Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Friday, August 18th, 2017

Cleaners were again on the street protesting, this time at King’s College, another of the leading colleges of London University, although as usual the problem arises because instead of King’s College employing cleaners they outsource the cleaning to a contractor, Servest. King’s doubtless feel they have to treat all employees with dignity and respect and give them decent condition of work and terms of service, but cleaning contractors seem generally happy to treat their workers with contempt, employing poor managers without proper supervision, and giving their workers low pay and unreasonable workloads and cutting things like pensions, sick pay and holidays to the minimum they can.

Cleaners at Kings belong to one of our major trade unions, Unison, and the union and Servest have been in talks at ACA, but haven’t manage to resolve the issues and Servest’s response had been to write to all of the cleaners wanting them thatthey intend to ‘restructure’ the workforce and that all of their jobs are at risk.

The warning letter came just a few weeks before Christmas, a time when family budgets are always under extreme stress, just about the worst Christmas present the workers could imagine. They felt that Servest, like Dr Suess’s Grinch, was trying to steal Christmas – and their jobs – away from them.

It seemed to be a pretty inept piece of management by Servest, with the union members about to vote on strike action, almost guaranteeing that there would be close to 100% support for this in the ballot – and it was no surprise to find 98% of them backing strike action. They also received great support from students and staff, with more than 50 academics at King’s signing a letter in support of their dispute, protesting at how the cleaners were being treated.

Although the pavement in front of Kings is wider than most, it got pretty crowded, making it a little hard to work as a photographer, and my wide angle lens was essential much of the time.

But it’s important to try an vary the views, and I tried hard to also use a longer lens, concentrating on individuals or small groups with the 28-200mm in DX mode. At the 28mm end this gives an effective 42mm, more or less a standard lens for full frame. The 50mm we usually consider as the standard is actually just a little on the long side, simply because in the early years of 35mm cameras it was a little easier to make lenses of that focal length rather than the image diagonal of 43mm (and the image diagonal is more generally the normal ‘standard’ focal length.)

It was a fairly dull winter’s day and the tall buildings around cut down the light; although it was lunchtime I found myself increasing the ISO to 1600 once the rally really got going. Although Unison is a rather more traditional British union the cleaners and their supporters soon increased the tempo and noise to match that of the grass roots unions such as the United Voices of the World, several of whose members (and the UVW General Secretary) had come to show their solidarity.

And in typical UVW style they made a rush into the foyer of King’s, confronting the security staff inside who were keeping an eye on the protest. But Unison’s organiser stopped his members from following their example.

I’m glad I stayed on until the official rally had ended, although I’d been thinking of leaving along with a couple of colleagues. But the cleaners and some of the students and other supporters remained, and there was loud music and dancing, and more space to work – and the Grinch appeared.

More pictures: King’s College cleaners Servest protest

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.

Cleaners & Students united

Friday, August 11th, 2017

One chant common on marches and at protests – both in Spanish and in English is ‘El pueblo unido jamás será vencido‘ – or for us monoglots, ‘The people united will never be defeated’. It began life three months before Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, a part of the left-wing New Chilean Song movement with music by Sergio Ortega and was unfortunately followed by the huge setback of the overthrow and assasination of Salvador Allende, though of course the people continued their struggle. In 1975 it was the basis for a piano piece of the same name with 36 variations by modern US composer Frederic Rzewski.

LSE cleaner Mildred

Cleaners & Students united (along with a few members of staff) and with the backing of the cleaners union the United Voices of the World and a few of their friends to secure dignity of treatment and equality of working conditions for the cleaning staff at the LSE. I’d been present when the campaign was launched at the end of September 2016, and again at their protest in October, and was pleased to be back with them again at the start of December. And even more pleased when after around 9 months of campaigning they finally achieved a successful conclusion to their fight.

LSE Anthropology Professor David Graeber with sacked cleaner Alba

Students, some carrying mops, in a corridor of LSE’s Old Building

The campaigners met in Houghton St, and then defied security and marched through the corridors of the Old Building to Portugal St. As well as protesting on behlaf of the cleaners, this was also at statement by the students that this was their university. As marchers on the streets shout ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’ they shouted ‘Whose University? Our University!’. It was a reminder how far institutions like the LSE have been been taken over by managements who seem to regard students as inconvenient but necessary clients who provide the institution with income rather than as members of a collegiate body.

Protesters in Portugal St

Once outside the building the protest continued, and finally marched down Kingsway to the corner with Aldwych, where at 1 Kingsway are the offices of the Estates Division from which Noonan, the outsourced company which employs the cleaners, operate on the campus. The loud protest there made their campaign very visible to the many members of the public on the busy street.

Outside 1 Kingsway

I took many pictures and put rather a lot of them on-line, probably too many, but it was a lively protest and I found it almost impossible to take bad pictures! You might like to look at them with ‘Quilapayún 1973 – El pueblo unido jamás será vencido‘ as a sound track. The protest at the LSE was considerably smaller but had something of the same spirit.

Justice for LSE Cleaners

Class War

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

I always like photographing protests by Class War. Although they are a small group (though sometimes quite large numbers join with them them) their protests are often very effective in raising issues, and are often unpredictable. The protests are always interesting, both because many of them have interesting views which they share freely and often amusingly, but also because of a sense of theatre.

Generally too there is some visual interest which a photographer can work with, with some excellent banners and posters. And they believe in having fun with their serious politics.

Their confrontational style also tends to make for good pictures, though at Croydon Box Park this was somewhat mollified by the owner coming down and having a serious talk with them, agreeing with much of what they were saying about the gentrification of Croydon and inviting them to come and have a talk later. Though there was more of a confrontation later when they spotted the BBC developers’ apologist Mark Eaton making his way into a meeting.

The heavy showers also dampened the atmosphere a little, sending us all into a nearby bus shelter. Later the large banner with its quotation from US anarchist Lucy Parsons showed its worth as those holding it carried it held over their heads to keep off some driving rain.

I had my own small confrontation too. As I note in the caption for the picture above, “The only possible response when someone says ‘You can’t photograph me’ is to photograph them.”

A week later I met up with Class War again, this time protesting against architect Patrik Schumaker of Zaha Hadid Architects, who had talked at a conference in Berlin about getting rid of social housing and public space in cities. The posters from Class War carried what was apparently a quotation from his presentation, “We must destroy Affordable Housing and remove the unproductive from the capital to make way for my people who generate value

It was a chilling sentence, with clear similarities to the thinking and actions of the Nazis, and brought condemnation from a wide range of those concerned with human rights and equality, and housing campaigners in particular.

Schumaker’s views were not shared by all architects, and Class War received a message of support from one of those working under Schumaker. Not surprisingly their attempts to make contact with him through the entry phone at the gate and an invitation to come out and discuss the issue were met with no success.  There were extra security guards at the entrances, and even Lisa McKenzie couldn’t charm her way in.

Joining Class War in the protest were others from the London Anarchist Federation and the Revolutionary Communist Group, who also favour a similar kind of direct action and often cooperate at protests.

More text and pictures:

Class War Croydon ‘Snouts in the trough’
Class War protest ‘Fascist Architect’


No Justice over Ricky Bishop

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Rocky Bishop is just one of the 1,619 people have died while in contact with the police, whether in custody, being pursued, or shot since 1990 – around one every six days on average.

Of course not every one of those is a result of police actions; a few will have died of natural causes, some may have taken their own lives, but the great majority of them are previously healthy people who have been killed, some accidentally but others deliberately by the actions of police. It’s hard to know how many we should describe as manslaughter and what fraction as murder, but a very large number died as a result of actions that had they been carried out by a member of the public would have resulted in convictions.

But, as you may know, and as certainly many of us at the sixth anniversary of the shooting by police of Mark Duggan did know, not a single police officer has been convicted of any crime for these many deaths.

Whenever someone dies at the hands of the police, the first reaction is always to cover up. Police deliberately spread false rumours about the victim – he was a drug dealer, he choked swallowing a package of drugs, he was carrying a gun, he was a dangerous criminal, a gang leader…. And the papers and media broadcast these falsities, creating an atmosphere where the public believes the victim had it coming to him.

One of the most blatant cases was that of an innocent Brazilian electrician, catching the tube on his way to work, gunned down as he sat quietly in the carriage at Stockwell Station. A few days ago it was Rashan Charles, where police spread the lie he was a drug dealer and swallowing drugs. As so often, once the idea had been firmly lodged in the public mind, they issued a correction, which got much less publicity.

Not only this, there is seldom if ever a proper investigation. If we were a suspect in a possible murder or manslaughter case we would be questioned at length, almost certainly arrested and statements taken, but after these lethal incidents occur there seldom seems to be any proper inquiry. Often we find the officers involved have not been questioned days or weeks after the event.

Doreen Jjuko, Ricky Bishop’s mother holds white roses

Sixteen years after her son Ricky Bishop died in Brixton police station, Doreen Jjuko is still calling for justice. He was in a car stopped by police who searched him but found no drugs, and taken to Brixton police station, though not arrested. Four hours later he was dead. The judge at his inquest denied the jury the possibility of a verdict of manslaughter and brought in a verdict of death by misadventure.

Sister Unity had also brought flowers in memory of Ricky Bishop

His family are convinced the 12 officers concerned are guilty of murder, and as they marched through the centre of Brixton they and their supporters shouted out ‘Who Killed Ricky Bishop?‘ with the answer ‘Police killed Ricky Bishop!’ and going on to name each of the 12 officers, calling them murderers.

The march went very slowly along Brixton’s main street, stopping for some minutes in front of Brixton’s busy Underground station, blocking one lane of the road, but getting their message across to those in the busy street. A police car with two officers drew up beside the march, blocking the second lane – and thus the whole of the north-bound traffic, and the officers got out to tell the marchers they were obstructing the highway and putting themselves in danger, trying to persuade them to leave the road and walk along the pavement.

It seemed an act of senseless naivety, but the protesters were surprisingly polite in their refusals, simply telling the police that if they stopped murdering people they arrested and investigated crimes by fellow officers properly they would not be marching, but otherwise they ignored them and carried on their slow march to Brixton Police Station for a rally at the tree outside, which they call the ‘lynching tree’.

This tree was for some years adopted by the community as a memorial to those killed at Brixton Police Station, with pictures and tributes to Ricky Bishop, Sean Rigg and others. But when police knew that all the family members would be at the annual United Families and Friends march in Whitehall on October 31st 2015, police stripped the tree and have kept it bare since. Their action showed an appalling disregard for community relations, disgusting many.

Rhonda, Ricky Bishop’s sister tapes the flowers to the memorial tree

There were speeches and Sister Unity performed her poem ‘The Lynching Tree Down Brixton Way‘ which she wrote after hearing an interview with Doreen Bishop in 2004, and then there was a silence and candles were lit in memory of Ricky. Had he lived he would now be 41, the same age as my elder son.

Doubtless soon after the vigil ended, the police would come out and remove the flowers, the pictures and the candles. At least I hope they at least waited until the vigil had ended, but I had to leave shortly before.


No Third Runway

Monday, August 7th, 2017

Heathrow has over the years shown a voracious appetite for growth, always at the expense of the local community who have continually been made promises that have never been kept. The airport was set up in war-time under the false pretence it was needed for military use and the lies have continued ever since.

Of course it has created jobs in the local area – and for some time there were many skilled jobs, but increasingly now they are low paid and low skilled jobs in what has become more and more a shopping centre with an airport attached. Increasingly jobs will be lost as automation at the airport continues, and Heathrow is likely in the future to create less employment than almost any other possible use of its huge site.

What it does bring to the area – and in great variety – is pollution. Most obviously noise pollution, now affecting a large swathe of West London and further out in Berkshire, but also air pollution, not just from the planes and vehicles using Heathrow, but from the cars and lorries which bring and take away passengers and freight, and by the congestion that these cause to other non-airport related traffic in the area.

By the 1970s it had become clear that Heathrow was in the wrong place, and that London needed a new site for its major airport. Had the right decision been made, Heathrow would long ago have joined Croydon as a former London airport (and Croydon was probably rather better placed.) But Government buckled to the interests and lobbying of a powerful aviation lobby, joined by others, and Heathrow continued to be allowed to expand, with a fourth terminal, and then a fifth, and then the push for the ‘third runway’.

I took part in an photographed the protests against that third runway and the celebrations when that proposal was defeated, with even the Conservative Party leader David Cameron making a clear promise it would not be built. But Heathrow and the vested interests came back, with the setting up of an inquiry by the government on premises that were almost bound to favour further expansion, and the spectre of the third runway re-emerged, despite the ever-increasing argument of the enviromental catastrophe it would be.

I’m not a fan of Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP who had organised a rally on Richmond Green – and had resigned when his party changed tack to back Heathrow expansion, and was fighting a by-eleciton on the issue, but I went to photograph the rally which was supported by all the local groups fighting against the plans.

What I hadn’t expected was to be harassed by one of Goldsmith’s crew, who told me that this was a private event and that I couldn’t take pictures, threatening to get the police to evict me. I told him that this was a public meeting in a public place and I had every right to report it, but for several minutes he followed me around trying to stop me. I told him rather forcefully to go away and talk to the police – and he did, so I was bothered no more. But so much for freedom under the Conservatives!

I wasn’t sorry when Goldsmith lost his seat to Sarah Olney – also opposed to Heathrow expansion, and whose supporters were also present (looking rather less like estate agents) and it was something of a disappointment when he regained it – by 75 votes in the June 2017 election. Goldsmith took the seat in 2010 from Susan Kramer, a Liberal Democrat MP who had been a staunch fighter against Heathrow expansion.

From Richmond I took a train and a bus to the Three Magpies on the Bath Road at Cranford on the northern edge of Heathrow. Nearby some activists from Rising Up! were blocking the motorway spur into the airport while on the bridge above the road a few hundred yards away I covered the ‘family friendly’ rally that was also taking place – with a huge and unnecessary police presence.

More at:

Climate Crisis rally against Airport Expansion
Rally against Heathrow Expansion


Looking at Lens

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Although I regularly take a quick glimpse at the New York TimesLens‘ blog, often just with my newsreader that doesn’t actually show the pictures, I don’t that often find things that are of enough interest to comment on here. Much of what they publish is interesting, but generally I only write about things if there is something I feel I can add to in some way or take a special interest in.

In the last week or so, there have been quite a few posts there that interested me, and I particularly warmed to some of Nathan Farb‘s pictures in 1967’s Other Summer of Love, perhaps because they reminded me of when I was young and a student, though Manchester in England was very different to the New York Lower East Side of his pictures. But there was just a little something of the same spirit of counter-culture in the air.

The slide show with this piece has 21 pictures, enough to get a good idea of the work, whereas sometimes on Lens I find there just isn’t enough. Usually of course you can find more pictures elsewhere – and Lens sometimes provides a link or you can search for yourself, but then things can get rather time-consuming.

That piece led me on to the large format and very posed portraits of Harf Zimmermann, who, inspired by Bruce Davidson’s book ‘East 100th Street‘ took his camera into the homes and onto the streets to photograph his fellow residents and workers in the East Berlin neighbourhood where he lived. His pictures have for me a kind of dissonance like I often feel in dreams between the people and place and perhaps seem more like theatre sets with actors rather than real people – whereas the colour images he took when he returned to the same area in 2010, judging by the couple of examples in the article, Exposing Life Behind the Berlin Wall, simply look like high-quality versions of family snaps.

East Germany was of course a police state, where it was healthy to assume that everyone except you was a Stasi agent (especially if you were not.) Rather like living in G K Chesterton’s nightmare novel ‘The Man Who Was Thursday‘. Though working as I do with many protest groups I find I often look around and wonder which of us present is one of the 144 undercover UK police stated recently by the authorities to have infiltrated more than 1,000 political groups since 1968 – around the time I first got involved in such things.

But there is also something very German about the pictures – and not just in some of the obviously German backgrounds. They didn’t remind me of Davidson, but they did remind me of August Sander and his attempt to study and classify the people of his country, interrupted by the Nazis who seized and destroyed his ‘Face of Our Time‘ in 1936.

I then went on to find several more ‘Lens’ posts worth looking at, including Fighting For Basic Rights in Morocco, Amid Crisis and the remarkable Venezuela’s Youth Wait to Live Again.

A Day at the Cleaners

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Small grass roots unions such as the CAIWU, UVW and IWGB representing mainly migrant workers have spear-headed the drive to get the London Living Wage for low paid workers, particularly cleaners in London. Many are Spanish speaking and have found asylum here following various upheavals in Central and South America and others have Spanish passports. With some exceptions, the larger unions have found it hard to engage with these workers, partly because of language difficulties.

Alberto Durango of the CAIWU speaks inside Lloyds against racist sacking by Principle Cleaning Services

Many of those who have come to work in this country have come from more skilled work in their own countries and their qualifications mean little or nothing here or they do not have the language skills needed for similar jobs here. Generally they are more articulate and more politically aware than equivalent British-born workers, and often surprised at what British workers put up with from managers and trade union officials. Perpared to work hard, they demand to be treated with dignity and respect – as some of their placards say ‘We are NOT the dirt We clean’.

When I can, I photograph their protests, though these seldom make the UK newspapers and probably get more coverage around the world than in the UK. The pictures do get shared on social media and the presence of the press at them does increase their impact. Protests are a way of embarrassing the companies to take action, with their noise and visual impact making an impression of those who work in the same building or close by, and also through social media and publication on a wider audience and companies are generally sensitive to any possible damage to their image.

The demands the cleaners make are always reasonable. Everyone should be paid a wage that is enough to live on – the London Living Wage as a minimum. No-one should be bullied or harassed at work, or given impossible workloads. People should get decent conditions of service – sick pay, holidays, pensions… What they are fighting against is largely outsourcing of cleaning work, where reputable companies that would never cut salaries and conditions of their own workers to the bone employ cleaning contractors, generally on fairly short-term contracts which go to the lowest bidder – who trim their bids at the expense of the workers. They cut staffing levels, overworking the cleaners and lowering the standard of cleaning, they cut pay and conditions as far as they are able.

That can mean the legal minimums of pay and conditions, but protests by unions like the CAIWU can manage to persuade those setting the contract to include the insistence that all workers should be paid at least the London Living Wage, and they could also insist on a decent standard of conditions.

But outsourcing of cleaning and other services is just a part of a wider problem that seems particularly rife in the UK. Unnecessary levels of management where company A pays company B to provide a service which they then sub-contract to company C – with sometimes as many as five companies involved, each taking its profit for shareholders between the company that the work is done for and the guy who actually does it.

A security officer starts pushing the protesters, then has clearly been watching too much football…

and suddenly makes a rather unconvincing dive to the floor, pretending he has been hit

The Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU) is a small union with no paid staff and run on the contributions from members and some donations but it is an active one. I hadn’t realised when I travelled up to meet them at Liverpool St Station that they were intending to protest at three offices across the lunch time and early afternoon.

We started by walking to Lloyds, and the cleaners briefly occupied the foyer there before being forced to leave and protesting outside. The union accuse Principle Cleaning Services there of racial discrimination over the sacking two African workers, and of sacking a third African because of his trade union activities.

There was a curious incident when one of the security officers who had been pushing some of the cleaners suddenly dived to the floor, claiming he had been hit – see above. I was standing close to him and would have seen and certainly heard if a blow had been struck. But occasions like this make me realise how much better as evidence it would have been if I had been taking video rather than still photography. Usually there is at least one other photographer present with a video camera, but not on this occasion.

Cleaners leave 155 Moorgate to continue the protest on the pavement outside

The cleaners then walked to Moorgate, to rush in to the lobby of Mace’s headquarters building in Moorgate in a noisy against cleaning contractor Dall Cleaning Service; they accuse the manager there of nepotism and say two cleaners have been improperly dismissed and reductions made in both conditions of service and the actual working conditions.

Again after a short protest inside they walked out to continue the protest in the busy street outside.

The receptionist at the offices housing Claranet’s London HQ pushes CAIWU organiser Alberto Durango

Finally, I caught a bus with them to Holborn, and the offices of Internet service provider Claranet, who with their cleaning contractor NJC have ignored the union’s attempts to negotiate for the London Living Wage where the protest followed the same pattern.

Cleaners at Claranet for Living Wage
Cleaners at Mace protest Dall nepotism
Cleaners in Lloyds against racist sacking


Another Night

Friday, July 28th, 2017

The following evening I was out again taking pictures of a protest, this time in Westminster at Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament. It’s a gloomy place at night, and even worse it was raining.

At times the rain was light, even almost stopping. Then it would poor down. I felt sorry for the protesters, from Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle, including many in wheelchairs, though I think most had decent waterproof clothing and a number also umbrellas.

Of course I had an umbrella too, but it is seldom practical to use one when taking pictures – unless you have an assistant to hold it – and also I needed to work most of the time in a very restricted area between a ring of wheelchairs and the speakers, much of the time in a kneeling position so as not to impede the view of those sitting in the chairs. Occasionally sitting on the damp paving stones. Working with a micro-fibre cloth held on the lens filter, taking it away to take a picture, then wiping and covering up the lens again.

Most of these were taken with the LED light source, with a couple at the start of the event when there was still some weak light from the sky without any added light. Another photographer was videoing the event, and sometimes his LED video light lit up part or all of the scene for me – though other times it shone directly towards me and made taking pictures more or less impossible. I did take a couple of pictures with flash, but in rain it gets to be pretty useless, lighting up the rain drops and giving odd spots across the picture. With exposures around 1/15s to 1/60s spots of rain don’t show up except sometimes as streaks – which look very much like rain. But with the slow shutter speeds and probably a certain amount of shivering from me quite a few of the exposures were blurred even when there were no raindrops on the lens, and quite a few frames were unusable.

I also discovered one of the problems of the Neewer CN-216 LED light. It doesn’t have a battery cover – or at least mine doesn’t, and at one point after it got a slight knock, all 6 batteries fell out and rolled across the wet paving stones. Fortunately I and some of the other people around managed to pick them up, but now I put a length of masking tape across them and the back of the unit after replacing the batteries.

As the evening went on the rain worsened. There was quite a long list of speakers, including the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, for whom the heavens opened pretty drastically. Fortunately he had brought fellow Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey with him to hold an umbrella. They and other MPs came out from the debate on government plants for a cut in Employment and Support Allowance, despite a UN report condemning the ‘grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights’ which had resulted from the UK government welfare reforms..

It was really an evening that called for an underwater camera, or at least an underwater housing. I do carry a cheap plastic bag affair in my camera bag, but find it such a pain that I hardly ever use it. Fortunately I managed to keep the cameras under my coat much of the time, though having the front of it open to do this meant I did get rather wet. I was cold too, and very pleased when I could pack up and go home.

I wasn’t particularly happy with my work at this event – and so many of the images were ruined – but under the circumstances I felt I’d done a decent job to get any results at all. You can see more at End Discriminatory Welfare Reforms.

Night Work

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

I don’t often photograph the Tower of London, but it would, I thought, a nice background for a picture, something that says ‘London’, and I went to the protest being held outside the Tower against the European Custody and Detention Summit being held there hoping to use it in my pictures.

Unfortunately the protest was taking place in the early evening and this was November. There were groups at two locations, one on Tower Hill, where there was a view of the Tower behind the protesters, and a second down below Tower Bridge, where there wasn’t really a much of a view of the bridge and the Tower was completely out of sight.

I’d taken two light sources with me, the Nikon SB800 flash, and a cheap LED light, the Neewer CN-216, which has an 18×12 array of small LEDs  – 216 in all, hence the model number. It takes 6 AA cells, which adds considerably to its weight and will just about fit in a large jacket pocket. The flash, with only 5AAs is a little smaller and lighter.

Knowing it would be dark, I’d also packed the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 and the two pictures above were both taken using this on a Nikon D810. I had the camera on shutter priority and both images were taken at 24mm, using the camera in full-frame mode at 1/50s and f2.8  – but there the simiilarities end. One used the flash at ISO 1,800 and the other the LED light at ISO 6400. Though it seems bright, those LEDs don’t really put out that much light.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which was which. The differences are easier to spot on the 7,360 x 4,912 pixel images, but after processing – including noise reduction – in Lightroom was less than I expected, and looking through the whole set at full screen size my guesses as to which used flash and which were LED where often wrong.

Both are relatively small light sources and so suffer similar problems with light falling off at roughly the square of distance, and I worked a little more ‘head on’ to groups than usual when I could to avoid too much having to dodge and burn in Lightroom.  One advantage of the LED was that I was able to hold it at arms length from the camera – much trickier with flash – and see the results of angling it away from closer subjects. The higher ISO I used with the LED meant that ambient lighting contributed more to the LED lit images and probably I would have been better using ISO 6400 with the flash as well. But I was worried about image quality, though it turns out I need not have been.

Increasing the ISO to 3200 for the wider group, taken with flash and using a Nikon 20mm f2.8  at 1/30s, f/2.8 on a Nikon D750 gave a good balance.

Down below Tower Bridge there was a little more light and I used the flash very little, relying on the LEDs for most pictures, though in some areas there was enough light from the street lights to make them the main light source.  The view of Tower Bridge in some of the pictures isn’t instantly recognisable.

I did have a few problems with fiddle fingers, and working in  S – shutter priority – mode does mean you get underexposure when you push the control dial in the direction of higher shutter speeds. With flash too the exposure drops – though with Auto FP High Speed Sync you no longer get just a fraction of the frame exposed. Fortunately Lightroom can cope with considerable underexposure if – as I do – you shoot RAW images.  And ISO settings don’t really have a great deal of meaning.

In low light conditions you also get problems with slow shutter speeds and subject movement, as well as camera shake. None of the lenses I was using has image stabilisation but it would have been of little or no help. But you do need to make a lot of exposures and to have a little luck.

More pictures of this protest by the Reclaim Justice Network which includes prison activists, refugee solidarity groups and anti-arms trade campaigners against this trade fair for  major arms companies, security companies, prison builders, and others profiting from expanding and privatising the criminal justice system at Custody Summit at the Tower.