Archive for the ‘Photo Issues’ Category

£50 Lottery

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

Although it’s for a good cause, I probably won’t be buying one of the 1,250 tickets available matching the number of postcard-sized photographs showing from 12th- 25th October at Theprintspace in Shoreditch. Though it would mean getting a unique print will be an edition of one with a signed certificate of authenticity I’m not sure what I would do with it, and although there are some excellent pictures in those I’ve so far seen, there are also a number I certainly wouldn’t like – and this is a lottery.

But I also don’t like the idea of limited editions of any size in photography. I’m happy to get photographs from other charities I donate to, but they come in mass-printed magazines and handouts that, after reading and appreciating I happily recycle. But I’d find it hard to put a limited edition print in the rubbish, and feel if I intended to sell it on eBay that maybe it isn’t charity but a money-making exercise.

Of course The Hepatitis C Trust is a worthy cause, and their aim to eliminate Hepatitis C from the UK by the year 2030 deserves support. And if this exhibition encourages more people to donate £50 its a good thing, but somehow it just doesn’t feel my thing. I kind of hope it is yours, which is why I’m writing about it.

I read about Photography on a Postcard today on It’s Nice That, an organisation that “believes passionately that creative inspiration is for everyone” and publishes on the web and in print and organises events including a monthly Nicer Tuesdays in Bethnal Green, London.

I’d also read about it earlier on the British Journal of Photography, which has a longer article with more pictures, but which rather put me off the idea of buying a ticket.

I can’t find anything about it on Theprintspace web site, though I’m sure it will appear their shortly. I’ve several times used them to make prints and always been satisfied with them and the prices are pretty keen, though not the cheapest. You can actually buy three of my Bow Creek prints from the Cody Dock show through them, though rather more expensively than the postcards – but they are larger prints.

You can see all the photographers and around half of the cards (some photographers donated several images) at the Photography on a Postcard site, where you can also buy your £50 lottery ticket. The computerised draw is on on Monday 30 October.

Perhaps I might…I think I’ve almost persuaded myself. But don’t delay as I’m sure the tickets will sell out soon – probably by later today after I publish this!

Business as Usual

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

One of the reasons I post here about my work on My London Diary earlier in the year is to check up on that web site. In some ways its a rather primitive site, a throw-back to the early days of the web, entirely hand-coded, though usually with the aid of an ancient version of the best WYSIWYG software, though now that outdated description ‘What You See Is What You Get’ no longer really applies, and what I see when I’m writing the pages is very different to the web view.

I first designed the site back in 2001, and even then it was somewhat archaic, reflecting my views on simple web design at at time when flash bang and wallop was infecting the web, largely running on our relatively slow connections that weren’t ready for it. Designing image-loaded sites like this that were reasonably responsive was something of a challenge, and needed relatively small images carefully optimised for size, with just a small number on each page.

Although the site still has the same basic logical structure, times and the site have changed a little to reflect the much higher bandwidth most of us now enjoy, with several re-designs and many more images per page, as well as slightly larger and less compressed images. Size is now more a problem of controlling use (or abuse) of images than download time, and new images are now always watermarked, if fairly discretely. The latest small changes in design have been to make the pages ‘mobile friendly’ without essentially changing their look.

I suspect that My London Diary is one of the largest hand-coded sites on the web – with over 150,000 images on over 10,000 web pages. But the simple site design means the great majority of the time involved in putting new work online isn’t actually the web stuff, but editing the images and writing the text and captions, so there is little incentive for me to move away from hand-coding.

But I’m not really a writer of web sites (though I have quite a few as well as My London Diary) or this blog but a photographer and though My London Diary is important in spreading my work and ideas, it has to fit in with that. Often the web site gets written late at night or when I have a little time to spare before rushing to catch a train, and often I have to stop in the middle of things to run to the station – or fall asleep at the keyboard. So while in theory I check everything, correct my spelling and typos, make sure all the links are correct and so on, there are always mistakes. And just occasionally my ISP has something of a hiccough and puts back an earlier version of a page or loses or corrupts an image (though they deny it.)

This morning I opened the pages on End homophobic bullying at LSE , the first protest I covered after returning from Hull, only to find I’d not put any captions on them, not even adding the spaces between pictures for them to go in. So before I started to write about them I had work to do.

Otherwise I might have had more to say about the pictures. Yet again how useful the fisheye can sometimes be, or about reflections in pictures or to fulminate against homophobia, the failure of LSE management to live up to the pricinciples the instituion espouses, the inherently evil nature of out-sourcing and the need to treat everyone with dignity and respect and to pay a proper living wage. But today you can relax and take that as read.

The pictures are workmanlike, they serve a purpose, do the job, but it wasn’t one of my better days. Dull weather perhaps didn’t help, but sometimes the magic just doesn’t happen. The following day was perhaps a little better (I’ll let you decide) and certainly much busier, with pictures from five events.

I started with Shut race-hate LD50 gallery, a crowd outside the place which they say “has been responsible for one of the most extensive neo-Nazi cultural programmes to appear in London in the last decade” ,  but didn’t really offer a great deal to photograph. The gallery itself was on the first floor above  a shuttered shopfront, and had clearly had a brick through a window, and there were a couple of arguments outside, but mainly it was scattered people standing in small groups on the street.

Trying to do too much, I arrived late and left early for the Picturehouse recognition & living wage protest in front of the Leicester Square Empire.  There’s a pleasant symmetry in the picture above, but I missed the scrum later when Jeremy Corbyn arrived to give his support.

It’s always difficult to know when to leave (or arrive) at events, and photographers spend many hours standing around waiting. But I’m impatient by nature and sometimes miss things. Other times I find a place to sit and read a book, and if its a decent book have been known to miss the action.

But I was in Brixton, meeting Beti, a victim of gentrification and social cleansing, not in her case by one of the mainly Labour London councils but the Guiness Trust, formed by a great-grandson of the brewery founder in 1890 to provide affordable housing and care for the homeless of London and Dublin and now as The Guinness Partnership owning 65,000 homes in England.

Betiel Mahari lived in one of these with her family on the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton for ten years, paying a ‘social ‘ rent but was never given a secure tenancy. Guiness demolished her flat in 2015, giving her a new flat a few miles away in Kennington – but at a hugely increased ‘affordable’ rent, going up from £109 per week to £265.  The move meant too she was unable to keep her full-time job as a restaurant manager, and is now on a zero-hours contract as a waitress and facing eviction as she cannot pay the increased rent.  DWP incompetence meant that her benefits were suspended completely for three months (and on zero hours contracts the benefits have to be re-assessed every three months in any case) and Guiness were taking her to court over rent arrears.

The case was heard around 10 days later and as thrown out by the judge who ordered the Guiness Partnership to pay Beti’s court costs, but the struggle to get this rapacious ‘social’ Landlord to treat her and others in similar straits continues. I was pleased to be able to support her, though not entirely happy with the pictures at Stop Unfair Eviction by Guinness, which also include some of Brixton Arches.

I arrived back in Westminster just in time to meet the Khojaly marchers coming down Whitehall to end their protest in front of Parliament.  Few of us will remember the massacre on the night of 25-26 February 1992 when Armenian forces brutally killed 613 civilians in the town of Khojaly, including 106 women and 83 children, but the name Nagorno-Karabakh  may prompt some memories. In 25th anniversary of Khojaly Massacre I try to give a little background to the still unresolved situation.

But I was on my way to an event marking the shameful failure of Theresa May and her government to take the action demanded by Parliament to bring the great majority of the refugee children stranded at Calais and similar camps into this country. By passing the Dubs Amendment, Parliament made its view clear and it reflects a failure of our constitution that there seems to be no legal mechanism to force the Tory government to carry this out. This is truly a stain on our country’s history and May and her cabinet deserve to be behind bars for this crime against humanity.

Dubs Now – let the children in

(more…)

Finsbury Park Again

Monday, September 25th, 2017

I walked past the New River on what seemed a long march on Saturday, against the London Borough of Haringey’s intention to give away a couple of billion pounds of public property to a rather doubtful Australian property developer. It’s a course of action that should be criminal, but unfortunately our laws are seldom written to protect the rights of ordinary people, many of whom will lose their homes as a result.

Haringey’s plan, being pushed through by a small group of Labour councillors and officials is unusual only in its scale; one poster being carried on the march listed over a hundred council estates in London that Labour councils either have or intend to hand over to private developers (who now include housing associations) with an almost complete loss of truly affordable social housing, a process they call ‘regeneration’ but which is more accurately described as social cleansing. It’s really long past time the Labour party put it’s house and its housing policies in order.

Of course local government in the UK has always been rife with corruption, a curious mixture of public service and private gain, with the private interests of councillors and their relatives often profiting from public decisions. It was doubtless so in the Victorian era, though at least then it was tempered by a great deal of municipal pride which provided some fine public buildings – and more recently at least in some areas by the building of flagship council estates, like the Heygate in Southwark and Central Hill in Lambeth which I’ve written about here in the past.

And back then there was perhaps some satisfaction for those people thrown out of their homes with nowhere to go in the feeling that those responsible might eventually get their just reward in the fires of Hell, whereas nowadays they are more likely to end up on hefty expenses in the House of Lords.

But more of that in a later post, after I’ve put the picture from the march onto My London Diary, currently stuck somewhere in early August.  But walking along the street I suddenly remembered I’d been here before.

Back in 2002, I was busy with my Hasselblad X-Pan in and around FInsbury Park, having recently acquired the 30mm lens which changed it from a panoramic format camera into a true panoramic camera. There seemed to me to be little point in using the camera with the standard lens, although the larger negative (24mm high and 65 mm wide) did produce medium format quality on 35mm film. The 30mm f5.6 gives a horizontal angle of view of 94 degrees, about the maximum that makes sense with a rectilinear perspective, with any larger angle of view the elongation of subjects at the image edges becomes unbearable.

If you are wondering, the 45mm is roughly equivalent ot a 25mm lens on a 35mm full-frame camera, while the 30mm equates to 16.7mm. And while I’ve used wider full-frame lenses, including the remarkable Sigma 12-24mm zoom, anything less than 16mm is almost always better done with a fisheye.

Most of the 36 images on the Finsbury Park mini-site were taken using the 30mm lens, which came with its own viewfinder, and a filter to even out exposure across the frame. Although the centre of the film when focused at infinity (as all these pictures probably were) was only 30mm from the film, the extreme edges are almost 44mm away, and receive slightly over a stop less light, though lens design probably makes the difference even greater. With colour negative film the centre spot filter was essential, though you could use the camera for black and white without and compensate in the darkroom.

One of the images from this set, of the New River, won a small competition and now hangs on my bedroom wall, though it wasn’t my personal favourite of the set. On Saturday I didn’t quite make the march as far as Finsbury Park. Photographing a march is considerably more physically tiring than simply walking, involving a lot of hurrying to and fro, a little climbing on walls and too much walking backwards, and I also find it mentally tiring, and buy the time we reached Manor Park I needed to rest.

More panoramas from Finsbury Park though the print prices are rather out of date.

(more…)

Flares at King’s

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Photographing people holding flares is something of a hit or miss thing, with rather a lot of unpredictable behaviour. There are the people holding the flares, and protesters movements are often fairly unpredictable, but smoke is also peculiarly so. And if you actually get in the smoke, camera exposure metering gets pretty unhinged too and it can also be difficult to focus.

Though I usually like to get as close as possible for most of my pictures (though I know it often pays to stand back a little for a wider view) it seldom works to get too close to people holding smoke flares – and can be quite uncomfortable too. The smoke isn’t good for the lungs or the eyes and has an unpleasant smell, and very close contract can result in burns and stains on clothing that are hard to remove.

It isn’t I think illegal to set off smoke flares, although police and government web sites state it is. The relevant law is clear that it is only an offence “if in consequence a user of the highway is injured, interrupted or endangered” and I think that would be hard to show in this case. But of course, I’m not a lawyer.

Another case where laws are often invoked against protesters is for the use of chalk and other easily removed markings on roadways, pavements and walls. Police during this protest talked with and asked for names and addresses of some of those who painted with chalk on the wall of King’s College. It’s had to prove ‘criminal damage’ when a simple wipe of a damp sponge – or even the rain – will remove it, though at least one protester was convicted for this a year or two back at the University of London Senate House – and a specialist cleaning company apparently got paid hundreds of pounds for a few seconds wielding a damp rag.
The organiser of this protest, PhD student Roger Hallam had been suspended for writing “Divest From Oil and Gas Now. Out of Time!” in spray chalk at an earlier protest, and in response at this event there was a great deal of displaying messages by other non-permanent methods, as well as a few who chose to deliberately paint washable coloured dots.

There is so far as I’m aware no law relating to the use of balloons on the public highway, and the protesters took full advantage of this. It was just a little difficult to photograph the long line, and space was limited between the wall and he protesters as they moved to tape them onto it.

The aim of the protest was to persuade King’s College to end its investments in fossil fuels and switch to investments in renewable energy,  part of a London-wide divestment  campaign.

More at King’s College Divest Oil & Gas Now!

(more…)

Trump & May

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Mobile phones are a mixed blessing. I don’t like the thought that your every movement can be tracked whenever you carry one, though it was very useful when I left mine on a bus earlier this year – and was able to watch it slowly moving along the map towards the depot, from where a couple of days later I collected it. But as a journalist I don’t like the idea that the police can now track my movements – and would like it even less if I was working in some foreign countries.

And on my recent holiday it was great to be able to see my own position on the OS map I’d bought and downloaded to the phone, something I used far more than the paper copy. This year, rather unusually I didn’t get lost at all.

But being available for people who know your phone number to contact you at any time – or at least when your phone is switched on and has battery – is not always a good thing. Though much of the time when I’m actually working there is too much noise for me to hear (or notice a vibration) from the phone in my pocket.


Dawn Butler MP

At lunchtime on 4th Feb I was more or less at the front of a densely-packed crowd in front of the US embassy, in a good position to photograph the speakers at a rally calling for Trump to end his Muslim ban and for May to withdraw the invitation to a State Visit here. It was at a quiet moment in the proceedings when a refugee poet was reading one of her works that I heard a faint ringing and answered the call.

It was my wife, and she was locked out as the lock on our back door would not open with her key. And she wasn’t well, or I might have stayed to finish the job before making the fairly long trip home, but I began walking to the bus stop as I talked to her, abandoning the protest. An hour and a quarter later I found my key didn’t work either, but fortunately I had the keys to the front entrance which did. More bad news was that we needed a locksmith who came, couldn’t open the lock and had to use a jemmy and then an angle grinder to cut through the lock and fit a new one. It wasn’t cheap.

Fortunately I’d already taken enough pictures to file a decent story, including probably the two most important speakers, Brent Labour MP Dawn Butler, shadow minister for diverse communities before she resigned to vote against the Brexit Bill and NUT General Secretary Kevin Courtney, and plenty of the protesters and their placards – it was a protest that brought out wit and obscenities – so I was able to file a decent story, though I had to miss the march to Whitehall and the further rally there.

It’s often the case with marches than the best opportunities for pictures are before they start, when people are often more closely packed and a little less organised. Back when I photographed some carnival processions with a few of my photographer friends we would usually pack up and go the the pub as the procession began. And for many of the longer political marches in London don’t walk the whole way.

Taking photographs means a lot of walking backwards as well forwards, going too and fro, and is considerably more tiring than simply marching. And as I usually want to cover marchers at the back as well as at the front (and those in-between) with large marches I try to find a convenient point to take the tube to the destination.

I often see other photographers standing around talking with each other before a protest starts, and while I like to be sociable (and often we have useful information to exchange) I sometimes feel they are missing opportunities and will leave them and get on with the job. And at some marches there are some photographers who only photograph the people carrying the banner at the front and just walk ahead of this all the way. It’s seldom a place to get the most interesting pictures.

And a small note to event organisers. A red roof to the stage is not a good idea. It really doesn’t provide a good background and it bathes the speakers in red light which isn’t flattering. Please chose a fairly neutral colour, perhaps a light or mid grey.  18% would help with our exposures!

More pictures at: No Muslim Ban, No State Visit.

(more…)

Trump, Trump

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

There is a particularly Stygian gloom in front of the US Embassy, as if by some secret technology they are able to extract light from the area for when protests are taking place, but the under-exposure of the image above was more down to my fidgety thumb, always a problem when I work in shutter priority mode. I’d set the shutter speed to 1/60 when I gave up working without flash, but gradually the setting had been nudged up as I walked around taking pictures. While I was still using flash, or in areas where there was movie lighting it wasn’t a problem and things looked fine on the camera back when I bothered to check. The frame before this one was exposed at 1/400th f4, and while the background is dark, the foreground figures are well exposed (a little too well) by the flash.But for this I needed the shadow, and so off went the flash and I took the picture by ambient light; 1/400th at f4, ISO3200. Of course I usually deliberately under-expose at night – it doesn’t look dark otherwise, but this was another three stops less, and three stops too far. When I saw later what I had done, Charlie’s comment below the red button he was carrying seemed rather apt.

Even with a lot of noise reduction and burning and dodging it really is just a little too far out, though I could probably improve a little. You can see the purple that covers highly underexposed shadow areas in quite a few areas of the picture, and further retouching could reduce this, as well as apllying some more local noise reduction in some areas.

It was the night of President Trump’s inauguration and there didn’t seem to be a great deal of celebration going on at the Embassy, but the was a sizeable crowd protesting outside – and more in Trafalgar Square where I went later.

Perhaps the poster this woman in pink was holding up in the flower beds in front of the embassy, ‘Dear Queen, We’re Sorry. Take Us back? Love, An American‘ was rather widespread.

There were some speeches, and a large crowd gathered around the tented platform from which they were being made. But a strong fluorescent tube light just behind the speakers head made trying to photograph the speakers unrewarding, and the posters seemed more eloquent. Many in the crowd probably thought so too, or perhaps it was just too crowded to get near enough to hear, but they spread out over a wide area in front of the embassy – the booth from which speeches were made was out of the picture above to the left.

Here’s another picture of Trump, Trumping thanks to Charlie X. The speeches were still trundling on when I left to see what was happening in Trafalgar Square, where a protest had also been called.

The answer when I arrived was not very much, though there was a giant orange Trump head and groups of protesters rather scattered around the square, with Heritage wardens telling them they were not allowed to protest there. The protest there had not really begun, and I decided I’d had enough and left.

Later I heard that things did get going some time after I went home, and that there had been several arrests after protesters had come under an unprovoked attack from the police.

Crowds protest Trump’s Inauguration
F**k Trump
(more…)

Nigerian Flights

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

On Wednesday Jan 11th I joined Movement for Justice at their protest outside the Nigerian High Commisison in Shaftesbury Avenue, always one of London’s gloomiest streets, lined with tall buildings and large trees. Darkness was falling anyway as the protest began in late afternoon, and I set the D810 on Auto ISO with a minimum speed of 1/100th to take some pictures without flash. Working with the 28.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens the pictures were taken with the lens wide open and then the ISO went up to 4500 and then my maximum setting of 6400 and then the shutter speed began to drop. When it arrived at 1/40th I decided I had to use flash as these protests are fairly lively events.

I kept the ISO fairly high, generally around ISO2500 to keep a decent amount of exposure in the background and avoid a typical bad flash look, and changed to shutter priority (Nikon’s flash gets some crazy ideas in P mode, using the ISO setting to stop down the lens, which to me makes absolutely no sense.) I began with a shutter speed of 1/160, but as usually happens that slowly crept up as handling the camera jogged the main control dial.

On the wideangle images taken with the D750 and the 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 I’d forgotten to move the dial from ‘P’ to ‘S’ with the result that the first few images I took were at f11 (see above) and gave a typical background gloom with closer figures far too light. I could compensate partly by some burning in with the RAW files in Ligthroom, but it wasn’t ideal.

Fortunately I soon noticed the error and switched to working in A, aperture priority, mode. With the wide angle I’m less worried about shutter speed and decided I would get sufficient depth of field working more or less wide open, occasionally taking it down a half a stop or so. The 16-35 is a good performer wide open, but improved by just that little stopping down.

The Home Office arranges charter flights to Nigeria every couple of months, and to help with its figures isn’t fussy about who it decides to forcibly deport. Many are people who have been in the UK for most of their lives, with parents, partners and children here, as well as students who have not yet finished their courses, some are still in the course of making their claim for asylum, others people with serious health problems and carers for elderly and disabled relatives and some those who will face violence on their return, particularly if gay.

People don’t matter to the Home Office. They are just numbers in their racist ‘numbers game’.  The protest called on Nigeria to refuse to accept these flights

End Deportation Charter Flights to Nigeria

(more…)

Bangladesh and Harrods

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

My New Year’s Resolution to take things a little easier this year started well and it was not until Saturday 7th January that I picket up a camera with intent, traveling to Whitechapel in the East End, the centre of London’s Bangladeshi community, for the London event in a the global day of protest to save the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.

I’ve never been to Bangladesh, though in the past I’ve been invited and we now have parts of our wider family there through my son’s marriage last year. But it would be a very long way on a bicycle and I really would have to have some vital reason to justify the environmental cost of flying there.

The Sunderbans protest was all about the environment, and the loss of a unique habitat and the species it supports, including the Bengal Tiger, threatened by the development of a coal-fired power plant on its northern edge at Rampal. The development would be disastrous for this fragile ecosystem, and also another nail in the coffin of our world as a whole, increasing the production of greenhouse gases and reducing an important area for their absorption.

It’s difficult for me to understand why anyone should want to build a coal-fired poor station in an area with such a abundant supply of solar energy, with the cost of generating electricity from this falling at a huge rate. If it goes ahead by the time it is built it will be outdated technology – but of course the same will be true about our own fearfully expensive white elephant under construction at Hinkley Point.

More at Save the Sunderbans Global Protest.

The journey from Whitechapel to Harrods was from one side of London to the other – East End to West End – and to very different issues, though I suppose still at base about the greed of the wealthy, who profit from wrecking the environment and also from stealing the waiter’s tips.

United Voices of the World were protesting outside Harrods on behalf of the many waiters who are paid on or a few pence above the minimum wage in an establishment that caters for the ultra-rich. When these diners leave tips for the waiters they expect them to go to to the waiters and catering staff – but much of them instead was going to swell the profits of the owners, probably the richest family in the worlds, the Qatari royal family.

The action by the UVW was supported from its inception by Class War, who turned up with a couple of banners and helped to make the protest even more noticeable. It was perhaps the reputation of Class War that aroused a huge reaction from the police and the interests of some of the press, and the policing was really at extreme levels, with officers on all sides of the block containing the store and vans parked in all the side-streets around, considerably outnumbering the protesters. Harrods too seemed to have a large number of extra security officers on duty inside the store.

Officers came and told the protesters that if they entered the store to protest they would immediately be arrested for aggravated trespass. Some had already gone inside earlier, hiding leaflets about the protest in places where customers and staff would find them later, and had left undetected.

Class War’s methods were more direct, though largely street theatre rather than posing any real threat to property. There was a struggle to open the main doors, and to cover them with their banner to stop those inside filming the protesters, but mainly a lot of shouting and dancing.

And there was very much a clash of cultures, which seemed to me to be summed up by the expression on the face of one well-dressed woman on seeing some of Class War’s more distinctive characters.

The protesters moved off the pavement onto the Brompton Rd in front of the store and were intending to march around the block, but police surrounded them and kept them blocking the road for some time, urging them to go back onto the pavement when they would probably have moved away much more quickly. Eventually the police gave up pushing and threatened to arrest anyone who stayed in the road and the protest moved back to block the pavement. One woman standing on the curb was arrested for arguing with the police that she was on the pavement, and a few minutes later police snatched another who they accused of letting off a smoke flare earlier.

The protesters moved to a wide pedestrian are at the corner of the building for a short rally and then brought the protest to an end, and people, including myself left. Later I heard that as the UVW was packing up police came and arrested four of them including the UVW General Secretary Petros Elia. They were kept in cells at Belgravia police station for up to 18 hours before being released without charge (though the guy accused of letting off a flare apparently accepted a police caution) but on police bail with a condition that they were not to go within 50 metres of Harrods.

These arrests of trade unionists seemed a clear abuse of police powers and a clear demonstration of whose side the police were on. I commented at the time:

It appears to be a deliberate abuse of the law to try to stop protests at Harrods – however legitimate these may be. Harrods and their owners, the Qatari royal family have many friends in high places including the Foreign Office and presumably these were able to put pressure on the police to take action against the protesters.

Many more pictures at: Harrods stop stealing waiters’ tips.

(more…)

M4-15

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

People often say things about it being a nice day to take photographs when its bright and sunny with a clear blue sky, but such days, welcome though they are for other reasons, especially in winter, are ones that photographers dread, with sun from a low angle, deep shadows and ridiculous contrast.

And December 22nd was one of those days, and I left home knowing things were likely to be tricky as I walked to the station. The trial of the Rising Up “M4-15” who had blocked the motorway spur into the airport in a protest against Heathrow expansion was taking place at Ealing Magistrates Court, and a protest in solidarity was starting there rather early in the morning.

I seldom do early mornings. For me its one of the perks of being my own boss and doing what I like to have a reasonably leisured start to the day, and in any case catching an early train doubles the fares. I decided arriving a little after 10am would be plenty early enough, and although the protest had been going for a while I hadn’t missed anything of importance. Many of those coming to the event had made a similar assumption too.

While there were a few things to photograph, the event only really got going later, and like almost everything to do with courts there was a lot of waiting around. And waiting around.


John Stewart’s head could have done with a little less exposure

You can see my problems with the light in a few pictures. Some of them could have been solved by using fill-flash, but others it would have created worse problems, so although I’d had the flash in my bag I hadn’t used it. There are some situations where the flash creates a very different atmosphere and this event, largely very informal, was one of them.

I like to keep things technically as simple as possible when I’m taking pictures, and the Exif data on every picture I took reads Mode: P, Meter: Matrix, No Flash, Auto WB. It’s mainly amateurs who express surprise that I usually work using Program mode, but it works and the dial under my thumb lets me chose a faster speed or a slower one for a wider aperture should I think it necessary. 99% of the time it gives the result I want without my having to pause and think about it.

Nikon’s matrix metering is pretty good too, though I usually have a third of a stop underexposure set to keep a little more of the highlights, I should probably have made that two or even three thirds for the high contrast light, as just occasionally I lost important highlights. Shadows don’t matter much as there is always more you can dig out from the RAW file in Lightroom.

I do sometimes use spot metering (or at least what Nikon call spot.) Back in the days of film I used it most of the time, both the spot metering of the Olympus OM system (surely the OM4 remains the best camera of all time for exposure metering) and also a handheld spot meter, because you needed to be precise, especially with transparency film, and even with black and white I enjoyed placing the key value on the Zone where I wanted it. But spot metering requires you think about it, and when you forget to change back to matrix produces some very uneven results, as I’ve too often proved.

Technically, digital cameras are almost certainly more clever than I am and, so long as you keep the highlights, allow you to play almost infinitely back on the PC with print exposure and contrast. I’m happy to put the camera on P and do that stuff while I concentrate on content and framing. As I’ve often joked, ‘P’ stands for Professional.

Eventually the 14 defendants had to go into court and those of us who didn’t want to go in with them were left standing outside. I don’t like having to hand all my camera gear over so I stayed out. And waited.

Not for all that long, as courts break early for lunch, and the defendants came out and some spoke. They were in good spirits as they felt things had gone well for those who had pleaded guilty but whose solicitor had been allowed to make clear that they were “but only guilty of standing up to climate injustice”.

I’d been hanging around long enough and left when they went back into court and only heard the verdict and sentences later in the day. The 12 who pleaded guilty were all given ‘conditional discharges’, and had to pay £20 victim surcharge and £85 prosecution costs. The cases of the two who had pleaded ‘not guilty’ were adjourned. The Daily Mail clearly didn’t like the verdict, but would probably not have been satisfied with anything less than them being hung, drawn and quartered.

See more at Heathrow “M4-15″protesters at court

(more…)

Yarls Wood 10

Monday, August 14th, 2017


Detainees inside who could get to the windows welcomed the protest

Nothing expresses the racist and and oppressive state of our country more obviously than our immigration detention centres and the whole state apparatus for harassing asylum seekers and refugees. People fleeing violence and persecution, often rape and attacks flee to the UK and are greeting with a Home Office wall of disbelief. While in our legal system you are innocent until proved guilty, for migrants the system works in reverse; the Home Office assumes that they are liars and cheats unless they can produce evidence to prove their claims – and evidence is often impossible to provide.


Detainees in Yarl’s wood are subjected to rape, sexual abus and mental torture

Routinely gay asylum seekers are told they are not gay – and sent back to countries where they will face danger and violence because they are gay, Some have to go into hiding, others commit suicide rather than return or after they arrive home.

Others who came here when young or even may have been born here are told they have no right to be in this country – and are sent to countries they may never have been in and where they have no families or friends, removing them and splitting up families living in the uk.

Increasingly under Theresa May and now Amber Rudd as Home Secretary it has become simply a numbers game, trying in any way possible to cut down the number of migrants without regard to personal circumstances or hardship, using mass deportation charter flights to send people to Nigeria and elsewhere, including many whose asylum claims are still being processed.


People climb up to show placards and balloons and speak to the detainees

Our immigration prisons are now officially called ‘removal centres’, although many who are held in them will have a legitimate right to remain here. The name change reflects the aim to remove them – whether or not they will be able to prove a right to remain, as many still do.


Refugees to the UK are refused their rights in centres such as Yarl’s Wood

The protest on December 3rd was the 10th at this remote centre in Bedfordshire organised by Movement for Justice, and I think the ninth I’ve attended to photograph. It’s a journey of several hours, made easier on the protest days by a coach provided by MfJ from Bedford Station. Most of those held are effectively cut off from their friends and fellow migrants by the length of the journey and its cost – as most migrants live in urban centres and are poor if not destitute. MfJ also organise coaches from London, Birmingham and further afield for the protests and make it possible for refugees and others short of funds to make the journey. Otherwise it means an expensive train journey to Bedford followed by an over five mile taxi ride from the station.

I don’t cover events like this for the money – and seldom make enough to cover my costs from them – but because I think it important to record what is happening in our society and to make people aware of the issues and I want to do what I can to make that happen. I think the same is true for many of the other photographers there taking pictures.


Movement for Justice has led the fight to end immigration detention

Many of those who spoke – and could be heard by those inside the prison – were people who had spent time inside Yarl’s Wood or other detention centres. And a few inside were able to speak from inside using mobile phones – one of the few privileges detainees have over those in our normal prisons. These are prisons in all but name, but with the difference that none of those held knows what will happen to them. Some have been held for weeks, others for years, and many find themselves being taken from them and put on a flight home. Now these are mainly special chartered flights after passengers on regular flights objected to the forcible restraint of detainees on them, at times refusing to let the flights take off, clearly recognising the inhumanity involved.

These detention centres are also a threat hanging over refugees and asylum seekers living in our communities, who have to attend regularly to reporting centres. Every time they go it for these routine appointments they know they may be leaving in transport direct to Yarl’s Wood or another removal centre – sometimes returning from where they have previously been released. Inside these centres, run by private firms such as Serco, they are routinely refused their rights, bullied and poorly treated. Some have died because they have been refused medical treatment, others have been sexually abused.

These centres are a national disgrace, and a quite unnecessary punishment for those who have committed no crime and pose no threat to our society. They make it harder for the claims of those inside to be furthered and justice to be obtained. Any humane government would close them down and offer real help and support to asylum seekers in their place.

I took a great many pictures of the protest, and you can see a selection of them on My London Diary, as well as read a short account of the day in Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 10.
(more…)