Archive for the ‘Photo Issues’ Category

Opera Performance

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

I wasn’t expecting to go in side the Royal Opera House when I met a small group of members of the cleaner’s union CAIWU a short distance away on Bow Street, but when a few of them walked in I followed. And although I didn’t get to sing I did manage to take quite a few pictures before security led the few protesters outside, as they were too busy dealing with the noisy protesters to take much notice of me.

The foyer of the Royal Opera is a place of dim lighting, and even at ISO 12800 it really wasn’t enough. I don’t like to use flash in these situations as it draws attention to me and makes it more likely I will get thrown out. Flash is also a problem when people – like the security guys here – are wearing reflective clothing which results in large amounts of light coming back from the reflective strips. There was quite a lot of movement so I wanted a shutter speed of at least 1/125th second.

Faster lenses might help a little – my 18-35mm f3.5-f4.5 is a little pathetic in this department, but in situations like this you also need a reasonable depth of field, which generally makes larger apertures unsuitable even at the wider end.

I had expected a rather more leisurely start to the protest, which was around the sixth on successive nights at the Opera House in a concentrated campaign against the victimisation of six CAIWU members for their trade union activities. I’d assumed that security would have expected the protest and locked the doors as we arrived and that the protest would be on the pavement outside.

I had my D750 on a strap around my neck, but the D810 was still inside my camera bag with a longer zoom in place. Once inside I decided the situation and low light made there little point in stopping to take it out, though had their been time in advance to think I might have taken it out and changed to the 16mm f2.8 fisheye, often a useful lens at close quarters and with remarkable depth of field.

As I viewed the pictures later on my computer I was pretty despondent. The colour quality of most of those taken in the foyer was abysmal, with darker areas exhibiting a nasty purple cast and a blotchiness. I’d taken just a few with flash that were usable, and managed to get a couple looking not too bad. The rest I converted to black and white.

It’s the colour that goes first with excessive under-exposure, and by converting to black and white you can work at least a couple of stops faster. But I don’t like converting images taken thinking in colour to black and white – either my own or those by other photographers. But here it was necessary.

Outside on the pavement, alhough it was getting dark, things were much better.

More pictures: Cleaners protest at Royal Opera House.
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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

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Against Racism

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Writing today with the temperature around 30 degrees in the shade, my shirt sticking to my body and wondering if it is worth leaving the keyboard for a while and get another glass of ice-cold water it’s had to remember just how cold it was back in March. The several thousand who turned up to march on UN Anti Racism Day ignored apocalyptic weather forecasts, an amber weather warning, a temperature around zero with the occasional snowflake and a chilling east wind. And we froze.

Portland Place, outside Broadcasting House has become a popular starting point for many protests. Partly to point out what seems to many campaigners to be a peculiar reluctance on the part of the BBC to report protests in the UK, particularly those that might embarrass the government. And a protest against racism should embarrass the current government, with its ‘hostile environment’ towards refugees and other migrants and clearly discriminatory policies in other areas, Though to be fair it doesn’t only discriminate on grounds of race, but is has an equal opportunities discrimination policy that also extends to class, disability, women, etc.

Britain has changed enormously in my lifetime, and the arrival of many workers from the Commonwealth in particular has greatly enriched us, both by doing many of the vital low paid jobs we all depend on  but also because of the cultural enrichment provided by their differing traditions. Many when they came in the past were citizens with the right to settle here, but increasingly racist immigration acts have changed that, reaching the state where the Home Office under Theresa May has been caught carrying out illegal deportations and destroying records that give some the right to remain.

The Windrush generation – and there children – are only the tip of an ugly iceberg, with many thousands being affected. But government racism has also extended to more traditional groups who have lived in this country far longer, travellers and Roma. Much of their harassment comes from local government, often failing to meet the limited responsibilities they have to provide sites, and employing licensed thugs to turn travellers off land – including at times land the travellers actually own.

Some areas of discrimination have changed for the better. Catholics and non-conformists are now seldom subject to discrimination on the grounds of their religion at least in mainland UK. And Jews too now escape official disbarment, though some Tories and extreme right neo-Nazi inspired groups still keep up the anti-semitic hate, though many have now transferred they evil bile towards Muslims. And while caste discrimination is illegal in India (although it flourishes under the current right-wing Hindu regime), here in the UK wealthy Tory-supporting Hindus have so far blocked attempts to make it illegal here.

Many wars around the world remain racial wars, including that between Turkey and the Kurds, with Turkey doing its best at least throughout the last century to eliminate the Kurdish people and culture. On the protest Kurds were calling for an end to the attacks by Turkey and Islamic militants fighting on their behalf to take control of Afrin, with the aim of removing the majority Kurdish population.

Militarily the Turkish army is far superior, thanks largely to its NATO friends including the UK who have helped make it the strongest force in the area, and with the aid of its former ISIS and Al Qaeda allies victory in the area seemed inevitable, though it may only be the start of a prolonged guerilla struggle.

As the Kurds arrived opposite Downing St, a misguided police office removed the cones and tape across the middle of Whitehall that had guided the marchers away from Downing St, and it was taken as a signal for them to make a rush towards its gates. These were of course well-protected, with barriers and police offices – and behind them several armed police, but the situation certainly became chaotic.

Eventually police and march stewards brought them under some sort of control, with some moving on to the stage on which a rally had already begun, but others simply standing around in the middle of Whitehall. It was still biting cold, and the majority of marchers quickly drifted away to make their journeys home. I held out for the first four or five speakers, but then joined them. It was far too cold to stand around.

March Against Racism

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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

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Fukushima 7th Anniversary

Friday, June 29th, 2018

Remember Fukushima.  The disaster began seven years ago, but it is still happening, and will go on for many years . Radioactive materials are still escaping from the  melted down cores of the three reactors damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami damaged reactors, with the water needed to keep the No 1 plant core cool still releasing around 2 billion becquerels a day – although the bequerel is a very small unit, still a substantial amount. Recent research by the University of Manchester has also shown the surrounding area up to several kilometres from the plant to be contaminated with micro-particles containing radioactive uranium. Different isotopes have widely differing decay rates, but the clean up will certainly take hundreds if not thousands of years.

In a sane world, we would have delayed any introduction of power generation from nuclear fission until the problems of nuclear disaster and nuclear waste had been properly investigated, but in the real world people saw the promise without letting the unsolved problems deter them, though TEPCO’s choice to build their nuclear power station in an earthquake zone was surely a gamble too far. And clearly no sane person would ever suggest we make or use nuclear weapons – and only one rogue country has so far used them. Japan had plenty of evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the the dangers of nuclear catastrophe

When photographing protests I look for pictures that as well as concentrating on the people taking part also show clearly the 5 W’s (and the H) as promulgated long ago by Aristotle – Wikipedia gives a quotation from St Thomas Aquinas:

“For in acts we must take note of who did it, by what aids or instruments he did it (with), what he did, where he did it, why he did it, how and when he did it.”

The photograph at the top of this post uses the fine poster for the event which has a precis of the what  of the occasion and why those taking part are doing so. In the second image I’ve included the brass plate of the Japanese embassy along with the two Japanese Buddhist monks taking part in the event.

Other pictures show the long banner listing some of the major nuclear catastrophes – Windscale 1957, Three Mile Island 1979, Chernobyl 1986 and Fukushima 2011  (two further major incidents at a nuclear weapons plant on the Techa River in Russia, including the 1957 Kyshtym disaster were hushed up by Russia.) 

Passing Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly I was intrigued by the window displays featuring various teapots, one of which I thought perhaps looking a little like the overheated core of a reactor, and I photographed it with one protester who comes to protests with her own hand-embroidered placards which often attract photographers walking past.  She is a woman who used many years ago to work with my wife and I often go and have a few words with her when I see her at protests, but I kept to my normal practice of not posing people when I’m photographing events. I’m there to record events not create them and simply stood in the right place to take the picture as she walked past.

But of course you have to create pictures, by making use of what the event has to offer. I’ve photographed Bruce Kent on many occasions (not always as he would have liked, but never unkindly) and on My London Diary you can see some closer views as he spoke. But in the tightly-cropped head and shoulders view he could be speaking anywhere about anything.

While in the picture above only those familiar with Westminster will recognise the plinth on which he is standing in Old Palace Yard, the radioactivity symbol makes fairly clear the nature of the event, and assuming you can read back to front that it is about Fukushima. The figure in the yellow suit beside him perhaps helps, and certainly draws the eye to the speaker (though perhaps the yellow arm and leg on the point of a toe do give an impression of boredom).

Of course I didn’t set this up – or I might have found some way to get the flag the right way around. There was quite a breeze, and the flag was fluttering fairly wildly and while it might have been easier to get someone to hold it still in the correct position with a hand out of frame I didn’t do so. Nor did I ask the person holding at right out of frame to keep the bamboo pole still and at the same angle, though it would have made life easier.

Partly I didn’t do either of these things as it would go against my idea and training of not manipulating the news, but also because I remain convinced of the value of chance and accident which often make my images rather more exciting than any limited ideas I might have about making pictures.

Rather a lot more to see on My London Diary at Remember Fukushima, 7th Anniversary.

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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

________________________________________________________

Dark Practices

Friday, June 15th, 2018

Outsourcing of staff is a dark practice used by many organisations to retain their own shining images while screwing their workers, who get the kind of management, employment rights and wages you would expect from least scrupulous of companies whose only concern is making profits while reducing their bids for the contracts to the lowest possible levels.

So it was perhaps appropriate that this protest by the IWGB which represents cleaners, security officers, receptionists, porters, gardeners and others who work at the University of London keeping its central services running outside Vice Chancellor Sir Adrian Smith’s graduation dinner should be one of the darkest that I’ve ever tried to photograph.

The protesters were in their usual good spirits, making a great deal of noise and calling for the university to employ them directly, for an end to zero hours contracts and to implement promised pay rises.

In the days of film, the only possibility would have been to use flash (or pay a fortune to light this as a film set.) But digital has shifted the possibilities, and I decided to work with what little available light there was, and just occasionally to supplement this with my handheld LED light source. This event soon showed the limitations of this, a Neewer CN-216, at least when running from rechargeable AA batteries, when the power drops off considerably after only a few minutes of use, though it continues to give some light for several hours. Most pictures were made without its help. The light will also run from a number of Sony and Panasonic batteries and Neewer also make high-capacity ones to fit which might improve the performance.

Almost all the pictures were made with the camera set at ISO 12,800 and with an exposure bias of -0.3 or -0.7 stops, and were still mainly underexposed, at shutter speeds mainly around 1/30 – 1/50s. Neither of the two lenses I was using was a fast lens, the 18.0-35.0 mm f/3.5-4.5 and the 28.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, and I often had to stop down a little for depth of field. I don’t own any very fast lenses, but hadn’t expected these Stygian conditions or might have replaced the 28-200 in my bag with the heavier Sigma 24-70mm and added the petite Nikon 20mm f2.8 for luck. Neither is particularly fast but a stop or two does make a noticeable difference.

But apart from being heavier, and running out at only 70mm when I often want something longer, somehow I just don’t trust the Sigma. It wasn’t a cheap lens, but I think isn’t quite sharp enough wide open to be worth carrying the extra weight. I bought it for use on DX where it perhaps does better.

The IWGB met outside Barbican station and marched to protest outside the dinner through the tunnel under the Barbican. There the lighting was much brighter and I was able to work at a lower ISO even using shutter speeds around 1/100s.

More pictures: IWGB protest at Graduation Dinner

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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

________________________________________________________

Snowy HE protest

Monday, June 11th, 2018

London felt more like Moscow, or rather how I imagine Moscow as I’ve never been there, as I made my way from the bus stop to Malet St. There was a wind that made it hard to walk and drove the snow into my face, and I’d slipped and almost fallen, just “catching myself and my camera bag before either hit the couple of inches of snow on the ground in Byng Place”. By the time I was in Torrington Place it was hard to see the crowd standing there with a large banner, having to wipe my glasses and my camera lens and trying to take pictures. It slackened off slightly and between squalls I managed to get one picture that wasn’t ruined. I always hope that I’ll get a nice arty result from rain and snow on the lens, but somehow it never seems to happen, and in any case I don’t think Alamy would like it.

One book on ‘Bad Weather‘ is probably enough for the whole of photographic history, and it remains in my opinion one of Martin Parr’s better titles. I even paid money for it, though my first edition seems to have gone missing. Being unsigned might make it something of a rarity!

Once I was in the crowd they afforded some shelter from the weather and things were a little easier and I could make the occasional picture without snow on the lens. And even some in which people’s eyes weren’t covered by snowflakes. Fortunately the snow didn’t keep on for too long, though there were some short and heavy showers as the march made its way towards Westminster.

This was a protest by the UCU, lecturers in higher education, with support from their students, and some of the placards reflected this. They wanted proper talks with their employers about pensions and pay, particularly as the universities had announced their intention to steal much of their pension funds. And they were joined by some FE staff from the London area who were on the first day of a two-day strike over their pay and conditions.

If you’ve ever tried walking backwards on snow or ice, you may appreciate the problem I faced on photographing the marchers, where most of the time you are walking backwards at the same speed as they walk while taking pictures. Usually the main hazards of this are lamp posts and kerbs, but snow does add a dimension. Fortunately once we got out of Russell Square and were onto busier roads (they would have been busier but for the marches) most of the snow there was now slush and rather less slippery.

It wasn’t a particularly long march, I think about two and a half miles, and I walked the whole way, though there were some long sections where I took no pictures when the snow came on again. I’d dressed well for the weather – with long-sleeved thermal vest and longjohns over my normal underwear, a cashmere scarf, thick socks and a woolly hat, as well as my usual wind and waterproof winter jacket, but I still got cold. Better gloves would have helped – but photographers need to be able to use their fingers. I had a pair of thin silk gloves under a thicker wool pair, which still allow be to operate the camera controls, but I think I need to research for a better solution.

I don’t usually cover indoor rallies, but went into Methodist Central Hall with the first of the marchers largely to sit in the warm. I spent around an hour or so in there, and took pictures of the speakers, who included some well-known trade unionists and Labour politicians, so the time wasn’t wasted, though the light wasn’t too good and I could have got a little closer. But I got nice and warm by the time I had to leave to cover another protest outside a short distance away.

HE and FE march for pensions and jobs
HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs
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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

________________________________________________________

D Day and more

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Perhaps because the media have been so preoccupied with the anniversaries of the First World War there was little publicity this year about the anniversary of D-Day, June 6th 1944. Which perhaps explains why I’m only writing about it a day late, having seen some posts about it on Facebook late last night.

Although we now know much more about the iconic images taken by Robert Capa – and the myths that have grown up around them and are still being stated as fact, even by some who are perfectly aware of the investigation by A D Coleman and his team, a three year study concluded around a year ago, when I last wrote about it. I suppose they are following Capa’s example; his most famous dictum was ‘If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough‘ but perhaps the attitude that most shaped his life was to never let the facts get in the way of a good story, though to be fair the story that he wrote was intended more as a Hollywood treatment than real autobiography.

I don’t mean by this in any way to belittle Capa as a photographer. The investigation is one that I think paints others in a worse light than him, though he certainly went along with the deception. Nor do I in any way minimise the shock of landing on that Normandy beach; for the military who went as a team to do a job they had trained to do it will have been far less horrific than for a lone individual, and I doubt if many of us would have handled the situation there any better. If anything I admire him more for his courage in realising that he had to return as soon as he could and get on with doing the job.

I’ve fortunately never been under fire from an enemy army. The nearest I’ve come is having milk bottles thrown at me from six floors up on a council estate, beer cans and bricks thrown from far right groups and a firework rocket aimed horizontally at me early one Sunday morning by kids in Bermondsey that missed by inches. And a paintball which splatted on my chest from the black bloc, probably like other missiles aimed at nearby police. I’ve been spat at, threatened, cursed, pushed and punched by the right, assaulted by police… But generally I’ve chosen to avoid violent situations, and I know I would never be a good war photographer. So Capa and the others who have chosen that course deserve and get my respect.

I hadn’t meant to do more than briefly mention D-Day and Capa, but as so often I got a little carried away. On being reminded of the anniversary I took another look (as I do fairly often) at Photocritic International. A D Coleman’s latest post there has the rather uninformative title Spring Fever: Ends and Odds 2018 and is, as always, worth reading, with a typically acute analysis of the case of Naruto, a crested macaque who picked up David Slater’s camera and took a few pictures with it. Coleman explains and comments on the decision by the Federal Appeal Court that copyright law covers the actions and creations of humans, and only humans, as well as on the concept of animals having names.

The post also contains Coleman’s incisive comments on two other matters, one of which is also – like the names of animals – related to ideas of ‘identity’ and brings in Alfred Korzybski’s argument that we should beware of all variants of the verb to be, which is perhaps rather relevant to some current debates, and a second more specific to photography, and in particular the devaluation of photojournalism, something some previous guest posts on Photocritic International have explored. It’s perhaps ironic that while some photographs now sell for undreamed of amounts in the art market, the rates for photojournalism are actual cash terms are lower than they were 30 or 40 years ago, despite huge inflation. Or if not ironic at least pretty desperate for those trying to make a living.

Class War and the Shard

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Class War continued their successful court record, with Ian Bone raising his fist in a victory gesture for the photographers (I think there were two of us) as he makes his way out of the High Court in the Strand, where lawyers acting for the Qatari royal family had tried to get an injunction to prevent a Class War protest against the ten empty £50 million pound apartments in The Shard, and to claim over £500 in legal costs from the 70 year-old south London pensioner. Smiling at the left is his brief, barrister Ian Brownhill who on hearing of the attempt to stifle legitimate protest had offered to conduct Bone’s defence pro bono, and at right, Bone’s partner, Jane Nicholl.


Ian Bone proudly reads the description of Class War presented to the court by lawyers for the Qatari Royal Family

Class War are a much misunderstood bunch, bringing out an existential fear in the hearts of the bourgeoisie, and in particular of the press and police force. At some of their protests they have been outnumbered five or ten to one by uniformed officers, with a number who look suspiciously undercover hanging around. The idea of anarchism still arouses a class memory of bombs, sieges and the mob running in the streets, but Class War is more an anarchy of ideas, with actions as spectacle rather than armed struggle.

Despite their small size – or perhaps in part because of it – they have been remarkably effective in many campaigns, particularly those around housing and low pay. Some of their own campaigns – such as the series of around 30 ‘Poor Doors’ protests I photographed – have shown a remarkable tenacity and have done much to bring the issues to wider attention. Led by a small core, hard for undercovers to infiltrate, they have at times attracted the support of hundreds of others. It’s not a group with membership or rules but a truly anarchist lack of organisation, a group of friends who share common ways of thinking about politics and life and are prepared to act – and anyone who thinks and acts in the same way can be Class War too.

“Want to get involved? We have no leaders, no bureaucracy, no fees and you don’t have to sell a paper! Just come along to an action and get involved.

Join in * Reject cynicism * Life’s more fun with Class War!”

Though it does require a good sense of humour, they are deadly serious about politics and the need for change, for a society that works for the ordinary people rather than being arranged for the one percent, and they and others in groups close to them often bring out some of the more glaring inequalities that those at the top would prefer to keep hidden. We all know that there is a housing problem in London, and that much of the building that is going on over London is not aimed at reducing this, but at allowing largely foreign investors to profit from rising property prices, buying luxury flats which will often never be used, just sold a few years later when their value has risen – with developers publishing investment proposals suggesting huge rises and quick profits.

At their protest outside the Shard, Class War pointed out that the ten £50 million pound apartments in it have remained empty since the building was completed, and that developers currently plan to build a further 26,000 flats costing more than a million pounds each, many replacing current social housing, when London has a huge housing crisis with thousands sleeping on the street, and over 100 families from Grenfell are still in temporary accommodation. Official figures show that despite the huge and increasing need, London is losing several thousand properties at council rents each year.

Although the court decision had made it clear that the protest was permitted outside the Shard, so long as the protesters did not enter the property, police still insisted that Class War move further away, across the road.

Their attempt to justify this seemed even more pathetic than usual, suggesting that Class War, who were standing to one side of the normal pedestrian routes, were causing an obstruction; there was a clear obstruction, but this was caused by the line of police officers. But Class War did take their banner across the road, though some members continued to protest as the court had allowed on the clearly marked edge of the property.

The Shard presents something of a challenge to photograph from a close distance, and even from across the road it was hard to show the building as a whole as well as the protesters. Even my 16mm fisheye couldn’t do the job sensibly in landscape format, and I had to turn it 90 degrees to get it all in.

While the software I use to convert perspective does a good job with landscape format images, it doesn’t cope well in portrait format. Playing a little in Photoshop with its Adaptive Wide Angle and a little more fiddling, including a change in aspect ratio and a little image rotation can produce a straighter result for the tower, which may be more acceptable.

More pictures on My London Diary:

Class War protest at Shard
Class War victory against Qatari Royals

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

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The Corners

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

I first got to know Chris Dorley-Brown when I was curating a photography show for a now defunct organisation, London Arts Café in 2000. Cities of Walls, Cities of People included work by eight photographers, some of whom I had known for some time and worked with before and two I found when planning the show, including Chris. He was suggested to me by Mike Seaborne, also in the show and at the time Curator of the Historic Photographs Collection at the Museum of London. Dorley-Brown’s work in the show was a number of paired images of council estate tower blocks from a group of images ‘Revisits 1987-2001’ showing how these blocks had altered in that time period. The web page for the show has one of these pairs and my brief text on him and the work.

I was pleased to read a post on BJP Online by Diane Smyth, Chris Dorley-Brown’s singular vision of East End London, which looks at some of his more recent work which is being published by Hoxton Mini Press as The Corners.

As it says on the web site:

These hyperreal photographs of East London street corners are a unique documentation of an ever-changing landscape. Using multiple exposures, Chris Dorley-Brown plays out different narratives simultaneously, creating dream-like scenes that lie somewhere between fiction and reality.

Although I’m impressed by these images – and there are many more on the web (this link goes direct to his galleries rather than the front page of his site which my browser seems to have a problem with) not just from the East End but elsewhere, I find them rather disturbing.  Firstly there is something about the tonality that makes them seem to me more like paintings than photographs – truly as the blurb says they are hyperreal.

But it is the figures caught on the multiple exposures that worry me most,  and the whole idea behind these pictures. As he says in the BJP, “I don’t have a journalistic bone in my body” and it seems to me that this way of working subverts the whole idea of photographic truth which lies behind the realism that has always been central to my own work. Of course photography can be used in many different ways, and such methods are unquestionable in, for example advertising photography, but in the BJP article it states that his work is filed under ‘documentary’ which I find worrying.

Brixton Portraits and GDPR

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Rather fewer photographers now have shops with windows to display examples of their work, and of course it was only those who made a living from social photography – weddings, portraits etc – who sold their services to the general public for whom it made sense. Now, most people take their own portraits, apart from those usually hideous examples produced by school photographers which parents are blackmailed into accepting so that schools can have a photographic record of their pupils (or rather ‘students’ now that you graduate even from nursery schools.)

Of course there are parents who like them, but when I was a teacher I was opposed to them on principle; not just because they generally had the same degree of originality as a photobooth, but because I knew that they put parents on low incomes into the position of having to either pay for them and go without necessary food or clothing or disappoint their child and force them to take the pictures back to hand in at school.

But good social portraiture is a rare skill, and during the late 1980s and early 1980s I carried out a project that involved photographing in and through many shop windows across London, and this included many photographer’s windows. I photographed a detail on one in Landor Rd in 1989 which I think must have been Harry Jacobs studio window; the caption states 4/6/89 Landor Rd 305758, where the 6 figure number is a Grid reference, though these were not always correct to the last figure. The image is a scan from a commercial enprint, which I could locate quickly as these are filed by the 1km grid square in which they were taken.

I’m sorry that I don’t appear to have taken a wider view of the shop front, but this picture is unusual for me and I think means that I realised the value of his work. As with many of the pictures in this series it was taken on a Sunday morning, when most shops were closed as this usually enabled me to work undisturbed. I do remember thinking that it would be worth going back and finding out more about what appeared to be a remarkable social record, but I never got around to doing so. And perhaps a little over ten years later I noticed the shop no was no longer there.

Soemone from the Photographers’ Gallery had clearly also noticed the work, and three years after Jacobs retired in 1999, with an archive of almost 60,000 photographs they put on a show based around his work in 2002, discussed in The Guardian. His son wrote a short piece, My Father the photographer which was published in The Evening Standard.

The Photographers’ Gallery apparently decided at the time that for photographs taken before the 1988 Copyright Act they had to get permission from the subjects to exhibit them. I’m not sure that was true, but although we have had no such problems from then until now, it is possible that things may be different again under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But you can rest assured that the GDPR allows processing for the purposes of journalism, and I think for art. The problem with the work by Jacobs was that it had been taken as a commercial agreement between the sitter and photographer and the sitter’s permission was probably required for it to be shown as art or documentary. My photograph above is clearly a work of art!

The Freelance Branch of the NUJ (a union to which all journalists in the UK should belong) has published an excellent guide to the GDPR for Freelances, which is generally reassuring, though it does point out we should all have registered as data controllers under the Data Protection Act 1998 and should continue to pay the £40 per year this involves.

You are also required to take proper steps to protect your data, which would include using strong passwords or physical locks on devices including computers, backup disks and memory sticks etc. The article makes clear that as journalists you can use the exemptions for free expression to avoid giving any information in response to ‘subject access requests‘ and that journalism is explicitly exempted from the ‘right to be forgotten‘. Something which may upset some is that the advice suggests that there may be problems under GDPR in using cloud storage.

Back to Harry Jacobs. My reason for mentioning him is that Lambeth Council are for once doing something I approve of, with a show of his work in the Town Hall. A Snapshot of Brixton: Harry Jacobs and the Empire Windrush opened on Friday 25th May and runs until Friday 6th July. Open M – F, 09.00 – 20.00

Back to the Elephant

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

Though not actually to the Elephant, but to the dark street outside Southwark Council Offices near London Bridge for a protest outside where a Southwark Council meeting which due to vote on plans by developer Delancey and the council which would destroy the Elephant & Castle centre and the community around it. At an earlier meeting the decision had been deferred to allow Delancey to come up with new proposals to meet the community objections.

Although they had made some changes, the proposals were still nowhere near acceptable, but the protest ended in something of an anti-climax. While the protesters had been hopeful that the plans would be turned down, instead the council voted to put off the decision until a further meeting to give Delancey time to submit a revised proposal.

There seems to be little hope that the revised plans will be very much better, but whether they will then be approved is hard to predict. It looks as if the council cabinet that backs the private developer has enough power to keep the redevelopment on the table until the opposition in the council gets worn down enough to pass it.

So it remained likely that the redevelopment would at some point go ahead, and that most of the protesters worse fears about social cleansing etc. will be shown to have been justified, while the developers and a few in the council offices do very nicely for themselves, with some moving to lucrative private sector jobs.

The protest was unusual, featuring Latin dancing and bingo, representing just two of the groups who will lose out. And of course elephants.

The struggle here is of course part of a wider struggle in the Labour movement, with Southwark COuncil dominated by right-wing Blairites, members of ‘Progress’, a group in the party opposed to many of its present policies and including many dedicated to the downfall of Jeremy Corbyn.

So far the Labour right have managed to maintain control of important aspects of the party machinery, which has allowed this group to continue as a Thatcherite fifth column inside the party, but with increasing support  both in the party and in the nation for the new policies this may change. It has long been clear that the party’s only hope of re-election is to unite behind a leader – like Corbyn – who rejects the old and failed Blairite approach.

Estate regeneration, as first proposed under Blair, was one of the party’s better policies, but failed in essentials like taking the needs of the estate residents and others on council waiting lists into account and accounting for the clever tricks of developers.  With proper consultation which actually took the residents views seriously and relatively small sums of money to renovate and refurbish, along with sensitive infill to provide new council-owned properties, most of the estates now being demolished could have a useful long-term future – as the schemes put forward by ASH (Architects for Social Housing) and others have demonstrated.

Many of the estates targeted so far are not those most in need of regeneration, but often some of the more viable estates, chosen because their position and scale means huge profits for private developers.  Many of the estates from the 1960s, though possibly in out of fashion styles, are better built and to higher standards in many respects to their new replacements, and with refurbishment and maintenance would have long outlasted current builds.

Class War’s poster ‘Labour Councils: The Biggest Social Cleansers in London‘ is of course correct, because Labour controls most of London’s councils. And while Tory councils might well see social cleansing as one of their aims (as Dame Shirley Porter did as Leader in Westminsterwe expect Labour councils to work for all their residents, including those in social housing, and their failure to do so is shameful.

One of those who spoke at the protest was Piers Corbyn, who told us he had talked to his younger brother who was determined to see a change.  I worked hard to get the name Corbyn visible behind him as he spoke, with people keeping getting in the way, but I finally managed it. Southwark Momentum just didn’t have their banner up high enough at the protest, and a few months later failed to get enough of those they supported nominated for the council.

Bingo and Dancing for Elephant & Castle

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