Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

Anti-Racism Day

Friday, October 27th, 2017

The TUC’s Frances O’Grady was among those holding the main banner

Stand Up To Racism manage to involve a wide range of other organisations in the March Against Racism they organised, including many trade unions and some Muslim groups, and the march and rally on March 18th was one of the larger to take place in London this year. I’m not sure how many the organisers claimed, but I reported ‘tens of thousands’.

As well as sheer numbers, it was also apparent from the many hand-made posters and placards that this is an issue on which many people feel strongly and realise that the situation is a critical one, with both Theresa May and Donald Trump promoting racist measures against immigrants and in particular Muslims, and much of the press promoting hysteria against Islam and against Europeans who have come to live here, as well as a general xenophobia.

Looking at my coverage of the event in Thousands March Against Racism it is clear that I was greatly attracted to the posters and placards, though I also photographed many of the speakers at the rally before the march. There was a larger rally at the end of the march, but like quite a few of the marchers I was pretty tired by the time we reached Parliament Square and didn’t stay for it. I decided I’d taken enough pictures – and you can see well over a hundred of them on the web site.

Of course not everyone in the country shares the views of the marchers, and there was an organised counter-protest by the extreme right ‘Britain First’ who stood behind a large crowd of police at Piccadilly Circus and shouted insults at the passing marchers, many of whom shouted back, although stewards tried to hurry them on. But that small group were outnumbered by a factor of roughly a thousand to one.

There were so many good posters that it was difficult to know which to leave out, and impossible to do justice to them here. Quite a few were rather lengthy and I’ve chosen some of the more visual; a placard isn’t the best place for an essay.

Long texts also present a small problem on the web site, where I like to pick out and put at least some of the text from the banners and placards etc as text on the site, allowing for it to be found in searches.

Thousands March Against Racism


Theatre of Protest

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

The Lung Theatre ‘E15’ march to BAC was a slightly unsettling event, both protest and theatre, in which I was both photographing an event and playing a photographer photographing an event, along with protesters, most of whom I knew at least slightly, and some I had photographed before at many events and among them the performers from Lung Theatre.

Lung Theatre’s ‘E15‘ is ‘verbatim theatre‘, using the actual words of housing protesters, largely from Focus E15, but also from Sweets Way and elsewhere in a theatre performance, and their run of several weeks at the Battersea Arts Centre was beginning that evening.

The ‘protest’ was an opening event – and I suppose could be called a ‘publicity stunt’ though there were protesters there handing out leaflets about housing in London and publicity for their future protests. It was perhaps a little displaced as these were not in Battersea  but across the city in Stratford, but similar things are happening in all the boroughs across the capital – and indeed in other cities.

All protests – and perhaps in particular those organised by groups like Focus E15 – have an element of theatre, and this certainly looked and felt and was a protest as it handed out leaflets (including those about the theatre performances), held banners and spoke and chanted about housing issues outside Clapham Junction station (which is of course in Battersea) before the short march up the road to the theatre. And like all the best protests it took the road for the march.

I did have some problems taking pictures. The street outside the station is very crowded and rather dark where the protesters had chosen to stand,  though with quite a lot of light of various colours spilling from some shop windows – and in some areas of the protest this was useful. Lavender Hill up which they later marched seems very poorly lit for a major road.

For the static protest I worked without flash at ISO6400, I think mostly on auto-ISO with the limit set at that ISO. I was working in Shutter priority mode, setting speeds mainly of 1/100 or 1/125th, but my usual finger fiddling problems meant I made a few exposures at higher shutter speeds – like 1/500th or even faster –  which at full aperture resulted in several stops of underexposure and a few of the noisiest images I’ve ever used – perhaps exposed at ISO51,200.

Lightroom can do a reasonable job at producing an image out of more or less nothing, but there are limits. When you push images you also get the shadow changing from black to a deep mauve which needs a little local application of a tint to try and neutralise. And in lighter even areas such as the grey of the road surface you can see some purple patches. Mostly I just deleted these vastly underexposed images, but in a  few I felt the problems gave a strong graphic effect and retained them.

Once the march started, I had to switch to flash as there was just too much movement. Again I kept to high ISOs to record some of the street further from my flash.  As so often, I had problems with flash; Nikon’s flash system is great and always works when I test it, but somehow in the heat of the moment it sometimes refuses to play the game properly. It’s probably me rather than the machine, and just shows that while the system is great it isn’t foolproof!

Although I was invited to see the show that evening I was keen to go home and eat and work on the pictures, and it was not until a couple of weeks later that I actually did so, having been invited to sit on a panel discussion at the end of the performance about the role of the arts in protest, along with fellow panelists, theatre director Max StaffordClark,  Guardian journalist Dawn Foster and comedian Jeremy Hardy.

I seldom speak in public, much preferring to write where I can consider my thoughts at greater length and try and chose the correct word, but I was more on my home ground that the others and my stern critic in the audience felt I had done pretty well, though Jeremy did get more laughs.

Lung Theatre ‘E15’ march to BAC


An Exodus of Pain

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

I’ve written many times about seeing things from different viewpoints, and in particular about getting away from seeing things in the often blinkered viewpoint imposed on much of our mass media by the small group – a handful – of billionaires who own and control our media.

Even if we pride ourselves on the independence of the BBC, its news agenda is largely driven by the major newspapers and its close relationship with the British establishment often determines the line it takes on issues.

I first reported on the Rohingya and their mis-treatment by Myanmar over 5 years ago, but the story then was hardly taken up by the UK press. I didn’t go there, but was alerted to what was happening largely by overseas media and in particular by a group many in Britain say should be banned, Hizb ut-Tahrir, who protested outside the Bangladesh High Commission. Bangladesh was then blocking of aid to Rohingya refugees by NGOs and sending them back to be oppressed in Myanmar (Burma.)

It wasn’t a great protest to photograph, and Hizb ut-Tahrir were often rather suspicious (with some justification) of the media, but I wrote a fairly lengthy piece about the situation on My London Diary.

Of course things have changed since then and the situation has deteriorated greatly for the Rohingya, and the story has been taken up again world-wide. A few days ago I wrote a post about some of the photographic coverage in The Salgado Effect, and it’s good now to see a view from Bangladesh itself, photographed by Shahidul Alam of Drik/Majority World with text by Lyndall Stein, An Exodus of Pain half a million people driven from their homes.


LSE Action and Arrest

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Students, cleaners and supporters continued their series of protests at the LSE for equal sick pay, holidays and pensions etc to similar workers directly employed by the LSE, and for an end to bullying and discrimination by their employer Noonan, including the unfair dismissal of Alba. This rally was on the first day of a two day strike, taken after a complete refusal of the employers to talk with the union.

After a lunchtime rally outside the student’s union, the protesters marched to 1 Kingsway, which houses the LSE Estates Office, and a large group walked into the foyer despite the protests of a security man and the receptionist, and occupied this for a little over an hour.

There were speeches about the cleaners demands and chanting of ‘LSE, Shame on You’ and other slogans. After a while the protesters sat of the floor of the foyer, while some others danced to loud music on the PA system. But the protesters were careful to leave a clear path for people leaving and entering the offices for lunch.

Police eventually arrived and talked with both the LSE staff and UVW General Secretary Petros Elia, eventually taking him through the entrance gates to talk with the LSE facilities manager. After a few minutes he emerged smiling, saying that management had finally agreed to have a proper meeting with the union, and the protesters left the building.

As they stood on the pavement outside sharing the news with those who had not been inside, police suddenly surrounded LSE academic Dr Lisa McKenzie, seizing her and assaulting her. She was arrested and bundled into a police van, charged with having assaulted the building receptionist when the protesters entered the building and she had been holding the UVW banner.

Fortunately her entry into the building had been filmed, showing the charge was false. I had been just a few feet behind her and would have seen had any significant assault had taken place, and there were a number of other witnesses to her innocence.

Lisa stands out because of her hair colour, and also makes her views heard at protest. As I wrote in My London Diary, her arrest on this occasion was  “probably linked to the police feeling aggrieved after failing to achieve a conviction when she was wrongly charged with three offences at a protest in February 2015 at the time she was standing in the General Election against Iain Duncan Smith – a previous arrest that was apparently politically motivated.”

LSE cleaners strike and protest
Police arrest Lisa again

Monday in Westminster

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

I don’t often cover many events on a Monday, perhaps because not a lot usually happens. Sometimes too, after a busy weekend I need a rest. While most people think of Mon-Fri as the working week, Saturday is almost always my busiest day. I used to cover quite a few events on Sundays too, but now I’m more often in need of a rest after Saturday, and often, like this morning, still have pictures from yesterday to edit from the previous day, having fallen asleep at the computer and decided to give up for the night. But even so, unless there is something I feel important to cover, I still tend to keep Monday as one of my days off.

And Orgreave Truth & Justice at the Home Office on Monday 13th March was something I felt important, protesting at the failure of Home Secretary Amber Rudd not to grant an inquiry into the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ in which police, including military police and others in police uniforms, mounted a carefully planned attack on picketing miners.

Thatcher had determined to defeat the miners, and on 18 June 1984 at a British Steel Corporation coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire showed just what illegal lengths the establishment was willing to go to in order to defeat the workers. And many have little doubt that our present government would be prepared to take similar actions, though mostly it gets by with more subtle means.

Perhaps the main hope of a proper inquiry into Orgreave is that we may get a Corbyn Labour government, though I’m not convinced that they will have the nerve or ability to challenge those areas of the establishment that are against getting to the truth – and would also be busily plotting against any radical initiatives by a mildly left social democratic Labour administration.

Two other campaigns for justice were also out on the street in Westiminster, one linked to the Orgreave protest. JENGbA had come to support the Orgreave protest, but had started with an action of their own outside the Supreme Court. JENGbA stands for Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association, and I’ve always thought the name it has adopted stood in the way of it actually making progress – how many people would have the slightest idea what JENGbA stood for? Despite this, they won a significant victory in 2015, when the SUpreme Court ruled that the joint enterprise law under which over 800 people are in jail had been wrongly applied, and that there must be actual evidence of intention to encourage or assist in a crime rather than some vague association.

But JENGbA have found – like other groups such as disabled people – that it is one thing to win in court and quite another to get the Home Office to correct the injustice. And those held in jail because the law was wrongly applied, many serving life sentences on the flimsiest of suspicions, have been refused appeals. After their protest outside the Supreme Court they marched to join the Orgreave protest outside the Home Office.

Quite separate from this was a protest against the Met Police who were appealing against a high court decision that the human rights of two woman raped by black cab driver and serial sex attacker John Worboys in 2003 and 2007 were breached when police did not believe them and failed to investigate their cases. That the police should appeal the decision that they have an obligation to investigate such cases of serious violence is appalling – and makes me wonder what they think they are there for.

The protest was by Southall Black Sisters, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Nia Project and other women’s organisations who say in the police appeal succeeds there will be no effective remedy in the courts for women who are raped or victims of domestic violence.

Orgreave Truth & Justice at the Home Office
JENGbA march to support Orgreave
Women protest outside Worboys hearing


Women Rise and Fukushima

Friday, October 20th, 2017

The Million Women Rise annual march through London against male violence is an all-women event, with several thousand of them marching in the centre of London. On occasions a few men have crept in, but it is fairly decisively a women’s event, and this sometimes presents a few problems for a male photographer. There have been a few women on past marches who have made clear they object to being photographed by a man, and on some occasions stewards shouted at me when I have put as much of a toe on the road, although mostly they are more welcoming.

Of course I – and any others of the public – have the same right to be on the road as the marchers, but I have no wish to offend anyone. It does rather make it difficult to work as usual, as I often want to take most of my pictures close to people inside the protests. The great majority of those taking part clearly in this march want to be photographed and have no problems with me getting into a suitable place to do so. Some were women who knew me and who I’ve photographed before.

But I took many more of these pictures from the sidelines than I would normally have done with other marches, although before the march started the street the march gathered in was full from wall to wall and I had to be in the middle of things. But once the march started I more or less kept to the pavement while the march went along the road, and I took relatively few pictures, or at least relatively few that were usable.

Of course I deplore male violence against women, like the marchers. In particular domestic violence is a huge problem, and mainly it is men who are violent and women (and sometimes children) their target. And the main sufferers in wars are women and children. I’ve supported the march and have given the organisers pictures in the past when requested to use in their publicity. But I probably gave up rather earlier than I would have on some other events, and decided against going to photograph the rally at the end of the march in Trafalgar Square. It isn’t possible to be in two places at once, but I was doing my best to cover two separate events both taking place at the same time in slightly different parts of London.

Before going to Million Women Rise I had photographed the start of a march from the Japanese Embassy on the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and had left them shortly after they passed the Ritz on Piccadilly to rush up to Oxford St and photograph the start of the women’s march. And as the end of that march passed Bond St station I left them and took the tube to photograph the anti-nuclear rally opposite Downing St.

Million Women Rise against male violence
Fukushima anniversary challenges nuclear future



Channelsea River

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

The Channelsea is still visible below this end of the footbridge

It was I think in 1981 or 2 that I first came across the Channelsea River and walked along the path alongside it from Stratford High St to Three Mills. I was really a few years too late, because the section s outh of Stratford High St to Abbey Lane had been culverted around 20 years earlier, and further north there were only isolated sections above ground.

Channelsea Path

By then the river was a ghost of its former self. Back in the 19th century it had been one of three major streams of the River Lea, running parallel to the main river down through Temple Mills (the tidal limit of the Lea) where the Channelsea diverged from the Waterworks River which had left the main stream around a mile north on Hackney Marsh. There were several channels or ditches joining the streams probably some with sluices.

Channelsea River from footbridge, Stratford

Close to where the railway from Hackney Wick crossed the river the Channelsea turned east, roughly following the old line of the railway to Stratford Station – where you can still see it as a ditch from the west end of the footbridge just south of the station.

Channelsea River from Northern Outfall Sewer

Below Abbey Lane the Channelsea is wide and almost entirely tidal, with Channelsea island in the middle – and the channel to the west of the island is Abbey Creek. During heavy rainfall the sewers receive more water than they can cope with and overflow into the river here and used to flow upriver on the tide.

Abbey Mills sewage pumping station from Northern Outfall Sewer

The whole of the Bow Back Rivers was radically altered in the 1930s, following the 1930 River Lee Act. This enabled the Lee Conservancy Board and West Ham Borough Council to widen the Three Mills River and Waterworks River to 100ft to take flood water away, and to construct the Prescott Channel to take flood water from them into the Channelsea at Three Mills. The City Mill River was also made wider and deeper and provided with concrete banks as a 50ft wide navigable stream. It’s unclear whether there was any real intention for this to be widely used, or if its construction was mainly to provide employment for the many local unemployed.

Where the Channelsea goes under Stratford High St

The most recent and entirely dubious scheme was the construction of a new lock on the Prescott Channel, at a huge cost and under the pretence it would be used to bring in material and take out rubble from the Olympic site. Completed in 2009 it was used for a few photo-calls but the huge bulk of site material was moved in and out by lorry. It can be seen as a huge public subsidy to the developers whose blocks are growing on the upstream banks, protecting their properties and their future residents noses from the sometimes odiferous flood tides.

During the lock construction the riverside paths along the Channelsea were closed. The Long Wall path from the Northern Outfall Sewer (rebranded the Greenway in the 1990s but retaining its slightly sweet and disturbing sewage odour) to the lock reopened only around six years after completion, but that on to Three Mills from the Prescott Channel remains closed.

You can see more pictures from my walk at West Ham to Stratford – Channelsea River.

The Salgado Effect

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Like me you have probably seen the set of pictures by Kevin Frayer published by The Guardian Documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis – in pictures.

They are a powerful set of pictures and I have a great deal of admiration for the photographer having gone to document the situation and managing to photograph scenes such as this. But I also found myself feeling a little uneasy at certain aspects.

I think I remember years ago Don McCullin discussing the dangers of aestheticising scenes of violence and death, I think in relation to working in Biafra. Obviously we need to produce powerful images using the tools at our command, but there comes a point where making pictures out of scenes conflicts with showing the brutal realities.

I’m also a little disturbed by the use of black and white rather than colour in these and many other sets of images, the huge majority of which are actually made in colour. Perhaps Frayer worked in black and white either on film or on that Leica M Monochrom but the images have a look that owes much to software. With many photographers conversion to black and white is simply an affectation that makes them think their work is more documentary, or perhaps reflect their admiration for the work of photographers such as Salgado (whose work sprang to my mind looking at some of these pictures), Frayer (or his post-production team) certainly take full advantage of its possibilities, much too full for my taste.

Photographers have long taken advantage of the possibilities offered in the production of their images, whether in darkroom or with Silver Efex. Where would Gene Smith’s Spanish Wake be without the hours (and the ferricyanide and whisky) in the darkroom? But as Horacio Fernández comments on this image, the selection of pictures for Time’s 1951 Spanish Village essay (one of the landmarks of photojournalism) were made “paying more attention to beauty and emotional meanings than to information and political commentary.”

Of course, as Smith said, “The honesty lies in my—the photographer’s—ability to understand…I will retouch.” And we all do to some extent. Some of my pictures have a little help from Lightroom’s ‘Clarity‘ brushed delicately on faces or elsewhere (though mainly I work rather less aggressively with a little added exposure and contrast – it’s something that has enabled me to largely move away from using fill-flash.) But in these images it has been applied with a shovel not to enhance what was there but to create a deliberate and to my eyes un-photographic effect. Some of these images are well onto the way to becoming film posters for the crisis rather than exposing it to the world.

In How not to photograph the Rohingya genocide in the making… Suchitra Vijayan examines these pictures and also features a lengthy YouTube video of a talk with writer Maaza Mengiste, Unheard of things – the vocabularies of violence. I’ve not listened to all 88 minutes, but it is worth starting as I did at 38:10.

And here’s another set of photographs – also in black and white – of the crisis. Less dramatic, less aestheticized, less post-produced but I think that Greg Constantine work is somehow more real and tells the story better. And there are other pictures both black and white and colour that do so too.

International Women’s Day 2017

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The Socialist Party of American organised the first Women’s Day to take place on March 8th, although theirs was a ‘National Women’s Day‘. The idea of an International Women’s Day was adopted by the 1910 International Conference of Socialist Women and in 1911 it was celebrated on March 8th in United States, Switzerland, Denmark, and Austria but in Germany and elsewhere of March 19th. It was not until 1914 it was adopted worldwide. In London on March 8th 1914 the Suffragettes marched from Bow to Trafalgar Square.

Universal female suffrage was the main demand of those first marches, but they also had a whole range of other demands, including labour laws to guarantee women’s rights, free social childcare and education, equal treatment for single mothers, international solidarity and the overthrow of capitalism.

A protest in Parliament Square March 8th – also Budget Day – by Global Women’s Strike in solidarity with the International Women’s Strike (IWS) taking place in 46 countries was firmly in this tradition, and there were contributions from groups supporting women, including the victims of domestic violence, the disabled and the victims of family courts. Later they went on to hold a vigil on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields in solidarity with the farmers of the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand, many of whom are women.

A short distance down the road, Women Against State Pension Inequality – WASPI – held a rally against the changes in the state pension scheme which are unfair to women born in the 1950s. Although the effects of the The 1995 Pension Action Act which set out the plan to equalise the pension age for men and women were well publicised, little warning was given when the 2011 Pension Act accelerated the process for this and for raising the pension age, and there was too little time even for those women approaching pension age who realised what was happening to make alternative plans.

Later in the day opposite Downing St Fourth Wave London Feminist Activists staged a protest against the unjust, ideologically-driven cuts to public services that are disproportionately felt by women, and also against the way that International Women’s Day despite its socialist roots has been appropriated with the media giving extensive coverage to corporate events concentrating on getting more women in boardrooms and other highly paid jobs.

I ended my day with London Polish Feminists and Global Women’s Strike (again) at St Pancras for an International Women’s Day flash mob at St Pancras International in solidarity with women in 46 countries taking part in the International Women’s Strike. It was a colorful event, and the colours were black and red – clothing, umbrellas, masks and flowers – choreographed by the Polish feminists. After a rehearsal in the station foyer the group went down into the concourse and gave a performance there.

They had apparently requested permission for the event, but when it was refused decided that they would go ahead in any case. Police came to talk with them but didn’t stop it.

More from all of these events – and a rather curious Russian gesture which perhaps reflected a more misogynistic attitude to women:

From Russia With Love
International Women’s Strike
Vigil for Thai Farmers
Death By A Thousand Cuts
WASPI at Parliament


Save Our NHS

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

It’s never easy to estimate the size of large marches, though sometimes I try. With small marches you can simply stand on the side and count as people walk past, but this gets tedious with more than a few hundred. Even on fairly small marches it soon becomes impossible to actually count every person, as sometimes people are in crowded groups, hard to actually be sure you see everyone, and I have to estimate groups of ten as they move past, but probably my count is withing a few percent of the total.

With large marches a different approach is needed. I try and pick a typical section of the march and take a count for a minute. And then use the time it takes the march to go past a particular place somewhere in the middle of the route. Some marches have large gaps, and an allowance has to be estimated for that. Using methods like this I’d hope to be somewhere in the right area, and unlikely to be more than perhaps 25% out. So if around 500 people go past in a minute, and the whole march in around an hour, then there were roughly 30,000 taking part – as was the case for this march.

Once it used to be good enough to average out the estimates from the organisers and from the BBC, or perhaps just double the police estimate, but the police seem to have stopped giving out their numbers and the BBC and march organisers have both become completely unreliable – and the BBC hardly notice most marches.

The Save Our NHS march was certainly a large one, certainly one of the largest if not the largest so far this year, but the organisers’ claim of 250,000 was unbelievable. Making exaggerated claims is I think counter-productive and undermines the credibility of the event and the claims, which is unfortunate.

This was a very large march, and one that reflects a huge degree of public support – though unfortunately many are not aware of what is happening to the NHS. Of course there are reports about the state of the NHS in the media, but they seldom do more than report its failings and seldom examine the reason behind them. The privatisation of services has been taking place for years now, with private healthcare companies taking over the simpler aspects of the NHS that are easy to profit from – and whose low costs used to offset the more complex and expensive treatments, but relatively little of this has been made clear in the media.

The increasing use of agency staff too, and the financial implications of that has failed to get the attention it deserves, despite the terrible financial drain it represents (as does huge amounts spent on largely unnecessary fees for consultancy.) It’s only very recently that public debate has begun to recognise the terribly corrosive effect of PFI contracts – started under John Major but largely negotiated under New Labour – has had, something which those in the NHS and activists have been aware of and calling for government action over at least since the financial crash completely changed the environment under which they were agreed.

There had been a rally at the start of the march which I’d photographed some of the more interesting speakers, including Green Party Health spokesperson Larry Sanders (Bernie’s brother) above, and there was to be another at the end in Parliament Square, but I didn’t make it there. Doubtless there would have been speeches from political and trade union leaders – Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey and someone from showbiz, but I’d had enough when I reached Trafalgar Square. Plenty of others would be photographing the speakers and I was tired and didn’t feel up to facing the scrum.

I’d already taken a great many pictures – some great placards and posters and many interesting people. You can see quite a few of them at Save our NHS March.