Archive for the ‘Photo Issues’ Category

Photojournalism 2017

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

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

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

CETA & TTIP

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

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


London Green MEP Jean Lambert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

Upsizing & AI

Monday, February 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And recently, Google have published a paper on https://arxiv.org/pdf/1702.00783.pdf Pixel Recursive Super Resolution which doesn’t make for easy reading, but essentially shows how a believable image (rather than the actual original) can be created using neural networks from even a very small 8×8 pixel pixillated image. Unsurprisingly it works better on reasonably predictable subject matter, such as faces (which after all generally have the same number of eyes, a nose and a mouth) than other subjects.

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

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

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

Tish Murtha

Monday, February 6th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holloway

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

I wasn’t sure about going to take pictures at Reclaim Holloway; I had several other things to cover later in the day and this was expected to be a relatively small event. Holloway is up in the north of London, and although its not a hugely long journey it would make my day a rather long one.

But in the end I decided it would be worth the effort, and part of the reason was that it was in the Islington North constituency of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and knowing that he is a good constituency MP there was a decent chance he might turn up.

I’ve photographed Corbyn many times over the years, supporting protests on a wide range of issued – often in the past few years along with John McDonnell, now his shadow chancellor. But since he won his remarkable victory  to become party leader by a substantial majority, he has become a hate figure for the British media and often is at the centre of an intense media scrum at events, and seldom has time for many of the smaller protests he used to come to.

It was also an event that interested me, as housing has long been a special interest – since I was a student activist back in the 1960s. The protesters want Holloway Prison, which is closing down, to be kept in the public domain and used for social housing and community services, rather than to be sold to developers for yet more expensive housing that few Londoners can afford.

And Corbyn did turn up, and there were only a couple of photographers present, though many people taking pictures of him with their phones, but it was all pretty civilised. He spoke briefly, giving his support to the campaign, posed behind the banner (after I had asked him, more for the campaign organisers than myself – it wasn’t my sort fof picture) and then cycled off to do what he needed to do as party leader, while the rest of us marched off to HM Prison for another rally.

Reclaim Holloway

(more…)

Walking Backwards

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

One of the skills that every photographer who covers protests has to master is walking backwards, or rather more importantly, taking photographs while walking backwards.

Back when I learnt photography – and when I taught it – there was a considerable emphasis on avoiding camera shake when taking pictures.

We learnt and taught to stand  still, feet a foot or eighteen inches apart to make a solid platform (of course if you could lean against a post or wall, kneel or lie prone it was even better.) The camera should be held firmly in both hands, the left cradled under the lens, the right holding the body firmly with the first finger resting gently on the shutter release. Elbows should press in against the side of your chest, and it was vital to hold your breath and squeeze rather than jab at the button.

Of course, even this was only second-best, and ideally photographs should be made with the camera on a truly solid and weighty tripod. Of course in part this was a hangover from the days of large cameras and slow emulsions. Back in the 1890s when people started to make pictures without a tripod, exposures were often well under the 1/30th which makes hand-holding relatively easy with standard lenses.

I still sometimes see photographers trying to work this way – and some even at protests, but I’ve come to hate tripods (except for those few very special projects for which they are essential) and many, if not the majority of my pictures are taken while I’m walking, and often when I’m walking backwards, though sometimes I walk in the same direction as the people I”m photographing and twist around to work at an angle over my shoulder. It works for me better over the left than the right shoulder.

Walking backwards when taking pictures does need a little practice, but if you match your speed precisely and keep in step with those you are photographing you can get surprisingly sharp results at shutter speeds slow enough to give an attractive blurring to the background.

Though more normally I play safe by using ISOs that were unthinkable in the past. With both the D810 and D750 I’m now using there seems to be very little advantage in working below around ISO800, and results at much higher ISOs are still usable. In general I set the D750 with the wide-angle lens to ISO640, and the D810 with the 28-200mm at ISO800 and ISO auto allowing it to rise to ISO6400.

Nearly all the wide-angle pictures are sharp, and those with the longer lens usually suffer from focus problems rather than those caused by camera or subject movement.

One slightly limiting human design specification is the lack of eyes in the back of the head, and when walking backwards it is essential to take the occaisonal glimpse behing to check for curbs, lamposts and other obstacles. Falling over backwards is something of an occupational hazard, and could be dangerous, though the worst I’ve suffered has been the odd bruise.

But the march I covered on the 8th May was a break from all this, as the marchers were marching backwards from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall, though in easy stages with several  stops for speeches on the way.   And they really weren’t very good at it, proceeding very slowly and cautiously.

This march in reverse gear was to highlight the governments back-tracking over clean energy, with insulation grants being dropped and clean energy programmes being crippled while they back technololgies such as fracking and burning biomass which contribute to climate change as well as proposing massively polluting and unnecessary road and runway projects.

The event had started with some speeches including one from a woman whose house had been flooded. It brought back memories for me of watching the water come up to my own house a year or so earlier – though fortunately in our case it had stopped an inch or so short.

One of the others who spoke was Kye Gbangbola, whose son Zane had died in those same floods in February 2014 and had been left part paralysed. Despite a lengthy inquest since then it still seems not entirely proven that this was the effect of carbon monoxide rather than deadly hydrogen cyanide released by flooding from landfill.

Later there were speeches from others as the march halted first at the Old War Office, where speakers included Dame Vivienne Westwood, and opposite Downing St, where Sheila Menon of Plane Stupid talked about the lack of any real need or public good of airport expansion and the catastrophic effect it would have on climate change, as well as the increased deaths through air pollution, and called for the huge subsidies that aviation enjoys to be removed.

Finally outside the Dept of Health there were speechs and street theatre, which again looked at the huge subsidies the governemnt gives to the oil industry while at the same time it is cutting green initiatives. The protest had been intended to end in Parliament Square, but time had run out, probably because non-photographers are so slow at walking backwards.

More pictures at Going Backwards on Climate Change
(more…)

Yet more May Day!

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

And then I changed my mind” was the sentence I left off my previous piece on May Day 2016 (and have now added). It was May Day, and though I was tired and hungry I knew that things were going to get interesting.

The party, F**k Parade 4, sound system at eleven and coloured smoke flaring, set off down Leman St, led by the Class War banner with a man wearing a pigs head and with me hurrying backwards in front.

After going under the railway bridge they turned left into Cable St and massed outside the Jack the Ripper premises, perhaps London’s sleaziest tourist attraction, where I’d previously photographed Class War and feminist groups at several protests and vigils. A line of police guarding its front looked quite worried as Class War brought their banner to stand in front of them, but soon the air was too full of red smoke to see much, and I was finding breathing unpleasant.

You need to be a little distance away from the smoke both to breathe well and to get good images. When you are actually in it things get difficult to see and the camera metering becomes unreliable. Fortunately the marchers soon moved off, and it became clear they were heading for Tower Bridge.

And I wasn’t disappointed as having blocked the bridge there were then more flares and also fire-breathing.

It’s technically pretty impossible to get good pictures when a huge cloud of fire explodes into the air, the extreme brightness of the flame compared with the ambient light is beyond the capabilities of film or sensor. And it certainly is more than the automatic exposure can do to get the best balance. Parts of the flame are white, burnt out where the light intensity has overexposed the sensor, with no detail that can be recovered in post-processing.

I think I should have taken the pictures here using manual exposure, but I actually made them using ‘P’ setting, as things were just happening too fast to think much about the technical stuff.  The camera – D700 – has underexposed by around a stop so far as the general scene is concerned, plus the 0.3 stops under I normally have set. Working around dusk at ISO 3200 this gave an exposure of 1/500th f11, enough to more or less stop action and give plenty of depth of field. Ideally I think I should have underexposed perhaps another stop or two, perhaps using the same aperture and speed but working at a lower ISO. This would have given me a little more highlight detail and made post-processing easier – considerable work was needed on these pictures.

I don’t think the metering really reacted much to the fire, as the exposure remained pretty much the same across a series of frames with different amounts of flame. In the second image you can see (at least on a larger image) the rain of drops of unburnt paraffin which was falling on me.

After the marchers left the bridge I followed them on to Tooley St before deciding the time had come when I could no longer ignore the messages of my body, and I left to go home. I was sorry to do so, as I guessed from previous conversations that they would be heading towards the long tunnel that takes Bermondsey St under the railway lines from London Bridge, where both the sound and the visual effect would be great.

F**k Parade 4: Ripper & Tower Bridge

(more…)

Fuji blues – and greens

Monday, January 30th, 2017

I’ve been using Fuji-X cameras for some years when I want something a little lighter and more compact than the Nikon DSLRs. They are usually the cameras I turn to when I’m not photographing events and don’t need the file size of the D810. The cameras I take on holiday.

But though I like some things about them, and have got some decent results, I also have some reservations. They are just too complicated and the controls and menu system lacks the simple and logical pattern of the Nikons. And there are too many ways in which they are just not so responsive and so reliable.

I can leave a Nikon switched on all day, safe knowing that the battery won’t run down and the camera will respond at the slightest touch of the shutter release. With all the Fujis, even if you switch off the rear screen and digital viewfinder, and don’t make any exposures, the battery still runs down. It’s kind of the worst of both worlds in that it Fuji cameras have an auto switch off that you can set, which does switch the battery off after the set time, but fails to stop the battery running down. When you want to take the next picture, even if the battery is still in juice, you have to wait a second or two while the camera starts up – and while you miss the pictures.

With the first Fuji I bought, the fixed lens X100,  things sometimes got even worse and the camera refused to switch on, either until you took the battery out and back again or pressed the shutter for ages, turned around three times widdershins and said the magic word. At least later models more or less fixed that, but still too often meant that when you pressed the release nothing at all happened.

Then there is the colour. Most digital cameras I think have problems with intense reds, losing the highlights, but Fuji has its problems with greens as well – unless you like your grass super-emerald rather than au naturel. And my XT1 has another problem – which needs extra work on the raw files – in that some Fuji lenses give results that are far too magenta, typically needed a correction of perhaps -35M in Lightroom. It doesn’t seem to be something that every XT1 suffers from, though I have found fellow sufferers, and possibly it could be solved by sending the camera back to Fuji for repair, but it only came to my notice after the guarantee period (when the camera went back to Fuji twice for other issues) was up when I bought another lens.

Then there are the mickey-mouse modes. I’d like to ignore them, but the combined ISO and mode knobs on the XT-1 are tricky to use, and changing ISO all to often puts you into what Fuji laughably call the Advanced Filter mode. The two dials are supposed to move independently – and sometimes they do, but other times both turn together. The resulting images are not nice. Jpegs rather than RAW and with impossible to correct contrast or colour or both. You can’t convert from ‘Dynamic Color’ or any of the others back to sensible colour, though you can just about get a half decent black and white.

It’s a shame because all of the Fuji cameras I’ve bought – X-Pro1, X-E1 as well as those already mentioned  have been almost there. Delightful in many ways, which is perhaps why I’ve several time bought another, but…. I’m even hoping that Fuji have at last got it right in the X-T20, and mug that I am, I’ll probably buy it.

And then there are those X-Trans sensors. It seemed a good idea to get away from the Bayer pattern, but I’ve never been convinced that they really improve things, though Lightroom at least seems now to have learnt how to get usable results after a really shaky start. But if  you still feel they are definitely an improvement (and Fuji cameras seem to have a unique facility to produce fanboys) you should read an article by Jonathan Moore Liles, which I first saw in PetaPixel, but is a little better read on medium com, where the pictures are larger.

Its an article which I think more or less destroys the claims of superiority of the X-trans sensor, which can perhaps at worst be seen as a marketing gimmick and at best simply a different balance between colour and luminance, and one which has some unfortunate side effects. In practical terms these are seldom if ever particularly important, and are often mitigated or eliminated by suitable corrective processing which I tend to apply fairly routinely in Lightroom. There is a tendency in portraits – whether on Nikon or Fuji – for faces to look a little flat that a little brushing with a positive value of ‘Clarity’ can improve, and the whites of the eyes (sclera to use the technical term preferred by Liles) usually benefit from a little more brightness and contrast which I think reduces the colour bleed into them.

Then there is the question of the Raw processing software preferred by Liles:

The RAW file was processed using Darktable’s Markesteijn demosaicking algorithm (3-pass mode) with a single iteration 9×9 chroma median filter followed by application of a bilateral filter on the chroma channel and light sharpening. The color profile is my own, generated from shots of a Wolf Faust IT8 chart and should accurately represent the colors in front of the camera.

Most of us just rely on Lightroom, though Fuji purists stick with the free Silkypix converter that Fuji provides, insisting on its superiority. Like me, unless you are a Linux user you have probably never heard of darktable, but Googling takes me to the site which tells me “darktable is an open source photography workflow application and raw developer. “  There is a MacOS version but not one for Windows, though I wouldn’t be rushing to try it out if there was, and there is a page about its X-Trans support which gives you some idea about that Markesteijn thingy, but includes the statement  “Though darktable now can read and process X-Trans files, there are plenty of opportunities to improve camera support. In particular, as mentioned in “What’s involved with adding support for new cameras“, each camera model could benefit from its own basecurve, white balance presets, lens correction, and noise profile.”

Although I have nothing against open-source software – and there are several programs I use or have used (including before Lightroom got better another RAW converter) – I think the use of it here is a serious weakness in the argument. First it entirely locates the article in the high geek rather than photographic sphere, and secondly it raises doubts about whether this particular software is as effective as that recommended by the manufacturer (and privy to their unreleased data), or to the commercial software such as Lightroom (and Adobe have enjoyed some cooperation from Fuji) and Phase One.

Of course, the debates about X-Trans and Bayer are marginal. Both can produce decent images and the differences between the two will seldom be apparent or important. Photography really isn’t about the minutiae of technical differences, but about what your images speak.

Frank Herzog & Early Colour

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Laughlin’s Third World

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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