Archive for the ‘Photo Issues’ Category

You simply can’t keep a good photograph down

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Although the Magnum web site contains 34 pictures from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book ‘The Europeans‘, one of his best-known and best-loved images is missing from there and apparently not available from Magnum. I learnt this, and the reason why from a post ‘Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson : Pearls from the Archives’ on ‘The Eye of Photography’ which features it, Rue Moufettard, 1952, along with a short text about this picture of a excessively and cheekily proud young boy on a street corner with two large bottles (appropriately magnums) of wine, one cradled in each arm.

The text that accompanies it begins with the sentence “Henri Cartier-Bresson is 44 years old.” Which he was when he took the picture, having been born in 1908, but it goes on to write about the 1970s when this picture, along with others became popular among collectors in the newly growing art market for photography, particularly in America. While a few years after he took in he included it in his 1955 book Les Européens (The Europeans), by the 1970s he “didn’t completely recognise himself in this image and refused all reproduction. It is no longer offered by Magnum Photos nor printed for collectors.

It is perhaps rather more straightforward a picture relying on the body language and expression of that boy, a rather more ‘human’ image than the rather cooler complexity he favoured. As the text says, because of its “bonhomie and construction” it was often mistakenly attributed to “his friend Robert Doisneau.” While most of us would be very happy to have our work mistaken for Doisneau’s, apparently Cartier-Bresson was not amused.

It isn’t one of my real personal favourites among his pictures, though certainly I think one of his more memorable works, and one that no overall assessment of his photography should omit.

The text continues to look at why the price of Cartier-Bresson’s “prints took a while to take off” in the art market; (it actually uses the term “value” which for me has no relation to art market prices.)

I’m delighted to find that he refused to limit the number of prints of the same image when the art market forced many photographers into producing limited editions in the 1990s; I imagine he, like me, thought this was to go against the essential nature of the photographic medium. Less delighted to find that because of “the impossibility of controlling his works’ quality and interpretation” he forbade “post-mortem prints” of his work. Though given the incredibly wide circulation of high quality reproduction of his works through books, prints are largely an irrelevance.

You can of course still buy a copy of this print which currently goes at auctions for around $20,000 – or you can see it in museums or view it on line at numerous locations including galleries and auction houses and in many books. You simply can’t keep a good photograph down.

The Incredible World of Photography

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

Thanks to an article by Jörg M. Colberg on Conscientious I have just spent most of the time I would normally have taken writing a post for this blog on the Kunstmuseum Basel web site online exhibition ‘The Incredible World of Photography‘ which is based on the collection of over half a million images made over 45 years since 1974 by Ruth and Peter Herzog as well as images in the Kunstmuseum’s collection. Among other things the Herzog collection includes around 3,000 photo albums produced by individuals and families around the world, with their small images pasted or held by photo corners onto scrapbook pages for passing around with friends and family – an earlier and limited form of social media.

The Herzog collection is particularly interesting in containing much work by unknown photographers (I don’t much like the term ‘anonymous’ as it’s just that no record has been made of their names.) The web site presents them with an interesting commentary and the site takes some time to explore; although I might argue (you always do my wife would say) with some of the texts it’s both informative and entertaining, and my only slight disappointment came when clicking on the magnifying glass icon to see images more clearly results in only a slight increase in size, hardly enough to warrant the effort of finger on mouse.

If you are in Basle you can visit the gallery and see more, and there is also a 360 page catalogue of this and two other exhibitions of the collection, ‘Exposure Time (E): A Photographic Encyclopaedia of Man in the Industrial Age‘ with a preview online.

Unlike Colberg, I haven’t actually seen a copy of the catalogue, and his piece, The Incredible World of Photography puts the show and book in a wider context. In a short consideration of the difference between physical albums and digital ones he asks “It will be interesting to see how future historians will deal with digital albums: is there actually going to be a way to do that, given that so many of them exist on corporate platforms?”

Colberg suggests that the Herzog collection might be a good starting point for developing “a vastly expanded (and more critical) new History of photography” allowing “what as long been dismissed as vernacular photography” to “have its proper part in that endeavour.” It isn’t of course a novel idea, and something we have already seen at least to a limited extent. And while there may be much of interest in unearthing material from the vernacular and neglected, a great deal of it is tedious in the extreme. My own view of history is very much one that stresses the importance of influence and development which I think is behind the “artists that we think are so special“. I still think at least most of them were.


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


Patina and Photography

Sunday, July 26th, 2020

According to Wikipedia, “Patina is a thin layer that variously forms on the surface of copper, brass, bronze and similar metals (tarnish produced by oxidation or other chemical processes), or certain stones, and wooden furniture (sheen produced by age, wear, and polishing), or any similar acquired change of a surface through age and exposure.”

For his post ‘Patina in Photography‘, Jörg Colberg interprets the word a little differently, using it to refer to the qualities of any surfaces in photographs, something I might prefer to refer to as texture, but also extends it to consider the content of images.

The piece is an interesting discussion, illustrated with some of his own work, of what makes a “good picture“, something which he rightly says is “enormously difficult to describe” but is also “usually straightforward to see“, though I think we might often disagree with other viewers. Colberg continues to give what is I think a useful definition of “a good picture as a picture that makes a viewer look more carefully, that makes a viewer think.”

Colberg writes about the “lure of the easy picture” which captures many photographers – indeed all of us much of the time, including as he admits himself, writing “Mostly I now ask myself whether a picture challenges me. Not surprisingly, most pictures don’t. I still take them.”

He then discusses his different reactions to the very different cities of Warsaw and Tokyo, which he ascribes to their different patina. Colberg rightly comments that as photographers we react to what we see and chose to photograph because of our “background, culture, society…” but I think I would equally stress that what we have in the world to react to is also a product of these aspects, a different culture, particularly in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of ideas about space and personal space.

Perhaps the most important picture I took in my early years as a photographer is one that I don’t think I have ever shown to anyone. Taken on a the building site of a new estate in Bracknell where I was then living, it showed a number of sewage pipes waiting to be installed. It wasn’t a great picture but it worried me because it stood out from the others I had taken that day and that in the terms that Colberg uses, it challenged me, though not at the point of taking, but when I saw it on the contact sheet and later as a print.

I couldn’t quickly find a copy of that picture, and I think it’s one I’ve never digitised, but probably neither you nor I would find it very interesting now, and if I had it to hand I probably wouldn’t have included it here. It wasn’t a bad picture – I was taking plenty of those – nor I think a particularly good picture but one that made me begin to think and study and change.

A black woman and a gorilla

Friday, July 24th, 2020

Photographers have often I think failed to pay sufficient regard to the people in their photographs. Its something that is particularly important because of the power differential that always exists between the person holding the camera and those being depicted. Its something implicit in the language of photography, when we use the metaphors of the gun or jailer, talking about ‘shooting’ or ‘capturing’ pictures, both terms I try hard to avoid. And particularly important where our work involved people of a different class or race.

It is a question that worried me greatly in my early years as a photographer, and explains why I made relatively few pictures of people in those years, outside my own circles of family, friends and communities, concentrating on the built environment. And it was why, though I had admired his earlier black and white work greatly, I felt considerable disquiet about the colour images of working class families holidaying on beaches which turned Martin Parr from a photographers’ photographer into a celebrity. They seemed the work of an intruder while previously he had worked within communities.

The years have somewhat mellowed my view of this work, and Parr has of course gone on to do so much more, including turning his camera on his own middle class, but I still find those pictures marred by class prejudice and I think that this was at least in part what led to their popularity in the media. But of course we have seen far worse by other photographers here and around the world, and Parr is in many ways one of the good guys of photography, through the foundation he set up to encourage young and emerging photographers from all backgrounds and one whose advice encouraged me on several occasions in my early years in photography.

I wasn’t until very recently aware of the work of Italian photographer Gian Butturini and his 1969 book on London, reissued in 2017 with the text ‘Edited by Martin Parr‘ on the cover. It’s the kind of European approach popular at the time when I first began as a photographer and which I set out in total opposition to in terms of its graphic nature and quest for instant impact rather than a more serious consideration of the subject. I’ve not seen the book, only those images I’ve seen on line, and not seen the particular pairing of images of a black woman and a gorilla at London Zoo a which so shocked student Mercedes Baptiste Halliday when she was given the book as a present that she began her 18-month campaign against the book which she says is “appallingly racist.”

Parr has now said he was ashamed of his association with the book and that he deeply regrets his failure to appreciate its racist implications, something Halliday points out is hard to understand from a visually literate person. Parr also points out that the claim on the cover that he edited the book is incorrect as it he only supplied an introduction to what is otherwise a facsimile of the photographer’s 1969 book. He has also said he will donate the fee he received to charity and has called for the book to be removed from sale and destroyed. It is no longer listed on the Damiani Editions web site.

The book and Parr have come into the news as the campaign has led to both the public apology from Parr and his decision to stand down as the artistic director of the first Bristol Photo Festival. But last year’s protests by Halliday outside Parr’s show at the National Portrait Gallery were brushed aside and ignored by the photographic establishment. Perhaps it was the decision by the photography students from the University of the West of England to cancel their end-of-year show at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol that precipitated Parr’s decision.

One supporter of Halliday has been Benjamin Chesterton, known to many in photography and film for his ‘duckrabbit’ blog which I’ve mentioned here on several occasions. Last month he made a post which looked critically at his own family’s history, ‘Our skin in the slave trade. Uncle Sir John Moore and I.‘ which – as ever – is well worth reading. The Guardian quotes him in its article about Parr and the Butturini case as making the very salient point, “The question remains why is it down to a black teenager to confront one of the UK’s leading photographers and curators?”

The Power of Photography

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

One series of pictures posted through the current lockdown that has often interested or amused me is by Peter Fetterman; in ‘The Power of Photography‘. To see them all in the order he posted them, open the page and scroll down to the very bottom to see the first image, ‘The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, C. 1860′.

But before you scroll, read his introduction at the top of the page which I reproduce here:

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to introduce a new online series called the Power of Photography, highlighting hope, peace, and love in the world. With every entry, I’ll share personal reflections on my favorite images. I invite you to enjoy and reflect on these works during this time.

Peace & Love,

Peter Fetterman

The Power of Photography

Clicking on each of the images will give you more details about it – in this case that it is by an anonymous photographer and is a 9.75×9.75 inch vintage albumen print – and rather curiously is “Copyright The Artist” who as well as being anonymous is certainly long dead and whose copyright will have expired many years ago.

The negative from which it was printed will I think have been made using the wet plate process, which while it had considerable limitations and required a great deal of manipulative skill was in some respects the absolute pinnacle of the photographic process, with detail and resolution limited only by the lenses of the day. You can enlarge the on-screen image by clicking on it, but it then seems rather soft. Since all printing was by contact, the demand on lenses was not extreme, though you can clearly see some softening towards the edges in this and many images of the time. The print appears to be in excellent condition for its age, though there is clearly some fading at top right, but digital representations are often misleading.

Actually I think the images like this are best seen in reproduction, when some discrete retouching can help to repair the minor ravages of time and restore as best we can the original vision of the photographer, which is of more interest to me than the object.

Strangely the second image of the series seems to be missing, though you will probably have little difficulty in bringing “The Steerage” into your mind. There are other iconic images too, such as Cartier-Bresson’s 1938 ‘On the Banks of the Marne’.

But not all of the pictures are well-known and quite a few entirely new to me and by photographers I have not previously heard of, such as the beautiful Small Apples, 1984 by Finnish photographer Kristoffer Albrecht.

I don’t always share Peter Fetterman’s enthusiasms, but it is good to read the comments of someone so obviously enthusiastic about our medium – and to discover we have at least something in common outside of our interest in photography. So here is a little piece of London he may recognise.

Dobells, Records, Tower Court, Camden, 1987 87-2d-63-positive_2400
Dobell’s Records, Tower Court, Camden, London 1987

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

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


Lockdown, Legend and Value

Monday, July 20th, 2020

I have to admit that during the lockdown I have become very much centred around my own work and interests. Not feeling able to get out an meet other people and not being able to travel to my favourite areas have cut me off not just physically but also mentally from much of my outside involvements.

Because of my age and medical condition I don’t yet feel able to re-engage with the world in anything like the old ways, though I have made three short trips on public transport and visited when necessary several shops, of course suitably masked. And I am still in daily contact with many friends on Facebook as well as rather fewer through phone calls and online events,

But I still feel very withdrawn from many areas, and in particular from the world of photography. With very few exceptions I just can’t get interested in the various lockdown projects and online magazines and shows that have sprung onto the web. This morning I realised that it’s almost three weeks since I last went through the long list of web sites and blogs, many photographic, that I usually skim through every few days for items of interest or controversy and that in the past have often led me to express my thoughts on this blog.

It took quite a while to skim through hundreds if not thousands of articles and posts, though for most a quick glimpse or even the headline was enough for me to move on. There were just a few that interested me enough to stop and read more, and just a few to the very end. Military historian Charles Herrick in a 3 part post on A D Coleman’s Photocritic International comprehensively demolishes another of the confabulations about D-Day photographs, the legend of the duffel bag full of film from the beaches being dropped and lost at sea during transfer to a ship. As usual there are also other posts on the site of interest.

Joerg Colberg too almost always has something worth reading, and in normal times I would probably have wanted to add my pennyworth to his piece The Print, the book, the screen. I can’t bring my mind to it, but here is one sentence which might encourage you to read and think about it and the value of any photograph:

“In the world of photography, the value is almost entirely based on commerce and on a generally unspoken and widely shared sense of elitism.”

As someone who has never been a part of that elite I can only agree, though I think there are other communities outside that of commercial art dealers and the associated museums of the art photography world that value photographs. But as Colberg makes clear, he is focusing on art photography ‘When you see the word “photography”, you will always want to add “art” in front of it.’

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that there were so many of the other photographs and articles I looked at briefly and felt entirely superfluous; ephemeral, inconsequential and with little to say.

But one particular feature from the British Journal of Photography, published around a week ago did attract me, Marigold Warner‘s article ‘Hackney in the 80s: Recovering a forgotten archive of working-class life’ about the 2016 rediscover in the basement of the Rio Cinema in Dalston, established as a community non-profit arts centre in 1979, which in 1982 set up a radical photography project for local unemployed people, teaching them to use a camera and sending them out to photograph the local communities. Their pictures were put together as newsreels and screened as a part of the cinema programmes, before the commercial ads.

Unfortunately the Kickstarter fund-raising for the production of a book of these pictures finished on the same day as the BJP published the story, but by then over £32,000 had been donated to finance it and it will appear in November – you can pre-order ‘The Rio Cinema Archive‘ now from Isola Press for £25.

It seems good value; in my scale of things, the value of these pictures is rather greater than at least most of what sells for high prices in expensive galleries.

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

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


Bill of Rights

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

If you’ve not yet seen it, you might like to look at the ‘Photo Bill of Rights‘ which has been written by people from a number of US based groups involved in visual journalism and editorial media, “the Authority Collective, Color Positive, Diversify Photo, The Everyday Projects, Juntos, the National Press Photographers Association, Natives Photograph, & Women Photograph.

There is little in it that I have any problem with, and much that has long been policy among groups such as the NPPA who contributed to it and have long had a code of ethics, or my own union, the NUJ.

It’s perhaps useful to restate the principles, but only if action follows, and although there are some well-known and well-regarded photographic organisations who have added their support to the over two thousand individual signatories I cannot find a single organisation that I or other photographers I know have actually worked for. And it is largely these organisations and the editors and buyers they employ who are responsible for unfair and discriminatory practices that still exist in the industry despite many years of work by photographers and photographers’ organisations.

It’s interesting to read the response to the NPPA by self-confessed “aging white male” photojournalist and long-term NPPA member David Burnett, who vehemently takes issue with the suggestion ‘that I, and the photojournalists of my generation, both women and men, set out to “colonize, disenfranchise, and dehumanize” either our photographic subjects, or other photographers, especially newcomers‘ and points out the the NPPA has through “virtually its entire existence” had in its Code of Ethics substantially similar underlying principles.

Burnett, a highly respected photographer and one of the co-founders of Contact Press Images, also points to the remarkable Trailblazers of Light web site which set out to put the record straight about the many hundreds of “professional women working in photojournalism for decades, both as editors and photographers“, created as a response to a not dissimilar ahistorical claim to this latest initiative.

He is “dismayed by the attitude of those who created this BoR, since it does little to honestly address many of the hiring inequities, and seems filled with triggering language which focuses instead on people in the field who have been working for decades. We do not, unfortunately, hire ourselves. As freelancers, we rely on editors and researchers, most of whom work for large companies (or the shell of those companies) and over which our power of persuasion is, more often than we’d like to admit, rather limited.”


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


Showing faces II

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

For a rather wider discussion of the issues involved in photographing protests and showing the faces of those taking part, you may like to read On Ethics, The First Amendment, and Photographing Protestors’ Faces by Allen Murabayashi.

It is of course in some respects a very US-centric article, talking about Trump and about the constitution. But I think it makes some of the reasons for the disagreements over the issue clear, and is worth reading.

Murabayashi gives his own opinion in two short paragraphs as the end of the piece:

To me, the real discussion shouldn’t be about the blurring or obscuring of faces, nor gaining consent of a subject. These are tactical choices, and in the U.S. there is simply no expectation of privacy in a public setting.

Instead, we ought to continue to consider how photography is used to portray others (particularly the vulnerable), and whether an image truly advances a story or simply acts as a signifier for the photo we should have taken.

Op cit

The link in the last sentence is to another piece by Murabayashi, The Photographic Phases of Depicting COVID-19, which is also an interesting read.


Showing Faces

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

Recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests have raised once more an old subject, with some protesters criticising or even attacking photographers for showing the faces of protesters in photographs.

When I’ve been criticised in the past for doing so, my response has usually been clear. If people are in public, and particularly if they are taking part in activities directed to the public – like protests – then they should expect to be photographed. If they do not wish to be identified they should wear masks and avoid distinctive clothing. Of course at the moment they should be wearing masks in any case.

It’s my job as a photographer and journalist to report. To tell a story as accurately and fully as I can. Of course in doing so I have to make choices, and sometimes I have deliberately chosen not to take particular photographs where I have thought they would distort the story. There have been occasions when – for various reasons – I’ve been asked not to take or publish pictures of particular individuals, and where there have been good (or legal) reasons I’ve gone along with this.

I admire Yunghi Kim for her photography and for the support she has given to other photographers in various ways – including the Yunghi Grants. She has written a longer and better expressed piece about the subject, “Is agreeing NOT to show a person’s face against the ethics of journalism?” which I commend to you.


My old slides

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

I took my first colour pictures years before I was a photographer. I’d long had an interest in photography, assiduously reading Amateur Photographer from cover to cover in the local library each week and around the age of 13 had saved pennies from my very limited pocket money each week, finally managing to buy a Halina 35x, which looked like a real camera. But it was around 4 years later that I could afford to buy my first film and send it away for processing, an Ilford black and white film which was returned with 36 postcard-size deckle-edge lustre prints, mainly of ancient oak trees in Richmond Park, though one of my father in our back garden in tie and cardigan uneasily holding a garden fork still adorns an oval hole in one of those family composites put together by my wife on our landing.

But the second film I took, I think the following year, was Agfa colour transparency. Most or all of it was taken of a girlfriend, an aspiring model, sitting in a blossom covered peach tree (grown from a stone) again in our back garden. I’m not sure if any have survived and the romance certainly didn’t, perhaps largely because as a penniless student I didn’t have a sports car and couldn’t take her to clubs, restaurants and pubs like the older men she met.

For the next few years I was a film a year man, a roll of colour transparencies taken on holidays and outings. I did take a couple of rolls of black and white when still a penniless student, but my photography was rather more curtailed when I dropped the camera in the lake at Versailles on my first overseas holiday, a week in a student hostel on the outskirts of Paris with my future wife. Fished out after some minutes underwater it never worked reliably again, the leaf shutter closing when it felt like it rather than following the set speed.

Around five years later I could afford to replace it with a cheap Russian SLR, and by then I’d also taken a short darkroom course and was living in a flat where I could set up a temporary darkroom in the kitchen to develop film and make black and white prints and my photography really began. But I continued to take the occasional colour slide film, mainly still for holidays. And by the time I really began photography seriously I was usually carrying two camera bodies, one with black and white and the second colour film.

Until 1985, all of that colour film was transparency film, partly because at that time most publications would only accept slides, and I aspired to have my pictures published event if they seldom where. Most of it, largely on cost grounds, was in those early years taken on film which used the E3 process, and it hasn’t aged well. E4 which replaced it towards the end of the ’70s has done better and what little Kodachrome I took (it was more expensive) best of all. Of course my slides have been stored in far from ideal conditions at home which will have accelerated their ageing.

Thanks to the Covid lockdown, I have managed to complete the scanning of all those slides which I can find which seem worth scanning. A few in the past were scanned on a proper film scanner at around 20 minutes per image; a few years ago I found I could get acceptable results from my Epson 750PRO flatbed (though only by not using its automatic location which crops unacceptably) but have now found a bellows and macro-lens much faster and better. Retouching to remove spots and mould can still be time-consuming, and I’ll only do this when I need to use the images. I’ve found little if any gain in cleaning the slides other than with an air blower – and using cleaning fluids and cloths seems to make those in card mounts even dirtier.

At the end of last month I wrote a little about a cycle ride up the Loire valley with some pictures on Kodachrome from 1975. The pictures in this post are from Paris in 1973 and have survived better than most I took in the early years. You can see them larger by right-clicking and choosing to open them in a new tab.


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

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