Archive for September, 2007

Autumn is official

Friday, September 28th, 2007

The Druid Order seem a very nice, friendly bunch of people who welcome photographers taking pictures at their events. The leaflet they gave me gives the “three fundamental principles of wisdom:
Obedience to the Laws of nature
Effort for the welfare of mankind
And heroically enduring the unavoidable ills of life
A little more learning from nature would certainly have helped us avoid the sad state we’ve got the planet into at the moment, and heroic endurance is likely to be in great demand in the future.

There are various Druid groups around, but the Druid Order seems to be the largest and more publicly orientated in England, with regular public meetings in Covent Garden and public ceremonies for the Spring Equinox on Tower Hill
the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge (outside the area I normally cover for ‘My London Diary’) and the Autumn Equinox on Primrose Hill, where I was with them again on Sunday.

Primrose Hill has a fine panoramic view over London, although the air is seldom really clear enough to enjoy it fully. It is really quite a noticeable hill, and most photographers will also recognise it as the location for one of Bill Brandt’s finest portraits, of painter Francis Bacon, made there in the early evening in 1963. This is an image I’ve written about before, in part as a good example of Brandt being very clear in his mind exactly how he wanted his images to look, making an appointment with Bacon to meet him at that exact place at the right time for the kind of light he needed. Bacon squeezed a little awkwardly at the edge of the frame, looking out of it stony-faced in his black leather coat (doubtless garment and expression also at Brandt’s order), the leaning lamp post with its light against the gloom of the burnt-in sky, the triangle of path leading to the scraggy trees at the brow of the hill and the darkened grass creating a surreal background, and a little light (available or added?) from the left bringing out the face of the subject and some detail in his coat.

Fenton, who I’ve also written about before at some length, had a rather nice house on the edge of the park with a view across it. A blue plaque marks the house, one of rather few in London related to photography.

This Sunday it was bright and fairly clear as I walked up the hill. People were running up it, jogging around the park, and admiring the view from the top. I watched a small group of the druids, still in ordinary clothes, practice a little of their ritual and read a chapter or two enjoying sitting in the sun while waiting for things to happen.

On My London Diary you can see my pictures from the hill and of the druids, both as they prepare for the ceremony – putting on their robes and lining up, and during it.

Unfortunately I had to leave before the end of the ceremony to get to St Paul’s Cathedral where I was meeting some friends for a walk – so perhaps I’ll need to go back another year to photograph the end of the event.

Incidentally I intend to rewrite some of my old features from another place (most needed revising in any case) and post the new features here or elsewhere. But 8 years of writing is a lot to tackle.

Weddings and Compacts

Friday, September 28th, 2007

I’m not a wedding photographer. I’ve only officially photographed three weddings in over 30 years as a photographer, one of which was a couple of years back when my own younger son got hitched, and I could hardly refuse his request. It was a long day, and the pictures cover well over 12 hours, and show a certain deterioration towards the end which could be slightly alcohol-related. There are just a few of them on My London Diary that give some of the flavour of the day, with some text that of course starts with me quoting Brodovitch’s “so you want to be a wedding photographer!”.

The other two occasions each has a little story, but I’ll keep those for another time. Of course I’ve been to other weddings, but I make a point never to take a ‘real’ camera and to stay well out of the way of the professionals.

So on Saturday, a guest, I turned up to the Gurdwara with just a little Fuji F31fd digital in my pocket, as despite having been told it would be fine to take plenty of photographs, I was really intending not to take much. But it was my first experience of a Sikh wedding, and I soon found myself caught up in the colour and human interest of the event, and shooting at least as much as I would have done with my Nikon.

Given the minute size of the sensor, the results are surprisingly good; perhaps the main failing isn’t noise or sharpness, but the colour quality. Hard to pin down, but it just somehow lacks the smoothness of colour and tone that the D200 provides, and at 6Mp the files are of course a little smaller.

Light was a problem, although the area where the main ceremony was held has a lot of natural light and the team of photographers covering the event had added a couple of movie lights, they and I were shooting with flash as well. I’m sure the results they got with their SB800 units – my normal choice of flash – were rather better in that respect than the tiny built in flash on the Fuji, although it did a decent job (with of course a considerable amount of red-eye.)

One of the reasons for choosing this model was its relatively good performance in lowish light, and a second its relatively short shutter lag, and both were useful. What I still hate about it is the lack of a viewfinder. Holding a camera out in front so you can see the viewing screen is just not a good way to work. It is much trickier to frame, and the camera is much harder to hold steady. So quite a few shots were not sharp, many more than I would expect with the Nikon under similar conditions. The vibration reduction (VR) in the Nikon 18-200 would also have come in useful.

Push-button zooming is also a little of a disaster – very difficult to control the rocker switch accurately and much slower to be precise than the manual ring on an SLR lens. The 8-24mm zoom is roughly equivalent to a 24-72mm on the DX Nikons (35-105 on ‘FX’) and there were times when I would really have liked a wider view.

All cameras are compromises, and given the size and low cost of the F31fd (mine as £133) it proved a remarkably effective tool. A final compromise for me is that the camera has no raw mode, and I was shooting using the highest quality jpeg it provides. The 2Gb XD Picture Card did add another £25 to the cost, but does hold around 680 images – enough to keep me happy most days – though of course I also needed to spend another £13 on a spare compatible battery.

The images straight out of the camera seemed a little harsh, with some empty highlights and blocked shadows, as well as some small colour temperature problems in some images. I could have tried sorting these out in Photoshop, but instead imported the images using Lightroom. (Incidentally this is now at version 1.2, another free upgrade for registered users.)

I don’t quite understand how, but this appeared to let me get something extra out of many of them, although not as much as with RAW files. I was also surprised to find that those files that I looked at later in Photoshop didn’t have any of the ‘comb’ effect – gaps in the histogram – which I would have expected from working on them. I also converted the files to Adobe RGB which I normally use with the Nikon.

Looking at the files in detail it is clear that one of the main problems with my use of the camera is camera shake at speeds where I would normally have no problem with hand holding. Its a problem that I think would not be there if the camera had a viewfinder so it could be used held to the eye. I’ve not had the camera long, and I’m still struggling with the camera manual, which goes out of its way to be friendly while giving you as little actual information as possible. It has as what is called a ‘picture stabilisation’ mode, which appears to be is a simple auto program that selects higher ISO and shutter speeds than normal – but has been misleadingly named to suggest the camera incorporates image stabilisation – which it does not.

What it does have is excellent performance at high ISO. Although the quality is best at the slowest ratings of ISO100 and 200, many of the images at ISO800 are perfectly usable. At ISO1600 it is still remarkably good. Without the use of specialised noise-reduction software the results are in the same region as those from the Nikon D200 at the same speed. Things do fall apart rather at ISO3200, but it looks as if we are going to have to save up for the Nikon D3 if we really want to work at that speed.

You can see more of the pictures from Saturday’s wedding on My London Diary. I tried hard to capture all the key events in the ceremony without being in the way of those doing the job officially. I’m not sure if I can live with the Fuji. I’m thinking of trying to use it at the wide-angle setting either completely without a viewfinder, or possibly by adding a sports or accessory viewfinder on to the top of the camera.

Nan Goldin’s Mirror on Life

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

This article started as part of my lecture notes and was added to at the time of Goldin’s Whitechapel Gallery show in 2002, and later a version was published on the ‘About Photography’ web site I was then writing. It has been rewritten in 2007.

For copyright reasons, no images by Goldin are included here. At the end of the article are a number of links to her work on the web, as well as to some other articles about her and several of the other people mentioned here.

Life and Work

The division between photographers’ lives and their work is sometimes but not always important. That we now know a little more about the life of E J Bellocq, where once all we had were his enigmatic but often stunning images from the brothels of Storyville certainly has not altered the way I appreciate his work, and there remain many photographers who I admire but know little or nothing about.

Some of course have provided us much more. Edward Weston for many years wrote what he felt were his intimate thoughts in his day-books, and although he excised some names and passages with a razor blade before allowing Nancy Newhall to edit them, these published diaries still perhaps still tell us more than we need to know about his personal life, fascinating though it may be at times. What he thought about his work is really of more interest, although his writing sometimes seems too arty and full of pretensions to match the directness of his best and most direct camera work.

Weston’s relationships with women – Magarethe Mather, Tina Modotti and Charis Wilson Weston among others – were obviously a vital part of his life and had their impact on his work, which I tried to bring out in my features on him without going into the minutiae of his many relationships. But perhaps these aspects of his titillated his major biographer and others, and distracts them from his work, distorting distort their and thus our appreciation. Landscapes are less sexy than the nude even without the artificial spice of personality journalism, but they may be more profound.

An obsessive record

With Nan Goldin things are different; life and work overlap to the point of identity. As she writes in the introduction to her first book, published in 1986 “The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read.” Goldin wanted, or even needed, the camera to become part of her and to “obsessively record every detail” of her life.

Of course the camera can’t oblige. It only offers us glimpses, framed and caught with more or less skill by the person who directs it – and Goldin’s control as a director is remarkable. The glimpses depend on both the technology — lenses, angles of view, depth of field, the film etc — and the plans and decisions of the photographer. These together produce a view of what was there in front of the camera. Photographs are not simply ‘traces’ or some kind of objective replica, but objects that are produced from a particular viewpoint – moral, ethical and judgmental as much as spatial.


The taking of a photograph is only one stage of a process. Goldin uses her pictures to tell a story, and in doing so creates her own story. The cover picture of ‘The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency’ (a cropped version of one of the slides from the sequence) shows two people on a bed. Brian, closer to camera, is turned away from it, looking out of the picture to the left. Sitting naked on the edge of the double bed, he smokes a cigarette, detached and apparently deep in thought. A flash to his left, roughly level with his face light it, and also casts the shadow of the brass bed head on the bare wall a few inches from it, as well as catching Nan’s face as she lies awkwardly, head on pillow watching him, anxiously. Her upper body is covered by a black robe from which only her left hand emerges, flat on the sheet, with watch and a gold wedding ring. A golden glow bathes the image, turning everything – Brian’s flesh, the wall – to shades of yellow, orange and brown, the colours of sunset. They are a couple together on a bed, but clearly separate, at different ends, he upright, she horizontal.

It is such a carefully crafted tableaux – and in the un-cropped original, even more clearly so. Looking at this we see how the position of the light draws our attention to the faces of the two people, lighting them and the pillow on which Nan’s head is uncomfortably resting, while casting a shadow behind her and on the lower part of the bed. We also see, staring out at us from the wall a repeat image of Brian, a photograph again with a cigarette, this time dangling from his lip as he gazes intently at camera. The gaze at the camera (and the photographer) in that photograph suggests a quite different relationship from the one we see being acted out in front of us.

As so often in Goldin’s work, this picture combines a remarkable detachment in the creation of the work with a total involvement in the scene she is taking part in. Goldin is always very much a part of her pictures, whether she appears in frame or not. Unlike Diane Arbus, who at times photographed a similar subculture very much as a tourist or an empathetic collector of rare and unusual species, Goldin did not stand and look in; if anyone is a voyeur it is us and not her.

For Goldin, the private – or at least a carefully organised part of it – has become public. This is a picture of a relationship that she had been in for some years and was apparently on the point of breaking up, but we also see that if you wanted to live in Goldin’s life you also had to play her games for the camera.

Death and ecstasy

The book ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency‘, (1986) (Ballad), was dedicated “to the real memory of my sister, Barbara Holly Goldin.” Nan Goldin was the youngest of four children in a very middle class family; born in Washington DC, her family soon moved to Maryland. Goldin at eleven was very close to her eighteen-year-old sister and knew about some of the problems she had in reconciling her sexuality with the attitudes of society, problems that led her to lie down on a railway track in front of a train. A few days after the shock of the suicide, and while she was still desperately mourning the loss of her sister, Goldin was seduced by an older man. Within that week she experienced both great loss and pain and was also “awakened to intense sexual excitement.”(Ballad) These two dramatic events shaped the future of her life and her art.

I find it difficult to imagine the position she was in, with these immense emotional pressures coming at an age when I was still in short trousers and being taught that sex was a Latin numeric prefix. Life was not without its traumas, but mine were less dramatic. Goldin was confronted in those sudden and tragic events with forces that most of us become aware of slowly over a period and evolve mechanisms to deal with or repress, and it is hardly surprising that the issues behind them have dominated her work. I don’t share her lifestyle or some of her attitudes, but I admire the honesty and clarity of her approach.

Goldin ascribes her need to take photographs to the death of her sister. The obsession with recording her friends comes from a realisation that although she remembered the things Barbara has said to her, she had lost “the tangible sense of who she was, what her eyes looked like” (Ballad) and she was determined not to let that happen again. Later when many of her friends were suffering from Aids, she had a feeling she could keep them alive if she photographed them enough. Of course what she could and has kept alive is a memory of them, but her photography has kept her alive also.

A new family

Fearing that she might too literally follow in her sister’s footsteps, Goldin ran away from home and its repressive attitudes at the age of fourteen to be able to live in her own way. She drifted through a series of foster homes, eventually ending up in a flat share with half a dozen other disaffected teenagers. These friends became a new family to her, and among them were two people who were to become her greatest friends, David Armstrong and Suzanne Fletcher.

It was here in the summer of 1972 she first took up still photography, although she had already experimented with shooting movies. Her first photographs – and her cine footage – were pictures of herself and her friends dressed up and with heavy make up, posing dramatically as the movie stars of their dreams. Armstrong was her favourite model – he was just discovering drag – and he also became a photographer.

She describes in ‘The Other Side‘ (1993) how when she first saw drag queens on the street in Boston in 1972 she immediately followed them and shot some Super 8 footage. A few months later, David Armstrong took her to ‘The Other Side‘, a drag club in Boston and introduced her to some. Aged 18, she moved in with a pair and was busy photographing them and their friends.

Fashion and Boston

Goldin decided she wanted to become a fashion photographer and that she would become famous by using the queens as models on the cover of ‘Vogue’. She enrolled in a photography evening class and had her first show in a basement in Cambridge, Mass the following year, with all her models attended the opening in drag. These black and white images are the basis of her series ‘The Boston Years.’

In 1974 Goldin moved out and went full time to study at the ‘School of the Museum of Fine Arts’ in Boston, She describes the pictures she took on the course as the worse she had ever done, but it was there that she began to develop the look for which she became noted, switching from black and white to colour, and moving from natural light to an almost exclusive use of flash. Until 1990 she used a 35mm SLR, shooting on transparency film and having this printed using the direct positive ‘Cibachrome’ process (now sold as ‘Ilfochrome Classic’, but still generally known by its older name.)

Cibachrome tends to exaggerate colour, producing highly saturated results which maximizes the apparent sharpness of transparency film. The kind of glow – often yellow or orange – that she gets in some of the pictures comes easily and naturally from this process. In 1990 she switched to working with Leica M6 rangefinder cameras. Some of her more recent work seems to show a more natural lighting effect, possibly through the use of more sophisticated flash equipment with larger reflectors.

Much has been talked of the ‘Boston School’ of photographers, including Goldin and David Armstrong along with Mark Morrisroe (1959-89), Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and Jack Pierson (although Goldin didn’t meet Pierson until 1985 in New York.) They were all of a similar age, moved to New York around 1980, had similar tastes in music and drugs and often photographed each other as well as mutual friends.

New York (and England)

After her art course, Goldin found it difficult to relate to many of her old friends and in particular the drag queens in the same way. She continued to photograph her life and the people in it, without really finding much she could really work with, taking pictures in Boston and travelling around.

In 1978 Goldin and some of her close friends decided to move to New York, where she soon began photographing in the bars and clubs. She also lived in England for a time in 1978-1979, where she photographed punks and mods. The pictures from London have a different feel; the clubs and music were harder, more masculine, more working class, and had little of the artsy chic and posing of New York.

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency

Goldin gave her first public slide show as a part of a celebration of Frank Zappa’s birthday at the Mudd Club, probably in 1980. The show and the audience featured many of those whose lives were to be exposed in her later work, including David and Suzanne as well as various New York East Side celebrities including the transsexual artist Greer Lankton and poet Cookie Mueller.

Soon the slide show was expanded and gained a musical sound track and the title title ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’. It continued to evolve over 15 years, eventually containing around 700 slides and running around 50 minutes. The images showed her views on relationships between people – couples of various types – and the different ways in which both men and women constructed their gender roles. The book, published in 1986, had as its earliest image a rather conventional looking group of young people eating cake on the grass of the Esplanade in Boston from 1973 and the latest were from the wedding of her friends Cookie and Vittorio in 1986, but the current slide show includes some pictures up to 1989

Men & Women

Goldin had realised at an early age that she could form strong relationships both emotionally and sexually with both men and women. She and her friends were strongly aware of their gender and in various ways attempted to redefine it. She felt intensely both a need to be loved and a need for independent personal space. The idea of “the struggle between autonomy and dependency” was central to her life and her work in the ‘Ballad’, and it was a theme with almost universal appeal. Even many of the more conventional and stiff-lipped of us at times feel the constrictions of our position. Like her we need to be together but we want to be alone.

Watching the ‘Ballad’

The ‘Ballad’ doesn’t really have a story, being more a series of episodes or themes, announced by changes in the accompanying music. It’s both a celebration and an examination of a subculture crowded with mainly young people in 80s cool playing with drugs, gender, sex and each other. Those who shared her world felt that Goldin captured the essence of the times in that particular milieu. Watching the slides I often felt astonished that someone presumably in more or less the same state as those in the pictures (and often she was in the pictures and in quite a state) had managed to function to even make the work, let alone make it so precisely.

Fifteen years on, I still found it both powerfully moving and at times hysterically funny, though few others in the rapt audience with which I shared it at the Whitechapel Gallery – most of a more similar age to the people in the pictures – seemed to share my amusement. In an art gallery context it tends to get taken in silence as ‘great art’, something that there was little chance of in the Mudd club. Goldin made it to be entertainment as well as art.

Wild Women

There are a few funny bizarre pictures, but it was mainly the excruciatingly obvious juxtapositions of the soundtrack excerpts from blues, pop, rock, reggae and opera that make it hard not to laugh. Name an old, sad love song and it’s probably there, together with some more upbeat numbers such as the exultantly angry ‘Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.’ The music ranges through Brecht and Dean Martin, Callas, Aznavour, James Brown and Marlene Dietrich to some deservedly unknown names from the 80s.

Technically it seemed amateur by modern standards, with slow slide changes and some annoying seconds of blank screen. There are also some slow fade effects apparently sprinkled with little rationale, reminiscent of low budget ‘audiovisual’ productions of the 1980s – exactly where it started. In a way it was a disappointment to go back for a second view a couple of weeks later and find it was much slicker, and I realised that the gallery had not noticed that one of the projectors had not been working on my first visit.

In fact it I think it still wasn’t working as it should, with some images too dim to see properly, and certainly looked amateur and inept compared to her later slide presentations. Some of the dupes used in the seemed rather poor, and had probably deteriorated over the show. Of course, with work shot over a period of almost 20 years, the originals will also show considerable differences with changes in film emulsions. But for gallery showing, transfer to a digital format would have great advantages.

The slide shows, and in particular the ‘Ballad’, are central to Goldin’s work, and the prints on the wall are in a sense secondary, which is difficult for galleries to comprehend – and the art world in general tends to see them as a rather inconvenient and hard to market irrelevance. The ‘Ballad’much is a work that deserves more care and professionalism from galleries.

What started as a diversion between sets in punk clubs became a cult and is now finally a museum piece. We first saw it in the UK at the Edinburgh festival, then a couple of years later at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. The ‘Ballad’ is very much a work of its times, in its clothes, the artefacts and also perhaps the ideas, though some of these remain the material of best sellers. “I often feel“, wrote Goldin “that men and women are irrevocably strangers to each other … almost as if they were from different planets“, a sentiment that sums up several more recent popular psychology books. You can learn rather more from her pictures than you can from them.

Brian and Nan

One of the relationships that runs through the ‘Ballad’ is her own long term one with Brian (the man sitting on the bed in the picture described in the previous section.) It was a relationship that was to end shortly after the picture was taken, possibly in part because Brian had read some of her diaries, with Goldin battered and nearly blinded in Berlin in 1984. One of the most moving pictures in the sequence is a close head and shoulders portrait of her taken at her request by Suzanne Fletcher a month after the attack. It shows her facial bruises and a bloodshot part-closed left eye matching her bright red lipstick as she stares straight at the camera. This and similar images had an important function for Goldin, in persuading her that she should not renew her relationship with him.

Mise en Scène

Goldin’s work impresses by her ability to direct her subjects, to relive her and their lives for the camera as they live it. Some of the pictures are certainly snapshots, but most just look like snapshots, and demonstrate her ability to pick a suitable time and place and to set thing up exactly as she wants them.

She is truly a master (one can’t say a mistress without unfortunate connotations) of mise en scène. Even aspects that appear amateur – such as frames that are not sharp or are damaged by fogging or with strong colour casts are used deliberately to enhance the idea that these are part of a family album. I suspect the couple of reversed slides in the last performance I saw were genuine error rather than design, but they and the noise of the slide changes (along with some rather inept cross fades) all added to the impression of a private amateur showing in someone’s front room. Goldin’s family slides are absorbing to watch (we are all voyeurs at heart) but many like me will be glad to be only a visitor and to sit these events out in real life.


After the break-up with Brian, Goldin became more and more addicted to drugs. Many of her friends were also beginning to suffer from continued abuse of their bodies by alcohol and drugs. It made things wors that this came at a time when many of her friends were dying from Aids, and she became involved in photographing a number of them, trying in her mind to keep them alive through photographer, but succeeding only in preserving them on film.

All By Myself

By 1988, Goldin she was in such a bad state that she decided to go into hospital to detox. But there they took her camera away and she didn’t know what to do. When she was transferred to a halfway house, she got her camera back and started to produce an intensive series of self-portraits, taken with available light.

These pictures, together with other self-portraits over the years were later to form the basis of another slide show, called ‘All by Myself‘, (1995-6), with an Eartha Kitt soundtrack. Some critics have found this too saccharine and kitschy. For me the interplay between the searing honesty of some of her pictures and the very different emotional tones and depth of the music makes this one of her most effective works. It’s certainly a piece that makes me warm to Goldin as a person rather than to simply admire her as an artist.

Aids and Memories

Goldin’s idea that her photography is very much a way of keeping memories of people alive is at its most explicit in several sequences dedicated to the memory of friends who have died from Aids, including ‘The Cookie Mueller Portfolio’, (1976-90), ‘Gotscho + Gilles. Paris’, (1992-3) and ‘Alf Bold Grid‘, that dominated her work in the early nineties.

Goldin has described how she first heard about Aids in 1981, when Cookie Mueller read an article about a new illness from the ‘New York Times’ to a group including Sharon, Cookie’s lover, David Armstrong and a few others. They all laughed it off, sure it wouldn’t affect them, but only the following year one of David’s lovers was the first of many friends to die from it.

Mueller, according to John Waters, the first to recognise her potential as a film actress (and director of her first film, “was a writer, a mother, an outlaw, an actress, a fashion designer, a go-go dancer, a witch-doctor, an art-hag, and above all, a goddess.” Born in 1949 in Baltimore, Cookie and became good friends with Goldin in 1976, and she photographed Cookie and Vittorio’s wedding in New York in 1986. The portfolio is a montage of pictures that follow Cookie from the fullness of her life to her corpse in the casket in 1989.

Gilles was her French art dealer. She photographed him with his lover while still in good health and then made a fine picture of the couple in hospital. Alf Bold was a German friend who also died of Aids.

Greer Lankton

Greer Lankton, (1958-1996), was born the son of a Presbyterian pastor and had a sex-change operation at the age of 21 in 1979.  She appears in many fine pictures by Goldin and was well known for her dolls and sculptural installations, including a life-sized doll of the famous fashion columnist and editor Diana Vreeland (1903-1989) who worked for both Harpers Bazaar and later Vogue (and discovered Andy Warhol.) Greer suffered from alcohol and drug addiction and anorexia. The section of pictures of her in ‘The Other Side’, is probably the most effective part of this book.

More of a Drag

In 1990, Goldin returned to photographing drag queens, photographing again in New York clubs. However, by this time the subject had lost its frisson. Drag was no a normal aspect of the scene, no longer an esoteric fringe, and such studies were now almost a standard subject for many if not all student portfolios. With a few exceptions, such as a fine action picture, ‘Jimmy Paulette on David’s bike. NYC 1991’ where her flash catches the two riders in centre frame against a blurred background, the results (also shown in ‘The Other Side’) were disappointing.

Tokyo Love

Her collaboration with the Japanese photography Nobuyoshi Araki was of considerably more interest. Araki is an extremely prolific photographer, who has also produced visual diaries for many years. Goldin met him in 1992, and returned in 1994 to work together on the book ‘Tokyo Love‘. Their work alternates throughout the book, mainly in double pages, but with some sets or four or six pictures. Araki contributes studio portraits of young adolescent girls who are in their first Tokyo spring.

Goldin’s work also looks at young people, but ranges more widely, with a great picture of the ‘Honda Brothers with falling Cherry Blossoms’ swirling like lilac snowflakes as they stand in the street, as well as many people in clubs, homes and elsewhere. Goldin found young Japanese who reminded her of a younger self, with the same attitudes, the same beliefs she had as a teenager. Like her they had “transcended any definitions of hetero or homosexual.” She found the project was like a journey back into an age of innocence, “before my community was plagued by Aids and decimated by drug addiction” (Tokyo Love.)

BBC Film

Goldin had started shooting movie film before she took up photography, and slide show works such as the ‘Ballad’ can perhaps be seen as a film shot as stills. In 1996 she worked with the BBC on a TV programm, ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror‘, shooting most of the interviews, including those with Gotscho, Sharon Niesp and her girlfriend, and Greer Lankton. Some of her own early footage from Boston years was also included.

In an interview for ‘Thirteen Online’ with Kathy High, she made clear that she was not happy with the way the BBC’s middle-class Oxford-educated director removed the film from reality, including scenes that would appeal to a British audience but did not represent how things had been. Bringing a 16mm film crew and lights into relatively intimate situations also falsified them, changing things completely from how she really lived and worked. To her disappointment, much of the footage she herself shot for the film – including almost all of that related to Aids – was never used.

I can’t help thinking that a film made with Goldin herself in charge would have had a far more lasting interest, and that the BBC missed a great opportunity in making a BBC film rather than getting a Goldin movie, which would have had a much greater interest. Their director may have made a ‘better TV programme’ with higher production values but this was at the expense of the rigorous realism and often-uncomfortable truth central to Goldin’s work.

She also found the concept of a film limiting, in that it is forever stuck at the particular state and point of time at which it was edited. With the ‘Ballad’ and other slide shows that she has updated them over the years. A year after the film was made, the lives of many of the people featured had changed – Greer for example was dead, but the film doesn’t change to reflect that.

More recent work

Goldin’s photography around the turn of the century fell into two areas. She has continued to work with couples, but has concentrated on photographing their more intimate moments, producing series of images including ‘First Love’, ‘French Family’, ‘The Boys’, and ‘Valerie and Bruno’. Pictures from these sequences, along with some others were combined in her slide sequence, ‘Heart Beat, 2001’, a passionate hymn to love, with a John Taverner soundtrack setting of the ‘Kyrie Eleison’ (Greek for ‘Lord Have Mercy’), part of the traditional Christian mass, performed with amazing vocal agility and intensity by Björk.

Goldin has also photographed scenes without people, including landscapes, interiors, skies, cityscapes, under the title ‘Elements’ (presumably a reference to Earth, Air, Fire and Water) which are often curiously abstract. A second series ‘Relics and Saints’ concentrated as its name suggests on religious imagery found in churches, grottoes and catacombs.

Working for Prints

In the ‘Ballad’, the slide presentation was clearly the primary work, with the prints and book illustrations allowing you to see the individual frames at leisure (some only flash briefly on screen.) Recently there has been a shift in the balance between prints and slide presentations with the prints becoming primary. Portfolios such as ‘Cookie Mueller’ used a grid of smallish prints, but her more recent work is uses sequences or groups of very large (1×1.5 metre) Cibachrome colour prints, and the projections using them appear secondary.

Goldin is one of a few well-known fine art photographers who have made some original prints available at affordable prices. At many of her shows she has sold limited edition moderately sized Cibachrome at a reasonable price (75UK pounds plus sales tax at her London show) with proceeds often going to Aids charities. She still remembers the times when she was hard up and interested in photography.


Thirty five years after her first Boston pictures, Nan Goldin is still photographing, still showing us how the world looks to her, letting us get inside, get insight into the life led by her and her friends. It is a remarkable body of work, even if occasionally I feel a little uncomfortable watching.



Artnet: Goldin’s story by Mia Fineman
Good feature with illustrations.

Centre Pompidou: Around Nan Goldin
Informative illustrated site from the Centre Pompidou (English version.)


Eight pictures by Goldin, including several self portraits

Culture Vulture: Fraenkel Gallery 2002
Review on ‘Culture Vulture’ of a show from 2002, illustrated by pictures from 1999 and earlier.

Digital Journalist: Goldin on Aids
Cookie at Vittorio’s casket, NYC, Sept 16, 1989 and ‘Cookie in her casket, NYC, November 15, 1989, with a link to a statement by Goldin.

Ikon Gallery
Six pictures by Goldin.

Stedelijk 1997
Pictures include Cookie’s Wedding and the Honda Brothers.

Tate Gallery
Six images available on line including ‘Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC (1982)’ and ‘Nan one month after being battered (1984)’.

Whitechapel Gallery: Nan Goldin – Devils Playground
Text and one images from her 2002 London show (also shown in Paris).


Nan Goldin talks to Tom Holert (2003) A detailed interview on the 1980s.

Thirteen Online
Transcript of a telephone interview with Goldin about her BBC film ‘I’ll be your Mirror.’

Sheryl Garratt talks to Nan Goldin about love, survival and loss


Emotions & Relations
A ‘Boston School’ show in Germany. Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, Mark Morrisroe, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Jack Pierson -text and two pictures.

Greer Lankton
A page with examples of her work.

Cookie Mueller Dreamland Gir
A site dedicated to the memory of this multi-talented woman.

David Wojnarowicz,
Friend and collaborator with Goldin who died from AIDS in 1992. Text and images.


Peter Marshall 2007

Nan Goldin – Police swoop

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

A set of 100 photographs by Nan Goldin, owned by Elton John, were due to go on show at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead from 21 Sept until 6 January 2008. But presumably there are only 99 on the wall, as one image was taken into custody last Thursday and is being examined by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, who are considering prosecution under the 1978 Protection of Children Act.

It is hard to see any sensible purpose that can be served by this action. Goldin is a highly admired photographer whose work has been shown in galleries around the world. She herself had a tough childhood, suffering abuse and running away from home at 11 after the suicide of her sister. Her work has always reflected her lifestyle – a mirror on her life.

Some years ago I wrote: “I find it difficult to imagine the position she was in, with these immense emotional pressures coming at an age when I was still in short trousers and being taught that sex was a Latin numeric prefix. Life was not without its traumas, but mine were less dramatic. Goldin was confronted in those sudden and tragic events with forces that most of us become aware of slowly over a period and evolve mechanisms to deal with or repress, and it is hardly surprising that the issues behind them have dominated her work. I don’t share her lifestyle or some of her attitudes, but I admire the honesty and clarity of her approach.”

What the police have seized is a photograph, which, according to The Telegraph,  shows “two young girls, one sitting down with her legs wide apart”. I don’t know anything more about it and the circumstances in which it was made, although I have seen a great deal of Goldin’s work. Much of it has been published – and this may well be an image that is widely available in bookshops here and elsewhere.

The Telegraph states that she “is well known for her shots of young, semic-clothed girls” which is both incorrect and entirely misleading. Young semi-clothed girls may appear in her work, but so far as I’m aware, have not been a major pre-occupation; what appears in her work has usually been what appears in her life. Most of the people she has photographed has been her friends and she has rather more often been a victim than an abuser.

Child abuse is a serious problem and minors need protection, but I would be very surprised if the children involved in this image were being seriously abused or were in need of the protection of the Northhumbria police. What I am sure of is that police time could be better employed investigating the real abuse of children (and other crimes) that will be occurring in Gateshead while they waste their time on this case.

The law has a long history of making itself an ass over art, and this looks very much like another episode in that ongoing saga. The publicity of course will not be doing the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art any harm, (and here I am adding to it,) which could well be why one of the assistant directors there called them in.

You can read a lengthy feature on Nan Goldin on here this blog

Peter Marshall

CS2 going cheap

Monday, September 24th, 2007

One of life’s truisms is that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. So when I heard from Tony Sleep that genuine shrink-wrapped copies of Photoshop CS2 (not the latest edition, which is CS3) were going cheap, I was suspicious. But I did take a look, and they looked absolutely kosher, and some were from sellers with excellent feedback.

The story was that they were old stock that was being sold off cheap for clearance. Tony had bought a copy, and everything about it looked genuine. Later he notices that although he had installed it and found it worked fine, the activation process hadn’t set him up an account with Adobe. Another buyer then informed him that having had the same problem, he had contacted Adobe, who had told him the serial number he had was not genuine. Tony also contacted them and was told the same.

Being Tony, he didn’t leave things there, but took it up with Adobe, and also started doing a little research. The printed material is of such high quality he feels sure it was produced from genuine Adobe files, and Adobe appear to have known about the forgeries for several months, since May or June of this year. Ebay has a procedure called VeRO, (Verified RightsOwner Program) which enables companies such as Adobe to put a stop to such things more or less immediately, but have failed to take action. I checked again today and found over 20 copies still on offer, all presumably counterfeit.

You can read more about the scam and Adobe’s failure to act on Tony‘s blog. Photoshop must be one of the most widely pirated programs around, and whenever I mention in a group of photographers that I’m still using Photoshop 7, I get offers of CDs containing pirated versions of CS2 or CS3. Most of these were either downloaded free from ‘warez’ sites or bought for a few pounds – sometimes from eBay – while the current ‘genuine’ fakes seem to go at auction for around £120.

I didn’t upgrade from PS7 mainly because it seems to do all I want, and also because Adobe had added an ‘activation’ routine to the software which not only meant you had to contact them to keep the software running (which is acceptable if extremely annoying when your computer has a hard disk failure or the operating system needs re-installing) but also wrote to areas of the hard disk it had no business to access.

Like many photographers I hope that someone is going to come up with a viable alternative to Photoshop for various reasons (and it would be nice if it ran on Linux as well.) One project that looks promising is Pixel, from Pavel Kanzelberger in Slovakia, though there are still some vital aspects missing.

Many of us need software that understands colour management and that can also convert to and work in CMYK when we really have to, as well as working with 16 bit files and running useful Photoshop plugins offering noise reduction, smart sharpening, lens distortion correction and so much more. In many ways Photoshop is just a framework for other software, and there are huge areas of it I never use directly. I certainly don’t need the whole ‘Creative Suite’ that Adobe is trying to push at us.

Peter Marshall

Railway Lands: Angela Inglis

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I was pleased I made the effort to attend the launch of Angela Inglis’s book ‘Railway Lands‘ last week.

Railway Lands
Matador Press/Troubador Publishing, November 2007,
1906221405 ISBN-13: 978-1906221409.


Strolling to Old St Pancras Church down Crowndale Street from Mornington Crescent, past the Working Mens’ College I relived some old memories. Many years ago my student card there saved me more on photographic materials than the cost of the evening class. Out of habit I turned to wander into the old burial ground, then remembered it was no longer the place it used to be, derelict, gloomy, foreboding, and at its best in rain and fog, but now a tidy and ultimately depressing garden, and kept straight on for the church, also considerably restored and now bright and cheerful and full of people.

Inglis’s photographs (see her web site) were arranged on the shelving around the body of the church and included some fine large prints, but they were rather hard to see for the bodies, many seated on hard church chairs perusing copies of her book just purchased. It was certainly a volume that seemed to arouse some intense local interest, and this was not surprising.

Local archivist Malcolm Holmes gave the book an enthusiastic welcome, in particular because it dispelled some local myths as well as recording the developments. Holmes was an appropriate choice, with a considerable amount of the information in the book from the borough archives for which he worked, but also because essentially this is a work firmly bound in local history and a pictorial view of the area.

My own approach to the area, perhaps since I do not live locally, has been more concerned with the wider political and environmental issues the development raises, as well as from a long interest in industrial archaeology. I was involved in the early years of the Kings Cross Railway Lands Group set up to oppose the development plans in 1987 which published its award-winning ‘Towards a People’s Plan’ in 1990, and have followed with interest the political and legal developments over the years, although from a distance.

In 1989 I was fortunate to tour and photograph parts of the railway lands site in a GLIAS (The Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society ) group led by Malcolm Tucker, who wrote the section on Industrial Archaeology for the London 4: North volume of ‘The Buildings of England that deals with this area. It was good to see him again at the book launch, along with others from GLIAS, which has done much to raise the general awareness of the importance of understanding and preserving our industrial heritage – including not least the gas holders and railway infrastructure of this area, and who could have provided some rather more authoritative input on these aspects than the magazine article quoted in the volume.

Obsession is always a good thing in photography, and I can only applaud Angela Inglis for her decision to photograph the area and her dedication to the task over a number of years. Her extensive coverage – the book has over 250 pages packed with pictures, but presumably is only the iceberg-tip of her archive – appears to have started around the year 2000 (a few earlier images generally appear more ‘arty’ than documentary) and continues until April 2007.

She writes “When the plans were submitted for the building of the new terminal at St Pancras Station for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, I foresaw the loss of much of this landscape and photographed it urgently. Its buildings are architecturally interesting: some are gems; they represent a proud and innovative past

Of course many had previously photographed the area – and particularly its gems – and there is some fine work from the 1920s and 1930s. A chug through my own database tells me I first took pictures in the area in 1978, and rather more when it became clear in the mid-80s that extensive redevelopment was bound to take place.

When I came, there were indeed some streets in the area where it seemed rare to walk and not see a film crew at work or a photography student practising architectural photography skills with a view camera on a tripod. But what is particularly valuable about Inglis’s work are the images of many often overlooked details and in particular those that show not how it used to be, but the area in transition, the record of its destruction and redevelopment.

Some images particularly appeal to me, including a splendidly busy panorama of the building site at St Pancras from near the old church, taken in October 2004, and, almost the final image in the book, a faded Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing on the wall of Stanley Buildings North (now demolished). This mural was much loved over the years by locals and photographers (and I sold a print of it to the National Building Record in the 90s.)

As a book, I feel this would have benefited from a stern editor. Photographers are not always the best editors of their own work (as most of my own projects demonstrate), nor are writers and poets, and Inglis performs in all roles in this volume. However she is to be greatly applauded for this book represents a major investment in both time and money.

A few of the images do seem let down by the printing. Some of the later pictures in particular seem a bit muddy, and others – such as the view of Kings Cross from Camden Council offices and Pancras Road and railway bridge, May 2000 – noticeably lack sharpness; at least one (p18-19) seems to have been printed from a screen layout file rather than one at print resolution.

The book has two useful fold-out maps of the area in 1999 and 2005 at front and rear, but I did at times feel that the design, particularly the handling of text, was a little lacklustre. Overall however the production is certainly better than most works of local history.

The book also has some surprising omissions. There is very little coverage of the part of the site to the north of the canal, and both the Granary, one of the finest buildings in the area, and the Eastern Coal Drops are entirely absent, but the book remains a valuable visual record of an important area in a time of considerable change, and is a volume that anyone with an interest in the Kings Cross/St Pancras area will want.

Although the publication date is listed as November 14, you can pre-order this book from Amazon now at roughly two thirds of the RRP of £30.00

Peter Marshall

A Leading Photographer?

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Like many photographers around the world, I’ve been following the story of the late Joe O’Donnell with some interest. If you’ve been on Mars or Venus, O’Donnell died at the age of 85 on Aug 9, and on Aug 14 the ‘New York Times’ published an obit under the heading “Joe O’Donnell, 85, Dies; Long a Leading Photographer.” Unfortunately, the two pictures included were taken by other photographers and much of the information within the article was incorrect. Similar obits appeared elsewhere, many relying on the NYT as their source.

I have to declare a particular schadenfreude at these events. As attentive readers will know, I wrote the ‘About Photography‘ site for almost exactly eight years until May 2007, establishing it as a major on-line resource on photography and for photographers, in particular dealing with the history of photography, with hundreds of short features and a considerable number of longer essays on leading photographers among the content.

After ‘‘ was bought by the New York Times for a ridiculous number of millions (not that I saw a penny of it), new management came in, photography as we know it was out of fashion, and eventually I was out of a job. The suits decided there was more money in catering solely for beginners, and the presence of more advanced material (I also had plenty of good advice for new photographers) was deemed an off-putting ‘user experience.’

Not of course that the NYT would have dreamed of asking me for advice even when I was on the payroll, although in this case a single e-mail to me or indeed to almost anyone else in the photographic world could have prevented their gaffe.

The real scandal of this event is that the NYT obviously has no-one on their staff who knows that much about photography – or cares about it. Or even worse, since apparently from their ‘explanation’ published on September 16, both the writer and the night photo editor had certain doubts about aspects of the feature, that the NYT is happy to publish material it knows is questionable.

Even had it all been correct, the headline would have been more hype than reality – if he were a leading photographer we would all have known his name.

Stories and confusion 

We know many photographers (if not all) like to tell a good story, and seldom let the exact facts get in the way, though often there may be a kernel of truth. One of the greatest of all story-tellers was of course Robert Capa (who even invented himself and was a great photographer), but at least Capa knew which pictures he had taken.

O’Donnell in many cases probably didn’t, even at the time, and certainly not in the 1990s. He worked for 20 years for the United States Information Agency, and in those days photographers were largely anonymous. At some of the events he photographed there would be a whole crowd of photographers standing more or less in the same place and often taking more or less the same pictures. Films from a number of photographers were often developed together and it wasn’t that unusual for there to be disputes about who took which picture.

From around 1994, O’Donnell had suffered increasingly from dementia, and it seems likely that he actually believed the images were taken by him – and he copyrighted and tried to sell them. From some of the interviews he gave he obviously suffered from delusions. The fullest, most carefully researched – and most sympathetic account of the whole case I’ve so far seen is on the NPPA website.

John-John’s Salute 

One of the pictures falsely attributed to him was a Stan Stearns image of the young John-John Kennedy making a salute at his father’s funeral. There were 70 photographers present, all crammed into a small pen at some distance from the family. Although it has sometimes been said than Stearns was the only photographer to catch this moment, this was not the case – and it was of course also seen on TV. At least 4 of the other photographers took very similar pictures; what made his famous – as the NPPA feature makes clear – was an astute picture editor, Ted Majeski of UPI, who took a very small section – less than a twentieth of the frame – and put that on the wire as a separate image of the boy’s salute.

For the remaining 65 or so in the pen, this would have been an obvious opportunity not to be missed, although some may have had their view blocked by a marine. As yet it hasn’t been established whether O’Donnell was even present, but if so, he may well have take a similar image. What is certain is that neither he nor the USIA realised the potential of a cropped version at the time.

Hiroshima & Nagasaki 

O’Donnell did apparently take some rather remarkable images as a young man in Japan, visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki while he was in the Marines as a photographer. He took two cameras with him, shooting on one for official use and keeping the pictures from the other for himself. He smuggled the films back to the US hidden in a photographic paper box and the family still have negatives and contact sheets.

Many years later O’Donnell became an anti-nuclear activist, and brought out his old pictures to show the horrors of nuclear warfare. The Smithsonian Institute planned to show some in 1994, but gave way to pressure from veterans groups who claimed they were too sympathetic to the Japanese – they were later published as ‘Japan 1945: A US Marine’s Photographs from Ground Zero (2005). Even among this work there was one image he claimed that was taken by someone else.

Japanese photographer Shigeo Hayashi had shot a panorama from a rooftop in October 1945. The print was confiscated by the US Authorities at the time, and probably ended up in the US National Archives. O’Donnell visited there in the early 1990s and is suspected of having stolen a number of unaccredited prints that he believed he had taken – probably also including those by other photographers which were shown as his work.

Moral Rights 

The whole story I think stresses the importance of photographers moral rights, almost entirely unheard of in the 1940s and 50s, and still often denied. Look at any British newspaper and you will almost certainly find most of the photographs are uncredited; even more annoyingly, images where the photographer is certainly known are often simply credited to an agency. Attribution should be made legally enforcable, with publications that print images where the photographer is not credited being required to publish a correction where it can be established who took them.


There are also issues of copyright in this case. O’Donnell claimed copyright on the images that he thought he had taken, presumably through registration at the US Copyright Office (what a shame that it still exists, despite Berne.)

Even if the pictures were actually his, images taken by employees in the course of their work for the government are not eligible for US Copyright. This appears to have escaped the notice of O’Donnell and the Copyright Office, just as it also seems often to do so for some of the mega-agencies, (and they also claim copyright on many images where it has long expired.)

Unlike O’Donnell, they cannot claim the excuse of dementia, and unlike them, there is little evidence that O’Donnell every made much if any money from his copyright fraud.

Peter Marshall

Not A1 at Lloyds

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

When the idea of Open House days first came up I thought it was a great one, and in the first couple of years I went into quite a few places otherwise inaccessible to the public, and even took a few pictures, although photography wasn’t always allowed. Now it has perhaps become too popular, and except for those locations where you need to book in advance (and where places tend to fill very rapidly) there are often extremely large queues.

One of the longest queues this year was at the Lloyd’s building, and the London Citizen Workers took advantage of the event to hold a demonstration. Cleaners at Lloyd’s – whose members are among the wealthiest people in the country – are some of the lowest paid in the capital, and the contract firm that employs them apparently provides no sickness pay or other benefits. They have so far resisted the campaign by the LCWA for a ‘London living wage’ for cleaners, which demands £7.20 an hour, along with entitlement to sick pay, holidays and access to a recognized trade union.

It was a small but vociferous demonstration, and some of those queuing expressed surprise at the poor treatment of the people who keep the Lloyd’s building clean. The Living Wage campaign reveals the poor treatment of essential workers, who are trapped in a ‘working poverty gap.’

Technically it was an interesting but difficult job. More film and megabytes have been used on the Lloyd’s building than any other modern building in London, and its shining silver surfaces have a definite appeal to photographers. The red banners and tabards of the demonstrators added some exciting colour, and the strong sunlight coming down the street some powerful lighting effects. But although visually stimulating, it was murder to photograph, with contrast hitting the extremes.

Picket at Lloyd's London

At least with digital you get a clear view of the problems you are facing, although in this case they were not entirely soluble. Although flash fill can bring up the foreground, it could not deal with the lower floors of the building which were in deep shade while the upper levels were in bright sun. A few years back I would have shot this kind of thing on black and white without fill (as a colleague was still doing with his Leica and doubtless getting great pictures) and probably cursed on location my inability to take wider images, and back in the darkroom cursed the empty shadows and dense highlights.

More pictures on ‘My London Diary‘.

Peter Marshall

Not Another Drop

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Saturday I photographed a demonstration at which the police could not have been more helpful. Perhaps hardly surprising, since they were a part of the ‘Not Another Drop‘ campaign started in 2001 by the Community Safety Partnership uniting the Met and Brent Council. The annual Peace March – this was the fourth – was founded by Patsy Hopwood, whose student son, Kavian Francis-Hopwood was shot dead on the Stonebridge Estate in 2003 – still an unsolved crime.

Supporting the march were several local church groups (including a Brazilian congregation from the area) and families of several of the many young people who have met similar violent deaths in Brent in recent years, many of whom were shown on posters carried in the march. Although obviously the aims of the march can only be applauded, it was perhaps disappointing not to see greater support from the various communities in the area, with only around 250 gathering for the start of the march at Stonebridge, although more were expected for the rally at the end of the event in South Kilburn.

One of the trickier parts of the event for the half-dozen or so photographers present was the release of white doves shortly before the march started. I’m still not quite sure whether to rely on my reflexes or the 5 fps mode of the D200 to try to catch the peak moment. What I actually did was to try to catch the moment and then hold my finger down to get the next few frames at 5 fps. In fact the second exposure turned out to be the best, but I was left wishing I had one slightly earlier – and perhaps slightly later. It’s one of the few situations where I’d really like to have the 9fps that Nikon promise us for the D3 due later this year.

More pictures from the event on My London Diary.

Lewisham 1977

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

I wasn’t at the battle of Lewisham in August 1977. For some reason I was away from London and so missed the events that took place. One of the best account of them – and some great images – is in the issue of Camerawork about the event, and it’s worth getting hold of a copy if you can. You can also read a great deal of detail – along with pictures and video etc – on the Lewisham77 web site.

Briefly, the fascist National Front tried to march from New Cross through the centre of Lewisham. Local people and socialists from all over London and further afield came to stop them – just as the East End had stopped Mosley in Cable Street in 1936.

The NF were demoralized and defeated – and so were the police. After the NF had been sent packing, the police turned on the socialists with unprecedented brutality – particularly be the Special Patrol Group. But the demonstrators fought back and with the youth of Lewisham, largely black, defeated the police.

There were many arrests, and it was the first time that British police used riot shields outside of Ireland. Lewisham Police station was partly trashed, and was later replaced by a new fortress, said to be the largest police station in Europe.

Lewisham High Street
Batwinder Rana talks about the Battle of Lewisham in Lewisham High Street.

Last Saturday, as a part of ‘Lewisham’77’, a series of events organised by local historians and activists supported by the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths University of London and other groups held a commemorative walk from Clifton Rise in New Cross to Lewisham High Street, with some of those who were present recounting their experiences at key sites along the route. If you were there, Lewisham77 would like to record your memories of the event for a DVD and publication. Since it is now over 30 years after the event, you apparently no longer have to be afraid about revealing any illegal actions!

More pictures from the commemoration on My London Diary.