s work being given such a massive platform to deceive.” And as he says in his conclusion:

“World Press Photo set a new standard for photojournalism: NO standard. Basically, you can get away with pretty much anything. Just as long as there are no pixels out of place and you stick to your story, any s**t goes.

You can be certain: lemmings in search of awards will follow.”

‘A Day in the Life’ and Magnum

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

It’s hard for photographers to view Magnum dispassionately, with the huge amount of myth that surrounds it. It’s members have included some of the greatest legends of photography, and certainly some of its greatest egos. We’ve grown up being fed with the idea of its great crusade for photographers, and it came as something of a shock for me to realise, years ago when I got an application form for some great project, the small print which informed me that Magnum photographers would get paid at twice the rate of the hoi polloi, that it was more a fight for Magnum members than the rest of us, though perhaps some of its benefits have trickled down.

Most of what we know about Magnum is the official story, as told by Magnum and allied organisations including the ICP. And interesting though Russell Miller‘s ‘Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History’ was, as would be expected from the title (and the sub-title Fifty Years at the Front Line of History – The Story of the Legendary Photo Agency) it too was largely celebratory rather than offering a truly objective story.

Reading Robert Dannin‘s series of posts, The Dannin Papers, on A D Coleman‘s Photocritic International site fills in the story and offers a unique insight, warts and all (perhaps mainly warts.) Dannin was from 1985-90 Editorial Director of Magnum Photos and has a remarkable memory for events and for how Magnum actually worked in those years.

The latest series of posts, which begins with Guest Post 24: Robert Dannin on the “Day in the Life” Projects (a) (January 21, 2018), and is currently on the fifth of seven instalments. Dannin describes the Collins Day in the Life of … series of books which covered 11 countries and two US states as “the first spectacular disruption aimed at transforming professional photographers into undervalued content providers, the unfortunate state of affairs that today confronts those wishing to make a career of making images.

The series, like his earlier series on Magnum which began last October makes interesting reading for anyone involved in photojournalism.

No to Nuclear

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

The theme for Wednesday’s protests outside the DSEI arms fair was ‘Arms to Renewables – No to Nuclear’, and as I arrived a street theatre group began their performance of a playlet in which the audience rejected the collusion between Theresa May and an arms dealer to sell missiles for use in Yemen and demanded instead that we promote renewable energy, with two actors tranforming the missile into a wind turbine. It was difficult to photograph as the audience were clustered closely around the performers and so I had to work very close – and for some things even the 18mm of my 18-35 zoom wasn’t wide enough. I would have done better to switch to the 16mm fisheye, but it was so crowded it would have been tricky to get at my bag and change lenses without elbowing peole on both sides.

After that came some poetry, not generally a great subject for still photography, and I wandered around taking pictures of the various banners and posters, including a large Sadiq Khan declaring his opposition as Mayor to an arms fair in London. Then I was told there was a lock-on at the West Gate, and made my way – two stops on the DLR to photograph there.

Three people were joined together with their arms linked through two large boxes which seemed to be filled with pitch and metal grids which were taking the police special unit a great deal of effort to remove without injuring those locked together. While a couple of the police worked away, the rest crowded around, mainly it seemed to prevent photographers from getting a clear view – and at times there were certainly some officers who deliberately moved to block my view, though there were moments when most moved away. One or two protesters did rush in to take pictures before police removed them, but I decided I needed to cooperate with the police.

When they had broken up the first of the two boxes and arrested the person who was freed from the lock-on the police took a rest. The special team wanted to leave the remaining two linked together who were now at the side of the road and causing no obstruction, and only began to remove the second box after being told they must by the officer in charge. A crowd of supporters watched and gave encouragement to the two protesters while police struggled to separate them, and cheered them as police carried them away.

As the second of the three was being put into the police van, people started to move towards the Excel gates across the road, as another lock-on was taking place on the road inside the Excel site by two protesters who had made their way through a side pedestrian route. By the time I ran up the gates they were shut and I could only photograph through the mesh of the fencing from perhaps a hundred yards away. I went back to photograph the third protester being taken to the police van and then decided to return to the East Gate to see what was happening there.

The answer was yet another lock-on, and one that was likely to block the road for quite a while, with the special unit still busy at the other gate, and with all vehicle access to ExCeL blocked for several hours, the protesters were having a successful day. They were on the road with banners and singing and chanting and obviously there was no point in the police clearing them as the road was blocked by the lock-on. And as it looked as if little more would happen I decided it was time to leave for home.

Many more pictures at Protesters block DSEI arms fair entrances.



On Holiday

Monday, February 19th, 2018

It seems a long time ago that I was on holiday in the Cotswolds at the end of last August. I probably ought to go away somewhere without a camera, but I know if I did I would keep seeing great opportunities for pictures. A few years ago when in Germany I went out for a day and left the spare batteries for my Fuji XT1 back where we were staying as I thought we would be going back to pick up things before leaving on a trip.

It turned out we weren’t, but I could hardly ask my hosts to drive several miles out of their way to pick them up, and the one battery in the camera ran out immediately, so I spent a day seeing so many opportunities in a place I will never visit again. I still sometimes see some of those pictures in my mind and then realise with a start that I didn’t take them. Some of us are severely addicted.

I do travel relatively light on holiday, though most people wouldn’t consider 2 camera bodies and four or five lenses light. But they are Fuji-X and weigh around half of their Nikon equivalents (even if I do need to take five batteries for a day’s pictures.)
I’m not quite sure which lenses I had with me, but I think the 8.5mm Samyang fisheye, the 10-24 and 18-55 zooms and the 18mm. Obviously I didn’t really need the 18mm, but it is so small and light and good for candid images. I’m not sure if I had any other lenses, though it wouldn’t surprise me. I was only going to take the X-T1 body, but it had been playing up a little and the X-E1 hardly weighs anything…

We do a lot of walking on our holidays, and this was no exception. But this lot in a shoulder bag, together with umbrella, water bottle and sandwiches was still light enough to hardly notice, even on the hotter days. Though perhaps my legs would have been a little less tired without. Some of the group we were staying in a holiday cottage came on various of the walks, and we went on car journeys to a number of places but I did spend a little time wandering around on my own, which is perhaps always the best for a photographer.

What was something of a holiday was being largely away from wifi and the internet. It was hard to get a phone signal in the cottage, and each morning I had a short walk after breakfast to get a wifi signal and post that day’s picture to my Hull web site, a project in recognition of Hull being UK City of Culture. And since these pictures were taken for my own enjoyment there was no need to caption and file them, though I think you can find out where they were taken from Cotswold Holiday.

Dump Trump

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

I wasn’t that surprised when Donald Trump won the US Presidency. After all a country that believes you can cut gun crimes by selling more people more guns is capable of anything. The contest was a crooked game on both sides, and Trump played it better, perhaps with of a little help from his Russian ‘friends’ (who perhaps just wanted to screw the USA) but more because he and his friends threw more money into the game, employing better guys to find largely legal ways to fix the results. Hilary had her dirty tricks, but mainly directed against Bernie, but perhaps it was a lack of any real appeal. Being the only woman in the game who would have become the first female president just wasn’t enough to attract the votes.

Trump’s actions since getting into office have only confirmed what people – both pro- and anti-) thought about him, though at least the ‘checks and balances’ built into the US system have to some extent constrained their effects. It’s rather the effects of them outside the USA that bother me, where the factional and often entirely fabricated reporting of particularly US right-wing media have come to create a strange and unholy meta-universe, while honest reporting – what little of it remains – is increasingly dismissed as ‘fake news’.

Not that even the most august of our news sources is to be trusted. I was reminded a few days ago of the deliberate misreporting of student protests about Vietnam by the New York Times, which wrote some of its stories before the actual events and failed to report the excesses of police violence, at times blaming the students for what were in fact police riots where they went in and smashed things up. And often reading reports in the UK newspapers of events I’ve myself witnessed I’ve been appalled at their disregard for the facts and the spin they have put on them. Not that there aren’t honest journalists doing their best to do a good job, but there are also others too ready to provide grist for the editorial mill. Even our better newsapapers need reading with a good pinch of salt, and by the time you get to rags like the Daily Mail, Sun or London Evening News finding the truth is more a needle in the haystack. Probably they get the football scores right.

This was a rather obvious picture, and I made the two versions shown here, the second when the woman holding the placard turned around as I talked to her.

At the time I thought that showing her face made the picture more interesting, but now I think it rather distracts from the image, though perhaps she is more interesting than that bleak embassy building with its eagle perched on top. And it would have been nice in both to have had more of a view of the US flag, just visible in the upper image.

The main interest that I could work with in making images was of course the posters and placards, and particularly those that people had made themselves, and there are quite a few on My London Diary in Stand Up to Trump.  And of course in the faces and gestures of both the protesters and speakers. There are a few people who often appear in my pictures for various reasons and two were here:

and one who makes her own placards,

Some people just make more interesting pictures – for different reasons, but while these attract my attention I do try to give an overall impression of the events I photograph. I’m not a news photographer, not trying to make one high-impact picture that hits the viewer hard, because they know only a single image is likely to be published (and paid for) but trying to tell the story through a set of images. I’ve nothing against impact, but only if it isn’t at the expense of accuracy, precision and balance. It’s more important that pictures are interesting.

Remember Marikana

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Two events  I attended in London marked the 5th anniversary of the massacre of 34 striking miners by South African police at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, and both were attended by a group of campaigners from the Marikana women’s organisation Sikhala Sonke (We Cry Together) as well as supporters from London.

The first was at lunchtime, when the Marikana Support Campaign and others protested outside Lonmin‘s Mayfair offices. It took me some time to find, as the event map and address which I’d read on Facebook had put the event around a quarter of a mile away on another street. I did come across some protesters wandering in search of it, and we walked around a little looking for it. Fortunately when I was beginning to feel it was time to give up (it was a hot day and a rest in a pub seemed tempting) someone going past recognised me and told me where he thought it was happening.

Obviously some people had got more accurate information and the protest was already in full swing when I arrived, on the pavement opposite an office block in which Lonmin had an office in an upper floor. I followed Charlie X, who protests here and in South Africa in mime as a Chaplin look-alike, when he went across the road to the offices, and found the reflections in the door were preventing me from reading the list of companies on the wall behind. Charlie-X held it open for me, but unfortunately I still couldn’t read the list clearly on my picture as in the dim light I didn’t stop down enough to get sufficient depth of field to keep it sharp.  But I did get an image I thought image when the receptionist came out to pull the door closed.

Later I went into the offices with a small group of protesters who wanted to take a letter in to Lonmin. Againt they were stopped by the receptionist, who after some discussion took the letter and promised she would deliver it to them.

That evening there was a vigil outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square organised by the the Pan-Afrikan Society Community Forum (PACSF) and Marikana Miners Solidarity Campaign. Security there were worried about the protest and called the police, as well as insisting that the protesters removed their posters and banners from the wall in front of the building.

There the protesters as well as the posters showing the victims of the massacre also had some large sunflowers which made for some nice images. The event was rather slow to start as the women from Marikana were delayed by an interview at the BBC and I was sorry that I had to leave before it was over.

Justice for Marikana vigil
Marikana Massacre Protest at Lonmin HQ


The price we pay for devaluing photography

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

The full title of photographer Kenneth Jarecke‘s piece on ‘Medium‘ is ‘How Newsrooms Abandoned Photojournalism – And the price we pay for devaluing photography‘, and I think it’s an interesting view.

Jarecke, born in Nebraska, USA in 1963, has worked with Contact Press Images since he was 20, going around the world as a photojournalist, and has also worked for TIME. He is probably best known for an iconic and controversial picture from the Gulf War, first published in American Photo in 1991. You can see more of his work on his own web site.

His is obviously an American view, but I think in some ways the situation in the UK is worse, with few news outlets having any real interest in much beyond celebrities and the latest scandal. America still has many local papers which still employ a number of photographers and probably many more who actually pay for photographs rather than begging them from members of the public. His article was written in response to These tools will help you find the right images for your stories published by Poynter, where  you can also find some responses they asked for others to make on that story.

Here in the UK, my union, the NUJ, are having a month long campaign, #Useitpayforit, which you can also read about in Amateur photographers should charge for published work, says new NUJ campaign and Major publisher’s pictures budget is less than your daily cup of coffee a week, which I understand the company concerned has said is inaccurate, though they haven’t yet given a figure to correct it. But I did a search and failed to find any mention of the campaign on the Amateur Photographer web site.

I think most photographers like me will be used to getting e-mails and phone calls from local papers asking if they can use my work, “of course we’ll give you a credit“.  My response is simply to tell them that of course they can use my work so long as they buy a licence from the appropriate agency it is with.  I don’t think any of them ever has gone on to use an image, even though the prices are usually ridiculously low.

Lunatic photographers

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

It’s almost a week since I last wrote a post here, and I’m rather scratching my head to say why. I have perhaps been a little busier than usual, starting with the funeral of the father of one of my friends, where I was appointed official photographer. This isn’t something I’ve done before, and although I did a decent job at the wake, I didn’t feel I really did a job of the actual funeral, too many inhibitions showing themselves.  It would have been easier had it been a burial rather than a cremation, and I found myself very much a mourner rather than a photographer.  The pictures I did take I’ve given to the family, and have decided not to share in public.

Since then I’ve photographed several protests, one very large and some quite small, but all taking time, both to attend and to edit and file work, and I’ve made a resolution to try and keep My London Diary up-to-date – so you can already see the pictures I took yesterday there. Today I’m having some time off because of a minor health problem, though tooth-ache never feels minor. I had to rush to my dentist for an emergency patch-up yesterday, though it will require rather more painful work at a later date, and have time to write now because I’ve had to cancel a couple of things in my diary. Though being still tanked up on pain-killers and feeling a little unsteady probably isn’t the best state to be in charge of a keyboard, it does take my mind off my symptoms, and I started my day looking back at some of the things online I’ve missed over the past few days.

Judging from the pictures I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere, one of the biggest photographic events I’ve missed in the past few days was the “super blue blood moon” of January 31st, described by the Telegraph newspaper as a  “a once-in-a-lifetime event“. Except it wasn’t. I saw the moon rising through my window and there was really nothing special about it, and I didn’t bother to pick up my camera. It was the same old moon, a little brighter than sometimes, thanks largely to a clearer than usual atmosphere here, and exactly the same colour as usual.

Of course, London wasn’t the right place to photograph it, as the eclipse which did give it that blood-red colour was over well before the moonrise here. Which didn’t stop a number of photographers from producing (and the papers and web publishing) nice orange or red sunrise pictures, which of course owed more to our atmospheric pollution and perhaps a little Photoshop than the moon.

You can read a long account and watch a video on Peta Pixel of how Michael Tomas  took a series of these pictures showing a moon rising through the skyline of central London 10 miles away from a hill in Richmond Park with a 1000 mm lens, though I have to tell him he didn’t shoot a super blue blood moon, as he was several thousand miles away from a blood moon, with the total eclipse starting at 12.52 and ending at 14.08 and moonrise in London being at 16.55, almost three hours later, and three quarters of an hour after the end of even the penumbral eclipse (which is almost impossible to see.)  It’s still an interesting image and got a remarkable amount of exposure. Though I feel rather sorry for him for thinking this makes it the best photo of his life.

It wasn’t even a true ‘blue moon’, as Diamond Geezer points out in his daily blog for 31st January, the blue moon a name given to the third moon in a single season which had four moons rather than the normal three. On this definition there are no blue moons in 2018, but we do get one on May 18th 2009. But a journalist in 1946 got it wrong, and journalists have been getting it wrong ever since, calling the second moon in any month a blue moon. We get our next one by this definition on March 31st this year.

And it was hardly a ‘supermoon’ either, though it was a little larger than usual (5.9% according to the Hermit Eclipse web site).  The actual perigree (closest approach) was a day earlier. Visually these differences are hardly visible.

Lunar eclipses happen quite frequently – there is a good one due on 20th July 2018, where the total eclipse should be visible at moonrise in London at around 9pm.

But it is instructive to compare Tomas’s real image with the many Photoshopped ones that appear, notably that by Peter Lik, which has been the subject of much discussion, including on FStoppers, but also posted on Peta Pixel. Clearly this is a composite image and the fact that an identical image of the moon appears in another of his pictures makes this beyond doubt.  Perhaps the most mystifying aspect is that only 75% of those who voted in the accompanying poll were sure it was made in Photoshop, though I suspect the other 25% hadn’t watched the video or read the article in any detail.

Lik’s work is obviously very commercially successful, though few believe that his claim to have sold a single copy of a print for $6.5 million in 2014 to be anything more than a publicity stunt, he certainly makes a small fortune providing expensive decor, enough to employ a small team of people working on his images in Photoshop; two of those taking part in the FStoppers discussion revealed that a former employee had hold them he had spent an entire seven days working on one particular image. People could paint these things from scratch in less time than that.

But in the end I don’t have much interests in how Lik’s images are produced; they are simply not worth bothering with. I fail to see anything of interest in them, bad paintings produced with a little aid from a camera and rather more from software, clichés that lack any sense of reality and any meaning.

Another Stop Killing Londoners

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Rising Up’s Stop Killing Londoners group (SKL) continued its series of protests against the dangerous level of air pollution in London by a couple of brief road-blocks on one of inner London’s busiest roads the Marylebone Rd, beginning with one at the Baker St junction as many workers were making their way into the station on a Friday evening.

SKL protests are designed to get as much publicity as possible while causing only minimal inconvenience to the public – who like them are at great risk of lung conditions and early deaths because of excessive pollution levels in London air, especially around busy roads such as this. Those taking part include people who had campaigned for years to try and get some action over air pollution, but with very little effect, and they feel that protests such as this will embarrass London’s mayor into taking action – both through coverage in press, radio and TV and in particular if they get arrested and taken to court.

Actions were timed for the early evening partly because there is more traffic on the roads at the rush hour, but also for the very practical reason that most of those taking part are at work during the day time. Later SKL also organised a number of early morning protests before going to work, and I was unable to cover these because of the problems of getting up and travelling in to London in the early morning.

The kind of short hold-ups that SKL protests involve are not unusual on London streets. Any minor accident will cause longer stoppages and road works or building work often lead to much longer queues.  Both through posters and over the PA system they try to let motorists know that they will not be held up for more than a few minutes, but despite this a few drivers get very irate. One on this occasion even tried to use his white van to push the protesters out of the way, and when it became clear this was not going to work threw water from a bottle over them  – and over me as I took his picture.

I usually try not to involve bystanders in my pictures and to concentrate on those taking part in the protest, but once this guy had tried to drive through the protesters (and me) I decided he was fair game. I rather liked the image with reflections through the van window, though perhaps it is too fussy and too arty for editorial use. It did take a lot of work in Lightroom to bring out the different areas of the picture and even out the lighting, and some have thought this was a multiple exposure. It is a single exposure with my camera close to the van window, using the view inside the cab, the reflection in the window and the view through the cab and the front and opposite side window.

As often when unexpected things happen I was a little caught out when he started throwing water at the protesters, with a shutter speed that was more suited to the relatively static protest than action, and quite a few pictures were rather too blurred. And it isn’t easy to keep your camera steady when things start to get thrown at you.  So I only got the picture of him point the bottle at me and instinctively ducked out of the way.

Stop Killing Londoners road block

Should you work for free?

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

I think I’ve written often enough about my own attitude to providing photographs for free. I share a great deal of my work on Facebook and on the web, where as well as putting current work on My London Diary I also have extensive web sites on Hull, on London, Paris and on the River Lea, as well as several others and a number of smaller sites. I’ve also contributed work to various other sites, including Fixing Shadows, one of the earliest of photography web sites – still on line – and many more.

I’ve also provided photographs free of charge to many groups I’ve photographed for their own use, and generally am prepared to do so for campaigns or organisations that have no paid staff. But groups or organisations that can afford to pay people to work for them I’ve always demanded should pay me for my work as well, particularly if they are making money from publishing it.

With small charities, campaigning groups and educational projects I quote at a considerable discount on my commercial rates, but still feel it important that I’m paid. Not so much because I need the money (though photography is an expensive habit and I couldn’t do all I do without it generating some income) but because giving my work away would be unfair to all my colleagues. It isn’t easy to make a living from photography, and harder still to make one from work which I think worthwhile and important.

Today I’ve read two rather different articles about working for free. One in Peta Pixel, by Gil Wizen, Why I Rejected Your Request for Free Photos, and the second, linked in one of the comments to that piece, an opinion piece of Digital Photography Review, What I’ve learned after sharing my photos for free on Unsplash for 4 years by Samuel Zeller.

Wizen’s article is a pretty much straight down the line NO, with an explanation why and some illustrations of unreasonable attitudes, though he does describe one exception to his rule. Zeller’s is more interesting in his discussion of changes in the web landscape as well as of how contributing images to a site which shares them free can contribute to building a career.

A photographer choosing to share some images (as I do on the web) is quite different from other people deciding they would like to use your work for free. Unsplash does seem to offer a significant amount of exposure in a way that few if any of the proposals that people and companies who have hoped to use my pictures for free would have provided. It is a platform on which you can advertise yourself as a photographer, paying for it in pictures rather than cash, and for some photographers and some kinds of work it may be appropriate to do so. Though not I think for me.