Archive for August, 2007

The Time of Her Life – Lesley McIntyre

Friday, August 31st, 2007

I wasn’t sure whether to bother to go to Photofusion for the opening of their current show, but I’m glad I did. ‘The Time of Her Life‘ is a series of pictures by Lesley McIntrye of her daughter Molly, born in 1984 suffering from a muscular disability that was never properly diagnosed. At birth, doctors had thought she would only survive for a few weeks or months, but she was actually 14 when she died.

McIntyre had to devote her time to being a parent and was unable to continue her photographic career as she had hoped. Instead she began a detailed photographic record of Molly’s life, which she was determined should be as normal as possible. The pictures reveal a very full life, but only hint at the battles that lay behind this, fighting the discrimination against the disabled, insisting that her daughter be educated in a normal mainstream school.

The images are surprising varied given that they all feature the same subject, and give a very positive and life-affirming message. They have a realism that avoids pathos while giving us a warm and poignant portrait of Molly. The book ‘The Time of Her Life’ was published by Jonathan Cape in 2004 and is still available; it was Highly Commended in the John Kobal Book Award in 2004.

Of course openings are also a good opportunity to meet and talk to people, and not the best time to see the show, and it was good to meet old friends and make a few new connections. It wasn’t too hard to drink a few glasses of wine and a couple of beers too. The show continues until 29 Sept, and I hope to go back for a longer look. Photofusion photography centre is just a couple of minutes walk from both Brixton underground and overground stations, as well as many bus routes. When I photographed on buses for a transport project, Brixton was one of my favourite places to work, with lively bus queues and never long to wait for a bus. The gallery is just a few yards from Europe’s largest Caribbean food market, well worth a visit. John Gay (1909-99 – born Hans Gohler in Germany, he moved to England in 1933) , took some rather atmospheric photographs of it in the early 1960s.

End Colour Fringing

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

The Nikon digital 10.5mm semi-fisheye is one of my favourite lenses, although it needs to be used sparingly. I wrote about it at some length for shortly after getting it, with various suggestions for using and altering the images it gives. Since then I’ve used it to create several images I feel proud of, subjects that just fitted the effect it gives, like this circle of druids at the spring equinox in London:

Druids in London (C) 2007, Peter Marshall
Spring Equinox at Tower Hill, 2007

Anyone reading this in Hungary who saw the recent ‘Europe of Culture – the culture of urbanity‘ show this year will have seen this picture I took at Contretype in Brussels, where the circular stairway of the Hotel Hannon provided another ideal subject.

Hotel Hannon (C) 2005, Peter Marshall

But the lens does have one severe problem, chromatic aberration, which needs to be corrected at least for good large prints. For the Hungary show, I spent ages working on the file, removing some of the more noticeable colour fringing using Photoshop.

But of course there are easier ways, and one of the best I’ve found is in Lightroom, which I now use for converting my RAW digital files. (People tell me the Nikon software does a good job, but even several years and 2 camera bodies later I still can’t bring myself to pay for the software that Nikon really should have supplied free with the cameras.) It isn’t just useful for the 10.5 Nikkor, but almost all the images I take when I want to make critical large prints, as nearly all zoom lenses show some chromatic aberration at most focal lengths (the Nikon 18-200, for example, is fine at 24mm, but away from this needs a little help.)

If there is anyone using Lightroom who has yet to find this, or anyone still wondering if Lightroom is worth the money, in the Development mode there is a panel headed ‘Lens Corrections‘ with two and a half sections. The first part has two sliders to control chromatic aberration, one for Red/Cyan and the other for Blue/Yellow. Here is a small section of an image taken by the 10.5mm, from close to a corner and at three times actual size to show the effect exagerated.

3:1 section of original
Before any correction – image at 3 times actual size

And here it is after adding -46 Red/Cyan and +32 Blue/Yellow

After Chromatic removal

There is still some colour fringing, although it is a lot improved. Below the two sliders is a ‘Defringe’ setting that controls the removal of blue fringing found in many digital images. If set to ‘All edges’ it finishes the job, giving an almost perfect result (and with a little tweaking of the sliders I could probably improve it slightly.) It actually makes the settings for chromatic aberration easier to determine if you set the ‘defringing’ first.

Image defringed

Lightroom will also do a little more for these images. Most pictures taken with the 10.5mm show some vignetting, usually giving images that are lighter at the corners. The lower half of the ‘Lens Corrections’ panel can deal with this, often looking best with values around -35 for amount and 21 for midpoint.

I spent some time playing with this today as I used the semi-fisheye for some pictures at Notting Hill Carnival over the weekend, which I’ll write about a little more later. Again it let me take pictures that could not have been taken any other way.

Peter Marshall

Perrin’s People

Friday, August 24th, 2007

It was impossible not to respond positively to the work of French photographer Gilles Perrin taken in Africa and elsewhere around the world, although I also found it hard to know what to say when he brought it to show me at Rhubarb Rhubarb in Birmingham. His images, taken carefully, reverentially of his subjects, using a 4×5 camera on a tripod and using long exposures (from perhaps 1/8 to a second) acknowledge and value the individuals who work with him, and the use of a Polaroid Neg/Pos film enables him to give them their image while he retains the negative for later printing.

Much though I admired his work, and the patient and sometimes dangerous travels which he made to find his subjects, I also found myself wondering how his practice could be supported, and whether it was in some respects a relic from a bygone age. Some of his subjects too, he told me, no longer appreciated the kind of humanistic exchange represented by the gift of an image, and demanded payment rather than a picture. He travelled among tribes where everyone had a gun, and it was necessary to pay the fee that they demanded.

Looking at his work, my mind went back to my childhood years, and the large pile of yellow-bordered magazines that had once belonged to a distant richer uncle, ‘National Geographic‘ magazines from the 1920s and 1930s. In their pages were images not dissimilar from many of those Gilles showed me (though seldom anything like as clear or assured) but that it seemed to me was the ideal client for his work – given a time machine. It was, incidentally, these magazines that I think first got me interested in photography, though not necessarily always for the right reasons.

Surprisingly, although all he showed was black and white, and many of the images would have been both more informative and possibly more startling in colour, it was not until near the end of his presentation that I really felt a strong need for colour, when a multiple image print including Tibetan prayer flags seemed somehow too drab. The images of people have a rapport, a connection with the subject that is strong enough to make thoughts of colour irrelevant (although it may weaken their interest as simple records of these rapidly disappearing cultures.)

I won’t put his work here – you can see so many sets on the web site, and read – almost entirely in French – his thoughts about the work. There are so many fine black and white portraits from Africa, Egypt, South America, Asia and of course France.

You can also see some colour urban landscapes from the Val de Marne and Bobigny (a suburb just to the north-east of Paris where I’ve sometimes changed buses to get to my brother-in-law’s place at Noisy-le-Grand.) The work from Val-de-Marne seems somehow more personal and more varied, and even includes one image actually shot as panoramic, rather than the triptychs and sets of four carefully aligned images Perrin more normally uses. Perhaps in the work from Bobigny the sheer technique needed to produce the work prevents the kind of spontaneity and interaction that I like.

Although I loved the work, admiring the images, I ended up wondering about whether it somehow was out of time. When others before done this kind of thing so well, is there still something new to say, or should photographers in the twenty-first century be finding new pastures? And perhaps importantly, is there a market for work of this type now? I’m not sure, but I hope so. Work of this quality and integrity deserves to be seen and to be rewarded.

Looking at Gilles’s work, I found it hard to know what to say, other than to admire it. But having seen the web site perhaps I can offer just a little advice. Firstly, to that he should get his own domain. Then to take a good look at the web design and in particular produce an index page that is more visual, and to cut down the overwhelming blackness that diminishes the images. And finally to provide the text in English (as well as French) on all pages; like it or not, English is the major language of the web.

Janam Ashtami Shobha Yaatra

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Janam Ashtami Shobha Yaatra is, I think, the procession for the anniversary of Krishna, which is on September 4, and the procession through Southall last Sunday from the Shree Ram Mandir (Temple of Lord Rama) in King Street marked the beginning of the celebrations. There was a festival atmosphere, and much fine food, a little of which I enjoyed, although it’s hard to eat while I’m working.

The procession in Southall (C) 2007, Peter Marshall

Taking religion seriously doesn’t mean always being serious about religion, and I love the enthusiasm and joyous fervour that many of those taking part display, as well as the colour and noise of the event.

Last month, Southall elected a new Labour MP, Virendra Sharma, and he was there taking an active part in the festival, with everyone wanting to have their picture taken with him. Working on a very crowded pavement I was glad to have the 12-24mm lens on my Nikon D200 – if I stepped back at all people flowed immediately into any free space.

Virendra Sharma, Labour MP for Ealing Southall (C) 2007, Peter Marshall

I followed the procession through the centre of Southall, taking the chance to have some more refreshments there, and finally left it as it passed the Vishwa Hindu Mandir in Lady Margaret Road, where people had come out to watch it pass. It was a drab day, threatening rain, but in Southall there was plenty of colour.

You can see more pictures as always on My London Diary

Peter Marshall 

Rhubarb Rhubarb: Jaskirt Dhaliwal

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

I met Jaskirt Dhaliwal, one of the festival volunteers helping with the running of Rhubarb Rhubarb, on the coach trip on the coach trip to Walsall, and had enjoyed hearing about her project in Bearwood and her enthusiasm about it, Birmingham and photography, so I was intrigued to see what her pictures were like. So when I saw her sitting with a box of pictures at the book launch I went over and took a look.

I wasn’t disappointed. Her work has a freshness I find appealing, and the Bearwood series, which examines peoples ideas about community through a series of portraits of residents of this small town on the edge of Smethwick, just outside the centre of Birmingham. Each is shown in a location that has a particular resonance for them, and she has explored through them the question of why some people at least “continue to live in the same area for decades“, although, as she found, “a lot of other people photographed for this series believed the notion of community has disappeared.”

Unlike many groups of photographs which centre around a strong theme, the images here also show a sensitivity to the situation and the personalities involved. I benefited from hearing something about the people in these pictures as I was shown the images, and I think it would be useful to have some short texts with the images on the web site. Looking at the image of Mick, for example, it is not immediately obvious where he has chosen as the location for this image, nor his reasons. It is a portrait that echoes something of his personality, but for the project we need more.

Mick (C) Jaskirt Dhaliwal

Jaskirt graduated this year from Coventry University, where her degree was in Communication, Culture and Media. Her final project proposal, on Women Footballers, gained her the Photo Imaging Council Award 2007, and was exhibited earlier this year at Redditch United Football ground, at Focus on Imaging in the NEC at Birmingham, and, together with work from Bearwood, at Coventry Glasshouse gallery. You can also see work from Women Footballers on her Flickr site, as well as four images of British Asian Musicians.

Peter Marshall

Around Heathrow

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

This morning I rode to Southall on my push bike, the 1957 vintage Cinelli that was my best birthday present ever when I was 13. It was a real racer, and had spent the previous season being pounded over the cobbles of Europe by a guy who got himself a new road machine every year.

Now, like me, its a lot older and in a pretty sorry state. Wheels almost twice as thick and tyres several times fatter when I got fed up with mending punctures in thin racing tubulars and indignities such as a carrier and pannier, not to mention rust, scratches, some rather careless paint jobs and a ton of greasy hardened on dirt.

It still rides fairly well and gets me places, but is the kind of bike you can leave on the street almost anywhere and expect to find it there when you come back. I do usually lock it, but more for my own peace of mind rather than thinking that anyone might otherwise take it away.

Cycling through light rain along the edge of the airport at Hatton Cross I saw two police standing in the refuge at the cross-roads. I think they only bothered to stop me because they were bored – there were really very few people around at half past ten on a wet Sunday morning.

Are you going to join the climate camp I was asked, and I replied no, I was on my way to Southall to photograph a religious procession. And since I carry a UK Press Card, supposedly recognised by “The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Nothern Ireland etc” I got it out to show them. I thought that should have been enough, but they decided to go through the whole business of taking my details and searching my bags etc.

The two officers were at all times polite – and we had a reasonable and pleasant enough conversation, and it relieved their boredom a little, while only holding me up for around five minutes. But I don’t like the process and it seems like something from the kind of police state I don’t really relish living in. It also seems to make a mockery of the Press Card, which should serve to identify me and gain the cooperation of the police.

Police Search form

After I’d been to Southall, I had to cycle back past the airport again, and this time went along the A4 which runs along the north side of Heathrow. Parts of it were swarming with police, and I did photograph a few of the demonstrators (and a proud mother.) I was pleased to see them too – it really is time that we got rid of Heathrow, built by deception in the wrong place 60 or so years ago.

Demonstrators and Mother

A little further on a stand-off was developing around some BA offices, but things didn’t look promising for the demonstrators. The place was buzzing with photographers and film crews and I decided I wasn’t going to get anything different to the crowd, so I moved off down the road to see if anything else was happening. I met a few more small groups of demonstrators coming along the road:

Demonstrators and Police

each group accompanied by a police van. The police were for some reason making a big fuss of photographing the clown army. They still haven’t learnt that the best tactic with clowns is to ignore them – unless they actually commit a crime.

Clown Army

I’d seen enough to be fairly sure that nothing much was likely to happen along the A4, and I checked out BA’s Waterside HQ. There they had police horses and a lot of guys in their black fighting gear wandering around the grounds with absolutely nothing to do. I didn’t stop to give them another chance to harass a photographer.

I couldn’t be bothered to try the other side of the airport, where more might be happening (it was, as I later heard on the news), and came home.
There will be a few more pictures from Heathrow on My London Diary shortly. And some rather more interesting images from Southall.

I Love Peckham

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Well, that’s perhaps going a little far, but it’s certainly an area I like. Peckham, for those who don’t know London, is “south of the river”, one of those parts that many – including taxi-drivers – like to avoid. At it’s heart is the bustling, colourful shopping centre of Rye Lane, but increasingly Peckham is also becoming one of the artistic ‘quarters’ of London, home to artists including Antony Gormley and Tom Phillips.

But there are still areas and estates where I would probably not choose to go at night, and places where it pays to be streetwise. One shadow still over Peckham is that of the young Damilola Taylor, murdered on his way home in 2000.

‘I Love Peckham’ is an annual festival organised by Southwark Council to celebrate the more positive aspects of Peckham, with a week of artistic events, music, dance, street performances, food stalls, markets and more. I only spent a few hours there on the Saturday afternoon, mainly in Peckham Square and Rye Lane, though I took a walk again down Bellenden Road, the centre of one of the more successful regeneration projects of recent years. As you can see, I was not the only visitor:

Rye Lane (C) 2007, Peter Marshall
Astronauts in Rye Lane

I think this was also the first show of ‘sofa art’ I’ve photographed, and there were also some interesting shop window displays. But then Rye Lane is always full of interesting windows.

(C) 2007, Peter Marshall
One of the 20 decorated sofas in use in Peckham Square

You can see more pictures from ‘I Love Peckham’ on My London Diary.

Saffers Against Crime

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Last Saturday I photographed a march in the centre of London. Nothing unusual in that, but this march was different in that it was made up almost entirely of South African expatriates living in this country. It’s also attracted criticism both from some South Africans living here, and also from back home.
(C) Peter Marshall, 2007
This quote from Mandela was carried at the head of the march.

The march was against crime and in particular violent crime in South Africa and in support of the South African Police in their fight against crime. It was organised by a group called ACT4SA, ‘Against Crime Together For South Africa’.

In May this year, a group of young ‘Saffers’ in the UK were appalled to hear that one of their friends, Mark Joubert, had been murdered in a Durban restaurant. His death was one of many, the figures showing around 50 murders in the country every day, but it was one that aroused particular attention both in Durban and here. Working through the Facebook Saffers network they belonged to, they decided to organise this protest march in London. Hundreds promised their support, and on the day perhaps around 600 or 700 turned up and marched.

Before the march there were a number of comments by bloggers and others, mainly suggesting that if they wanted to do anything to help in South Africa they should start by going back there. At least one SA police chief went public saying that he didn’t need this kind of support.

The marchers, mainly young white South Africans, many here working in IT, were obviously sincere and concerned. It was a well-ordered march and the two speeches, one by one of the organisers and a second by Shannon Joubert, the sister of the murdered man, were positive about the need for South Africans in all communities to work together so that every South African would be able “to feel secure in his own home, to feel save in the cities, towns and rural areas… to travel to work, to school and other places without danger.” (Nelson Mandela)

(C) 2007, Peter Marshall
The march paused for a few moments opposite South Africa House

Unfortunately you don’t have to look very far at all to find sites where racist discussions are latching on to this protest, suggesting linkups with the British National Party and full of overt racist statements and language that we no longer allow in polite discourse.

The ACT4SA march was led by a banner shown above quoting Nelson Mandela, but the discussion of it on one web site i visited seemed largely concerned with racist and personal attacks on him and other black South Africans.

While I’m sure the organisers of ACT4SA worked from quite different motives, they will need to put in a great deal of work – especially to enlist support from more black South Africans – to stop their efforts being hi-jacked. The fight against crime in South Africa also has to me a fight against the racism which still seems endemic among many.

(C) 2007, Peter Marshall
I didn’t take any great pictures of the event, though overall they do give a good idea of what it was like. You can see them as usual on My London Diary.

Foto8 – The Dirty Magazine

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

I’ve just been looking at the latest issue of foto8, the so-called ‘Dirty’ issue, although there will be some very disappointed customers if they buy it on the basis of this title. Rather than being a ‘dirty magazine’ its an issue that concentrates on issues related to the environment – and a few other things.

You can see a preview including an index of the issue on the foto8 web site, although the thumbnail pages are considerably too small to give much idea of the features – I’d certainly suggest some re-design in this area, perhaps linking each to a page with a rather larger image, and, at least in the case of the longer features, some explanatory text. I can’t imagine many would feel impelled to buy from what is on show here.

If, like me, you have an interest in documentary photography and photojournalism, then I think it is ones of the best magazines around. I’m happy to be a subscriber, although I’ve yet to take advantage of their special offers on books.
It would be very difficult to guess from the thumb that Andrea Dapueto‘s ‘A Room of Their Own‘ is about the work areas of prostitutes in the bushes by the Italian roadside, and while the title ‘Cry for Me‘ might indicate that Alberto Giuliani’s images are from Argentina, there is almost nothing that can be inferred from the minute image about what is in some ways the most interesting portfolio in the issue.

Justin Jin‘s image in ‘Rags to Riches‘ is simply some blue blotches. It’s actually probably not a good editorial decision as the opening image for the story in any case, atypical and possibly the weakest image in the piece, which is an interesting look at the manufacture of fashionable jeans in China – with pictures showing the workers who at considerable risk to their health produce and distress these items for near slave rates.

I’ve written previously about Jacob Holdt‘s American Pictures. In 1969 Holdt ran from his native Denmark to avoid trial for political activities and spent around ten years hitching around America, staying with anyone who would put him up, as it says on his web site, “from the poorest migrant workers to America’s wealthiest families such as the Rockefellers. They not only gave him a hospitality and warmth, but their continuing friendship to this day.”

He gave blood twice a week to buy film to photograph mainly the 400 families he stayed with. You can see some of the work from this trip on his American Pictures site, and in particular in the presentation Roots of Oppression, which uses his pictures alongside historical images of the slave trade and of segregation in America.

Holdt in many respects isn’t much of a photographer, but in some ways the images gain from being mainly simple snapshots. I don’t think I’ve seen him mentioned in a print photo magazine before and although it is useful as a pointer to his work, viewing on-line has many advantages. The careful selection of his work for inclusion in the magazine perhaps makes it look rather different with its concentration on the dramatic. Incident rather than normality.

Perhaps the weakest aspect of foto8 is in the writing; the three ‘columns’, whose connection with photography is rather tenuous; the reviews too seem generally superfluous and sometimes ill-considered, and I’m sure the magazine would be stronger without them. Of course there are exceptions – such as the article on the documentary film ‘Black Gold’, and the end page item ‘On My Shelf’, where someone talks about the books that have influenced them is often interesting.

Rhubarb: Matthew Pokoik

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Its interesting to see comments from the other side of the table about Rhubarb Rhubarb, and one of the photographers who presented his work to me on Friday afternoon was Mathew Pokoik. So far on his blog you can read two comments on the event, Rhubarb Rhubarb – a dream – and Walker Evans and Italo Calvino, portfolio reviews, and Perseus.

I find myself in agreement with much of what he says, although I think it rather silly to worry about what he calls the ‘pay to play‘ aspect. You can’t really expect all the work and organisation that goes into such an event to happen for free. Someone does has to pay for it all.

As a reviewer, I didn’t have to pay, though it did in fact cost me not inconsiderably in several ways to be there in Birmingham for the four nights. I didn’t begrudge it, as Matt says, it is a great way to meet people.

The meeting between reviewer and photographer is perhaps the closest thing in photography to the confessional, and I certainly have no intention of revealing the secrets that passed between Matt and myself. I can however say that I invited him to send some of his work from his work in progress ‘the global city‘ for the urban landscape site that I run along with Mike Seaborne, who is curator of photographs at the Museum of London.

In one of his pieces Matt says “After presenting my work time after time today, honing my “spiel”, frankly I’m a bit tired of all this talk about myself!” I think most reviewers would actually prefer a more relaxed attitude, though probably not the “speak only in mythological images” approach he muses about. The mistake of some (fortunately few) of those I saw was to try and speak too much about their work rather than let the images speak for themselves. We don’t have much need for mythology when we have photographic images.

Matt also writes of having dreamed of a unknown young Walker Evans bringing the dummy for ‘American Photographs‘ into the portfolio review, and how he would have been treated. Had he come he might have met his ‘Lincoln Kirstein’, as two of today’s best book editors were certainly among the Rhubarb reviewers. ‘American Photographs‘ certainly owes a great deal to Kirstein who helped Evans greatly on the selection, sequencing, design and possibly, through donations to MoMA, the financing of the book.

Considering that the critics of the day mostly panned the book on publication (some of the worst comments came from other photographers), Pokoik gives the Rhubarb reviewers a pretty good batting average by suggesting that “that roughly a third of the reviewers would tell this young artist that the work was too broad“.

Actually I think not. Walker would have put the case for his work simply and straightforwardly and his pictures would have done the rest. There were several portfolios I saw over the 3 days that left me little to say, although I’m pretty well certain I saw no young Walker Evans.

Reviewers too have their different motivations for taking part in these exchanges (not least that we would all like to discover a young Evans), but most of them get to be reviewers by in some way demonstrating their competence. You can – if you wish – still read the several thousands of features, some trivial others less so, that I’ve written on the medium, or even look at the perhaps ten times as many images I’ve published, mainly indifferent, some bad and a few good. The thirty years of teaching is harder to inspect, though a few of my students haven’t done too badly.

Of course some of the photographers also have considerable experience, but the reviewer always has a considerable advantage, that of being able to view the work in a more detached manner. I wrote a little about the review process on the way home from Rhubarb Rhubarb in a piece called (after Minor White) ‘Three Canons’ and the second of these is I think a very valuable piece of advice:

  • When making your pictures think for yourself; when preparing to present your work, think of your audience.

But putting yourself in the place of your audience isn’t easy, and its something many photographers find themselves unable to do. But reviewers are a part of your audience, and those at Rhubarb a particularly knowledgeable and articulate segment If you want to get your money’s worth from the event it makes sense to think very carefully about what they say, even if in the end you reject it. If as many as a third of them are giving a similar message, it is perhaps time to consider very strongly if they might have a point, even if it isn’t one you want to hear.

Equally important is not to read into advice things that are not there. I sincerely doubt anyone in Birmingham was advising any photographer to move down “a path of safety and mediocrity” so we have to think what might have really been said and whether it was justified. If as many as a third of reviewers actually said so there is a very good chance it was.

I’d suggest that people take a look at ‘the global city‘ on Matthew Pokoik’s web site. It’s perhaps interesting given the concern Matthew expresses about ‘”honing’ his spiel’ that on the web site he appears to present it without text.