Archive for June, 2007

Flandrien: Hard Men and Heroes

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Cycling and photography have a long and not always entirely harmonious history, and it’s one I’ve remarked on several times, for example in my short piece on the 1896 Photographic Salon. Both came to be popular middle class recreations in the same decade, with the widespread adoption of the dry plate around 1880-81 and J. K. Starley’s iconic Rover Safety bicycle of 1885.

I’ve previously written briefly on the fine photography of Belgian photographer John Vink, both on his own website and Magnum, and whose work was features strongly on Magnum in Motion‘s essay on the Tour de France.

On Wednesday I went to see the work of another fine Belgian cycling photographer, Stephan Vanfleteren, at HOST gallery (Honduras Street) in London. Flanders and the north of France have what are almost certainly the toughest cycle races and the hardest cyclists in the world, with riders battling it out in rain, hail and headwinds on muddy paves and forest tracks. Races like Paris-Roubaix (L’enfer du Nord) and the Tour of Flanders which make even the Tour de France look an easier option.

His gritty black and white images are a perfect match for the landscape and the people, and he looks at the events as a whole, including the spectators as well as the riders. Many of the images on show are taken during local kermesses (village fairs) which include races going through the village. The show also includes extremely powerful portraits of most of the leading Flandriens (Flemish cyclists) of postwar years, including such legends as Eddie Mercx and three times Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Museeuw.

The show continues until 31 July, and there is a special late night opening on Thursday, 5 July, 6.30pm-9pm, one of a series of summer soirees including DJs and cocktails. You may get a better view of the show during normal opening hours (10am-6pm, Mon-Fri and 11am-4pm, Sat.)

Honduras St is off Old St (a few minutes walk from Old St station or the Barbican) and close to Magnum’s London print room, where the show ‘New Blood’ with work by associate members Antoine D’Agata, Jonas Bendiksen, Trent Parke, Mark Power and Alec Soth must also be worth a visit (63 Gee Street EC1, 11.30am to 4.30pm Wed to Fri only – or by appointment.)

Peter Marshall 

Real Photography, Unreal Beer

Friday, June 29th, 2007

I’m sure beer has always played an important role in photography, and it is certainly good to see the London Photographers’ Gallery getting sponsorship, just a pity that it some comes from a Japanese beer company. The bottled evidence (and I tried another last night to confirm my convictions) is that they just don’t understand beer as we know it, and it’s a feeling that I sometimes have about the gallery and photography.

(C) 2007, Peter Marshall
Some people at the gallery were drinking the beer

Should you go to an openings there, the best policy is to stick to the wine, which is at least cheap but not nasty, and at the “suggested donation” of a quid a glass is considerably better value than the free beer. In a not dissimilar vein, if the work showing in the ground floor gallery doesn’t stimulate, there is often something in the upstairs print room to soothe the nerves.

I decided I didn’t have time for reaching and writing a few years back, but went to the opening with a fellow photographer who still teaches in further education, and we spent some time talking about the work on the wall and also about this year’s degree shows, so much of which seemed to lack the kind of direction and creative input that our students – at a lower level – had been required to show. We do seem to be putting more and more students through photography courses but in many ways expecting and getting less and less from them. Sometimes it even seems that the higher up the educational ladder the less we expect from them – and at at least on some courses, the less we are giving to them. Many of my former students would come back to college while studying in higher education and say thank god you taught us photography, because nobody here does.

At least there was good photography on the walls for a retrospective by Keith Arnatt, still most famous for his Trouser-Word Piece (1972), a self-portrait wearing a placard with the statement ‘I’m a Real Artist‘, made when he was part of a British conceptual art movement of sometimes immense vacuity, peppered with fleeting moments of insight. It was a statement that raised many questions at the time, and was perhaps behind his move to become a ‘real photographer’ afterwards, although what truly inspired him was being introduced, in 1973, to the work of Walker Evans, August Sander and Diane Arbus.

That Arnatt was born in 1930 and had undergone an art education which had taken him to teaching sculpture at Newport College of Art and lived to the age of 43 without apparently having been exposed to some of the major artistic acheivements of the 20th century says volumes about the attitudes of the art establishment to photography. Even had he studied photography at most art colleges, he would probably not have been introduced to their work.

One of the figures in British education who did much to change this, at least on the documentary photography course he inaugrated at Newport, was Arnatt’s colleage and close friend, David Hurn, one of the best British photographers of the era, and a Magnum member since the 1960s. Hurn has both curated this show and written the accompanying book of Arnatt’s work, ‘I’m a Real Photographer, Keith Arnatt: Photographs 1974 – 2002.’

Although his earlier black and white works are interesting, it was really with colour that Arnatt began to produce works that I find most convincing, and notable among those on the walls are his ‘Miss Grace’s Lane‘ (1986 – 87), ‘Pictures from a Rubbish Tip‘ (1988 – 89), ‘The Tears of Things‘ (Objects from a Rubbish Tip) (1990 – 1991) and the delightful ‘I Wonder if Cows Wonder‘ (2002).

Of course the idea of producing beautiful images from rubbish was in no way novel, and had perhaps been more cleanly and forcibly expressed in Irving Penn‘s great platinum prints of cigarette butts and other urban detritus made in the 1970s. Arnatt’s work has the added dimension of colour, which in some respects softens the impact, but leaves us in no doubt about his abilities as a fine colourist.

Given this, his small series of large close-up images of dog turds is surprising. These are truly images from another planet where grass has a rather different colour. Perhaps Arnatt is deliberately taking a child’s-eye view, echoing the threat to childrens’ health as they roll in the soiled grass, and perhaps these are deliberately ugly images to repel the viewer. If so, they did. It wasn’t the subject matter but the treatment that made me flinch.

(C) 2007, Peter Marshall

I also found no great photographic interest in a series of large blow-ups of notes from Arnatt’s late wife, Jo, written between 1990-94. Perhaps because I don’t really feel I want to know about the relationship between them and that these illuminate. Most importantly, because I don’t think that photography adds anything to them, and I think the actual post-it notes would have had at least as much appeal.

The selection of which notes to preserve and display appears to have been made on the basis of the textual content, and what matters is the text, not the image. A photocopier could have produced enlarged versions of them for display. There does seem to me to be something essentially non-photographic about this work, which some others seem to see as part of a debate about the nature of photography. To me its an irrelevance that just happened to be made using a camera.

Back to beer. With my lunch I had a bottle of Budvar Budweiser (known as Czechvar for legal reasons in the USA.) And if Americans ever want to try to understand Europe and the feelings that many Europeans have about America, they might well compare a bottle to the vastly inferior US Budweiser brew, as well as reflecting that the name is that of the largest city in South Bohemia in the Czech Republic. Budvar is a company who I wish would sponsor the Photographers’ Gallery.

Bernd Becher (1931-2007)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

The work of Hilla and Bernd Becher was controversial to some people in the 1970s and 80s, but I came to it having sat (fleetingly) at the literal feet of Lewis Balz and studied with him and others of the work of the American New Topographics, so the kind of cool objective view embodied in their work came as no shock.

Of course their studies had a kind of ruthless scientific typology that the American work lacked, but it was something that the work of another German, August Sander had prepared me for. The kind of objective view of the Bechers fits well too with the Neue Sachlichkeit which came from Germany in the 1920s, a straightforward depiction of reality as seen in the work of Albert Renger-Patzsch or indeed of Helmut Gernsheim, whose photographic ideas rather disturbed the Royal Photographic Society when he arrived in England from Germany in the 1930s. As the title of Renger-Patzsch’s 1928 book says, ‘The World is Beautiful‘ and his work attempted to bring that out, while one of Gernsheim’s books was entitled ‘Beautiful London‘ (1951.)

The Bechers came to prominence in the rapidly developing art world in Europe, and were clearly seen as artists as well as photographers well before American dealers really began to take art seriously. They were accepted by the academic art world in Germany, and took photography into the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie, where they had met when both were studying painting. Their classes turned out a new generation of masters of photography, among them Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff.

Sadly, I’m prompted to think and write about the Bechers again because of the sad death of Bernd Becher, aged 75, following a heart operation. I knew the work of the Bechers in reproduction long before I saw their actual prints, and the presentation of their images in grids of small images which led to their recognition as conceptual artists had not prepared me for the quality of their work. Some of their large prints of cooling towers and other industrial structures had a truly classic beauty.

Sight and Sound‘ have republished an interesting feature on them, High precision industrial age souvenirs to mark Bernd’s death.

The Bechers became the most influential teachers of the era, not least because of the tremendous financial success of some of their students who became mega-stars of the art world (the Bechers themselves have never commanded similar prices despite the quality and influence of their work.)

I’ve always been uneasy about the great dynastic teachers such as the Bechers, Minor White and Callaghan. Sometimes their influence on their students has perhaps been too strong, turning out too many near-clones, who they have perhaps been rather too successful in promoting. Often this has meant that after the teacher’s death, the work of the students has tended to become less highly regarded. It is perhaps hard to see the market allowing this to happen in this case, although equally hard to see how some of the current art-market prices can be justified. But I suspect the work of the Bechers themselves may well be a very good investment.

Alexandra Boulat in Coma

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

The world of photography was shocked to learn at the weekend that Alexandra Boulat, one of the founders of VII and a fine photojournalist, had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm while working in Israel and is critically ill in the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. According to the VII site, Alex had surgery on Thursday morning to stop the bleeding in her brain; the operation was successful and she is currently in a medically induced coma, which gives her the best conditions for recovery. I’m sure everyone wishes her well, and contributions to her medical expenses are welcomed – details are on the VII site.

Alex was born in 1962 in Paris, and her parents were both connected to photography. Pierre Boulat (1924-98) was a Life staff photographer in the 1950s and 60s and Annie Boulat founded and still owns the Paris-based Cosmos agency (its photographers include Bruno Stevens.)

Pierre began working for Samedi Soir in Paris in 1945, and photographed both in Paris and overseas for the magazine. His pictures appeared in Life from 1953 to 1976, and he photographed many leading celebrities, including Aristotle Onassis, Federico Fellini and Duke Ellington. From 1973 on he became a freelance again.

Not suprisingly Alex started taking pictures when she was 12 and became a photographer in 1989 after training in graphic art and art history. She became well-known for her work covering the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and in particular for her fine work on Kosovo, which showed the efect of the violence on the every-day lives of the people there, and gained her the Golden Visa Award at the Perpignan Visa pour l’image, in 1998, and both an ICP Infinity Award and an Alfred Eisenstadt Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1999. Other awards came from the NPPA, World Press Photo, Overseas Press Club etc.

Alex worked for the SIPA agency founded by Göksin Sipahioglu in Paris for 10 years until 2000. In September 2001, together with Ron Haviv, Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil, Christopher Morris, James Nachtwey and John Stanmeyer she founded Agence VII. Her work appeared in leading magazines around the world, particularly in the National Geographic Magazine, Time and Paris Match.

You can see her photography on the VII site, and also at War Photo Ltd and the Hasted Hunt Gallery. Photojournalism is a tough trade, and demands a great deal from people. As someone who has found her images both moving and informing I’d certainly want to add my wishes for her rapid and complete recovery.

Minnesota Fashion

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Think Paris, and you think Fashion. Think Minnesota and I guess my mind is pretty blank. Maybe gophers or lakes? Actually my mind is pretty blank about gophers too, though I think they are some kind of burrowing rat, and in the primitive days of the Internet (around 1991), courtesy of the University of Minnesota, the gopher protocol used to burrow for information for us before web sites existed. Lakes I can understand, although around here they are largely a cheap way of abandoning sand and gravel sites, but in Minnesota, wilderness.

Of course I’m unfair. The twin cities have a long artistic tradition, and Alec Soth is one of my favourites among his generation of photographers. There is even a French connection, in the state motto “L’Étoile du Nord“, and it does after all have a border with Canada.

Even so, a straightforward fashion show of images by Alec Soth would perhaps be less than overwhelming, but his actual work for the thick glossy magazine ‘Paris Minnesota‘ is fascinating. This is the third of Magnum‘s annual “fashion magazines” where every image – fashion, editorial and advertising – is by a single photographer (previous issues were by Martin Parr and Bruce Gilden) and although these were interesting this looks like being the best to date. Due in a month or so, it is a publication that will become a collector’s item, and signed copies are available too at a relatively small extra cost – so you are advised to pre-order now if you want one.
Soth’s work gains from his realisation that he isn’t really a fashion photographer. As he says “I’m not really comfortable saying I know anything about Paris or its fashion world. And I suspect that most fashionable Parisians know just as little about Minnesota. What is interesting is the space between us.” He found it difficult to work with fashion models who themselves have such a clear idea of how they should look, composing themselves for the camera. Of course his pictures of them are of interest, and he learnt to work much faster than before with his 8×10 camera, sometimes managing to capture something of them before they had retreated into their glossy shells. But perhaps of most interest are the highly detailed advertising images taken in Minnesota, where part of the game is in the search for the actual product, which Jim Casper describes in his LensCulture feature on the Paris opening.

This is an approach that I think we may see setting a trend. So look out for work in the fashion magazines over the next year or so where the product takes some finding. I don’t think these are likely to be taken in Minnesota, but more likely in edgier high energy city settings such as Peckham, Moss Side or in the hotter parts of the banlieue.

The best places to see more about Soth are Magnum and his own web site, and in particular his blog, which has some other links to articles on Paris Minnesota and to pictures of the opening.

More than the Olympics

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to watch what may well be the best film to be made on the Olympics. ‘The Games‘, a 15 minute colour HDV film from Optimistic Productions by Hilary Powell and Dan Edelstyn is an at times hilarious staging of an alternative and surreal Olympics filmed on the unreconstucted Olympic site, with a hand-picked team of ‘athletes’ taking part in steeplechase, hurdles, synchronised swimming and more. It starts with flaming torches and ends (more or less) with an awards ceremony. Catch it if you can.

We’ve all heard how the London Olympics is to play a vital role in the regeneration of east London, although I don’t think anyone has yet come up with any remotely credible explanation of how shutting off and concreting over large areas of land currently open for recreational use and producing large and largely unwanted sporting facilities is going to help that much.

There may be some limited infrastructure improvements, although much of those were already on board from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, with its new Stratford International station. Most of the claimed new housing and some other facilities claimed for the Olympic effect were also already on the way as a part of the Stratford City redevelopment, described as “the most ambitious development within the M25.”

But London 2012 is here and we have to hope for the best, even if it may be madness to expect that to be very much, though we can hope that a few crumbs will fall in appropriate directions. At the moment there is only the pain, as local businesses are forced out of the area and jobs and recreational and sporting facilities are lost, as well as access being restricted. All around the site, high blue fences are being erected to keep us out from July 2. Of course some areas have long been blocked off and well-used paths have already seen lengthy closures for work associated with the games. But the loss of Carpenters Road and Waterden Road in particular will cause considerable local transport problems.

Fences being put up around the Greenway, which should be reopened shortly.

You can see some more pictures from the area taken last Thursday on My London Diary.

Despite all the publicity, the Olympic area is only a small and relatively insignificant part of the regeneration of East London, and a relatively minor contribution to Stratford City. Close by are other large and important projects, in particular at Canning Town and the Royal Docks. The former Pura Foods factory in a loop of the Lea has now been reduced to rubble, and plans for a mixed-use development are close to agreement, with some 1,800 homes, a primary school, shops and more. On the other side of Victoria Dock, planning approval was obtained recently for the Silvertown Quays site, with 5,000 residential units, shops, offices, workspaces, community facilities including a primary school, restaurants and bars and other leisure facilities. This also includes a vast aquarium project, Biota!, in collaboration with London Zoo.

Victoria Dock, SE
Silvertown Quay site and Eastern Quay. The Millenium Mills are to be converted to flats.

West Silvertown already has the Brittania Village development and Eastern Quays, as well as stations on the DLR North Woolwich extension, the Thames Barrier Park and flats at Barrier Point. Two further key sites, Minoco Wharf and Peruvian Wharf are likely to be re-developed before long, although arguments still continue, particularly around the continued industrial use of Peruvian Wharf, and there are more prime riverside sites still to be redeveloped, as well as considerable redevelopment that has already taken place to the east of the Barrier Park, with again more planned.

This afternoon I’m leading a tour around the area, probably in pouring rain. Shortly I’ll post a link to an on-lilne version of this which I hope will encourage others to visit this fast-changing area. It will perhaps take your mind off the Olympics.

Yes, it’s how I saw it

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Here is the text of an e-mail I received today, which I will quote anonymously – but otherwise in full:


Hi in regard to you site as above, did you realise the pciture of the source of the river has a man who looks like he is relieving himself!! There is an issue of something wet and his arms are held in front, was this deliberate or have you not noticed?! OR is it yourself??

I’m not sure it is appropriate if on purpose, and if not the picture should have been checked!!

Would have been nice if the rubbish was cleared before taking the photograph too!


The site in question was named in the subject line. Its full title looks like something like this:

The Lea Valley

London’s Second River – The River Lea (or Lee)

from source to mouth – including the London 2012 Olympic site – photographed by Peter Marshall

and the second picture on the page is:

Source of the River Lea
33d56: The source of the River Lea, Leagrave, near Luton, Bedfordshire.
December 1982.TL 061 248

and is captioned as shown.

What kind of a world does my correspondent live in if he is in any doubt about what this picture shows, or somehow thinks that I might have not noticed what this guy, a few feet from me and the central point of the picture, is doing?

Had Bernard, shown here, informed me of his intentions in advance I might have got the exposure a little better, as the picture is a pig to print, and, before the advent of Photoshop, did need a little ferri to bring out its finer points.

Given the way the stream emerges – or at least did in 1982 – through a grille at the bottom of this concrete block looking far more like a sewage outfall than a sparkling rivulet, his gesture seemed appropriate. As too did the rubbish, which as a matter of good documentary ethics I would not have dreamed of touching,

I don’t often use potassium ferricyanide on prints, but applied on the tip of a fine sable brush here it made the smaller of the two streams stand out more clearly and impressively, leaving I thought no doubt as to what is was. Sometimes our work needs a little help in small ways like this, and so long as what we do is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the event I don’t think it matters.

More often I retouched prints to hide the accidents of photography – dust and scratches, but also occasionally to remove white spots that were actually present in the image. Unless I’m doing a feature on pigeons, then I have no qualms about removing or dulling down the evidence of their existence where it interfered with the reading of the image.

Entirely by fortunate coincidence, it was also pissing down when I started from the Thames at the other end of my journey along the Lea, though this time it was the heavens that had opened rather than Bernard’s fly:

33f33: Regents Canal Dock entrance to River Thames during torrential rain,
October 1982. TQ 363 808

I haven’t finished my Lea Valley web site, although there are a large number of my images on it already, starting from around 1981, and including much of my recent work, but with at the moment around a ten year gap in the middle. At the moment a significant part of the area is about to be radically changed into a giant building site, the location of the London 2012 Olympics, with the loss of significant wildlife habitats (and ironically, sporting facilities including one of London’s largest cycling centres, miles of angling along river and canal and various football and other sports pitches) along with the allotments mentioned here previously.

My pictures do give a good idea of what the area is like and things – both good and bad – that will be lost. I hope to continue photographing the Lea Valley – and my web site – to give an idea of how things have changed in the legacy of the games long after they finish.

Peter Marshall

Banish those M8 Blues

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Or rather more accurately, cyans.

At last, a simple method for removing the cyan corners that you get by using a UV cut filter on a non-Leica coded wideangle. I’ve so far tested it on an older 21mm Voigtlander f4. The other lens I’m currently using with a UV cut filter is an old Summicron 50mm, which gives little or no cyan effect because of its narrower field of view.

I’ve tested it only on Windows XP. However Panotools (Panorama Tools, the free programs and libraries originally written by German professor Helmut Dersch, which form the basis of some of the finest software for working with panoramas) is available for other platforms. Mac users might want to look at Kekus Lensfix CI – you can download a free trial version, and registration is $25.

For Windows you can download a free package with a convenient installer. Your first step, unless you already have PanoTools installed on your copy of Photoshop (Look under Filter menu for Panorama Tools if you are not sure) is to install it (if you have it already, start at point 3 below):

1. Go to Jim Watter’s PanoTools page, and d/l the PanoTools distribution, currently [Version: MinGW 2.8.6 Size: 894KB]
2. Extract the files to any folder, double-click on Setup.exe, then follow the prompts.
3. After installation is complete, start Photoshop, load one of your files with those nasty cyan corners.
3. Select Filter, Panorama Tools and chose PTCorrect
4. Check the Radial Luminance box, make usre all others are unchecked.
5. Click on options for Radial Luminance, enter 9 for red, click OK
6. Click OK to run the filter on the current file.
7. Check the cyan cast is gone and there is no red cast.
8. Smile and save your corrected file.



Magic! And even just about visible on these small moderate quality jpegs, though the difference is much more impressive on the originals. One small warning. Leica users tend not to crop images (though even HC-B did on at least a couple of occasions.) But if you do, don’t crop until after you have removed the cyan cast!

Values of between 6 and 9 seems around correct for most images from my 21mm f4 Voigtlander. Wider lenses should need higher values, and longer lenses lower values. If you find the result now has a red cast in the corners, simply undo the filter and try again with a lower value. The cyan cast may depend on the aperture used, but unless you’ve gone back to using a paper notebook you probably won’t know that. However it does make the 21mm Voigtlander a very usable lens for colour images with the M8.

The next job is to record a suitable actions in Photoshop to run PTCorrect and assign it to a function key combo. I chose Ctrl+Shift F8. You need to ensure that the appropriate value is set for radial luminance and no other boxes are checked before you use the short cut, but it retains values until you alter them.

Then, from Lightroom (of course you can use any other raw converter – or even, if misguided enough, shoot in jpeg mode) after you have set the necessary development parameters (remember to judge colour on the centre of the image), you can define an export pre-set that both saves your file in its final destination and opens it in Photoshop.

Having used this for the first image in a set to be processed, Ctrl+Rt-Arrow takes you to the next image, Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E exports the file in the same way as the previous file, thus opening it in Photoshop, where your chosen function key combo does the business.

At this stage I do any other Photoshop work the image requires – if any, then simply close it, agreeing that I want to save it. It would almost certainly be possible to further automate this sequence, especially if you have later versions of Photoshop than me by putting a suitable droplet into Lightroom’s export actions, but I leave this as your homework exercise!

I don’t think it likely that Leica will ever make it easy for photographers to use non-Leica lenses, and although some people have managed to fool the M8 by painting dots on lenses, this is rather tricky. Unless the lens also selects the expected viewfinder frame it doesn’t seem to work either, and none of my non-Leica lenses seems to.

Mysteriously, the only lens I own that correctly records focal length in the M8 file EXIF data is an old 90mm, completely dot-free. There must be a reason for this, but I’m not that bothered. I can tell which lens I used even if the camera can’t.

For me, the M8 – like the other Leica M fit bodies I own (M2, Hexar and Minolta CLE) is a tool for taking pictures. I want to be able to fit a lens and take pictures. Any lens with the right mount. I use it because it is a beautifully simple and direct tool, that enables me to work in a very intuitive manner, and delivers great results. Or at least did on film. Getting the M8 to do what I want is proving harder, but PTCorrect is another considerable step in the right direction.

Human Rights & Art

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

It was in the 1960s that I joined the National Council for Civil Liberties – now known simply as ‘Liberty‘, after seeing the way that travellers were being hounded by the police, giving up time to help prevent their eviction from otherwise unused derelict sites that had been flattened in the massive redevelopments then taking place in Manchester’s inner suburbs.

Over recent years I’ve photographed many events related to civil rights and human rights abuse in this country, as well as continuing to support ‘Liberty’ and also friends who have taken practical action to support people who our government have been denied both any benefits from the state and the right to work, leaving them destitute.

Saturday I’d hoped to see a performance by Mark McGowan, burning an effigy of Margaret Hodge as a protest against her statement that established British residents should be given precedence over economic migrants for council housing. But there were no traces of a fire on Camberwell Green at noon. Perhaps, as in Birmingham earlier this year, it had been prevented on health & safety grounds. I only hope the guys will be out stopping such things happening on November 5!

Instead I joined the ‘Human Rights Jukebox‘ in its progress from the Camberwell Magistrates Court to Peckham, another event in the Camberwell Arts Week. The ‘March of the Human Rights Jukebox’ was organised by Isa Suarez, who had a one-year artists residency in Southwark in 2006. The juke box included thoughts on people’s rights from many residents and diverse groups in Southwark, some of whom marched with banners along with it.

At the start of the event, the Dulwich Choral Society performed a specially composed piece by Suarez, including words from the ‘Jukebox’. On Clerkenwell Green we stopped for a impassioned recital (in French) by a black African poet, and in front of the old baths in Artichoke Place (now the Leisure Centre) there was a long performance by the band Deadbeat International as well as a short song by three musicians that left us wanting more. Deadbeat International also performed at various other points on route, including another energetic set at Peckham library. The march was led into peckham by a rapper, with some forthright views on human rights.

Accompanying the jukebox were the live art group ‘mmmmmm‘, Adrian Fisher & Luna Montengro, covered from head to foot in sheets of paper containing the complete text of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in both English and Spanish as well as the pages of a world atlas.

Article 11 of the UN Human Rights Declaration hits the shredder.

In front of the library at Peckham, mmmmm completed the event by unpinning the sheets from each other one by one, reading the clauses and feeding the sheets into a shredder (and when this gave up, tearing them up.) Each then poured cold water over the other and threw the shredded papers, so that they stuck to the wet clothes and skin. Finally we were all invited (in what we were informed was an Argentine custom) to jump once into the air for each of the 30 clauses of the Declaration.

On the way to the event, I’d jumped off the bus at the Oval, where ‘Stop the War’ and other demonstrators were protesting. Gordon Brown was apparently expected to arrive at 12.00 to watch some kind of game there. It was a very different kind of action to the ‘jukebox’ though both were political and art in their different ways, although only one gets arts council funding.

The Human Rights Jukebox was more cultural than political, involving the participation of various marginalised groups, including migrants and those who have suffered from mental illness (and artists who are too in some ways marginalised.) Of course the cultural is political as I’ve long argued, and, for example, we need a huge cultural shift to make any effective action on climate change possible. The imagery of the ‘Stop the War’ demo is stereotyped and so familiar that it is perhaps hard to see it changing any minds, and a more creative approach might be more effective.

I’m a supporter of ‘Stop the War’ and have been on many demonstrations. It’s hard to stomach that we had the overwhelming majority of the British people behind us, organised the largest demonstration the country has ever seen but failed to influence events. Perhaps the underlying reason was that the leadership failed to think creatively and call for decisive action when it was needed.

Peckham has a bad reputation, and at times deserves it, but in many ways it is a vibrant place and interesting things happen there and just along the road in Camberwell. You can see more pictures of the March of the Human Rights Jukebox, as well as a few of the Oval demo, and some great kids on their bikes from track in Burgess Park who called in at Peckham Library while I was there on My London Diary.

Naked Bike Ride – Problems

Friday, June 15th, 2007

I have a few problems with the WNBR. No objection to nudity, certainly no objection to environmental protest – I’ve participated in many, though keeping largely clothed.

First, I think the ride is lousy at getting it’s message across. Far too few of the riders or their bikes even carry slogans. Almost zero leafleting as the ride goes through some of the most crowded streets of the capital. People do look, but they wonder what its all about and nobody tells them. And if there was a press officer around at the start they were in hiding.

This year too, the ride seemed much faster. Last year I ran a kilometre of the route with it, going considerably faster than the riders even though stopping occasionally to photograph them. This year, though I’m fitter, I struggled to keep up for a few hundred metres. Speed makes it even harder to read the text on those bodies that do carry it.

Perhaps one answer would be to try to recruit leafleteers from those who sympathise with the aims of the ride but don’t want to strip off, and get them leafleting in key areas such as Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Oxford St etc.

Secondly, the London ride has what it calls a ‘photography policy‘, but might better be called a ‘no-photography policy’. It’s main effect is to make the organisers look silly, as although it has caused a considerable controversy, it seems to have little or no effect in practice.

New this year (or so I understand) were the “photo policy enforcement boards” which riders were encouraged to print and carry, bearing the message “this photo was taken without permission“, to be held as protection against intrusive photographers. I searched long and hard, but to my disappointment failed to spot a single one.

Last year I hadn’t read the photo policy, so it didn’t inhibit my work at all. Photography for me is in any case almost always a two-way affair, involving some kind of relationship between me and my subject. Unlike the proposers of photo policies, I think photographing from my typical working distance of around 1 – 2 metres with a wide-angle is usually less intrusive than standing back and using a long lens.

Last year I photographed many of the individuals on the ride (including some I knew from other, clothed, events), and only one person declined to have a picture taken (perhaps because she had just been photographed by another photographer.) With one group I came to an interesting arrangement (I’ll leave you to speculate, but it was a very warm day and I was hot and happy to oblige) before they too were happy for me to photograph as I liked.


If people take their kit off in public places – where they have no reasonable expectation of privacy – they also can have no reasonable objection to being photographed. No permission is required, and the policy and those boards are a nonsense.

However, unreasonable behaviour is still unreasonable, whether or not some or all of those concerned are wearing clothes. We generally deal with it by making our complaint clear rather than claiming some right we don’t legally have. There are actually laws which can be invoked to prevent nuisance, but would not apply to photographers who behave reasonably.

If the organisers of events such as this feel there is a problem, then they could make arrangements in order to prevent it happening. There are actually some suggestions as to how this could be done on the ride wiki pages. Of course riders who for some reason want to hide their identity can do so by wearing masks.

WNBR (C) 2007, Peter Marshall

As always when photographing, if asked I gave people in my pictures my web address. After I posted some of the images, quite a few e-mailed asking for more pictures or larger files of their own image to print, and of course I sent them. The ride was a significant event for them and they welcome a good photographic record.

One of the very noticeable things in the event is the number of those taking part who are wearing little but a camera, including some very professional looking DSLRs and also video cameras. They too see it as something they want to photograph.

Actually I would have nothing against a reasonable photo policy. It might say something like “Photographers are requested not to pester any individuals who make it clear they do not wish to be photographed.”

The third problem I have is usage. What do I do with the pictures after I’ve taken them? What I certainly don’t want to do is to set up My London Diary as some kind of soft-porn site, so I’m very careful about what I post there. Again, given that the images are not model-released, I think even editorial use needs to be considered very carefully.

We also live in odd times so far as nudity is concerned, and there have been many who have suffered for taking images that most of us would feel unproblematic. Even owning widely respected photographic books has at times resulted in police warnings and prosecution. Most agreements with web hosting companies have very restrictive clauses on what may be posted, and in case of complaints I’m told some find it simpler just to close accounts rather than decide if the complaint is justified. As someone who runs web sites for several other organisations, posting doubtful material is a risk I don’t wish to take.

Much of my photography is made with an eye on history. Not generally recording major events, but the kind of minor happenings that contribute to understanding how we live. Quite a few of my pictures have already appeared in books about our current era, as well in various museum shows. In a few years time more of my WNBR pictures may come out too.

Some carefully selected images from the London 2007 World Naked Bike Ride appear in My London Diary.

If you took part in the race, think I may have photographed you and would like a copy of the picture but can’t find it there, you can email me to ask.
Peter Marshall