Archive for September, 2007

Keeping Clean

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Not personal hygiene, but camera hygiene. Photographers in general haven’t a great reputation for the first, and probably the more arty you aspire the longer and more tangled your beard, except, possibly, if you are a woman. And photojournalists can often find themselves in places where baths and showers are in short supply. Lee Miller and David Scherman even had to borrow Hitler’s in Munich

Digital seems to bring more problems in keeping cameras clean. Not just sensors, but also lenses seem to me to be more affected by dust, fingermarks and more. Perhaps its because we are getting used to a cleaner result with digital and there is no grain to disguise defects. With film we pick up the crap after the event (I’ve just spent what seems like hours cleaning a few scans) but with digital its what gets on when we take them that matters.

With lenses the solution is easy. I didn’t believe it when I went on an internet photo radio and the presenter spent half the programme plugging the ‘Lens Pen’ but it is really a rather neat solution, although they do fall to pieces after a few months of use they are still worth the money. Just a shame that 7 day shop no longer seem to stock them, but even at the RRP of £8.99 they are worth the money. Fast, easy to use, efficient. Who could ask for anything more?

Cleaning sensors is a little trickier. Start by buying a really good (i.e. big) ‘Hurricane‘, ‘Rocket‘ or similar air blower – a big black rubber bulb with a valve at one end and a red plastic tube with a small hole. I got mine from Jessops for a fiver, though they no longer seem to list them, but other photo dealers will have them. These last for around a year or two if you are lucky before the rubber will start to crumble and give dust.

Air blowers are safer than aerosols on your sensor, better for the environment – even the so-called ‘green’ aerosols damage it severely and don’t run out when you need them. They also seem to be as effective. I’ve got into the habit of using mine every day before I go out, it takes half a minute to remove the lens, blow out the mirror box a few times, raise the mirror and give the sensor a few thorough blasts, then replace the lens and put the mirror down (don’t leave it up, as on some cameras this runs the battery down.)

Blowing doesn’t remove stuck dirt, but this daily ritual has significantly cut down the amount of proper cleaning I’ve had to do. I fire a test shot – my fridge door exposed out of focus with the lens at the smallest aperture and wide-angle and moving the camera to prevent any of the dirt from the door making an image. Then I zoom in to the exposed image and check for any spots.

Stage 2 cleaning involves the use of a brush. I bought a genuine and expensive ‘Sensor Brush’ but I’m told any suitably sized brush will do, so long as you clean it very carefully to remove any size before initial use. Petteri Sulonen has a great feature that tells you how to choose a brush, clean it and test it, along with many other tips on sensor cleaning.

Keep the brush in a suitable container that keeps it pristine, such as a sealed box or plastic bag. It will need washing occasionally too. To use it requires a little common sense and care. The brush shifts dirt when you brush the sensor, but you also want it to pick dirt up. You also need to work on a clean surface in a reasonably dust-free room – I find my kitchen a suitable place, and avoid wearing clothes that produce fluff or dust. Always start by using the blower as above before turning to the brush.

Sulonen recommends striking the brush against the flat edge of a kitchen knife to clean it before use. I use half a dozen puffs from the blower brush to blow it out (away from the camera of course.) Then a single pass of the brush to lift dirt, clean the brush, another pass… Repeat this perhaps half a dozen times, then put the mirror down, replace the lens and take another shot to check the image is clean.

If there is still dirt on the sensor after repeating the brushing process a few times, then you need to consider wet cleaning. Roughly following the ‘Copperhill‘ method, I made a support for my home-made swabs from the handle of an old toothbrush and an old credit-card style pass. I cut a slot in the end of the handle to fit the card, cut a strip from the card just slightly less wide than my sensor, rounded its corners slightly, carefully cleaned the edges and pushed it into the handle.

Working again under clean conditions, I fold a clean Pec-Pad lint-free non-abrasive tissue around the card to form a swab (put the end half way across, fold the bottom up, then fold left and right sides over, secure with sticky tape – see photo.) Add one drop (or at most 2)  of superfine clean Eclipse methanol, place the tip of the swab at one edge of the sensor, pushing just hard enough to flex the card very slightly and thus ensure good contact. Wipe the sensor from there to the other edge slowly and firmly with the swab leaning slightly forward, pick it up and go back in the opposite direction – you will be using the other side of the swab.  Discard the swab, leave the camera (sensor pointing down so as not to collect dust) for around 30s to ensure any residual methanol has evaporated,  refit the lens and test as before. If there are still dust spots, repeat. The swab and methanol cost around 10p, rather cheaper and I think at least as effective as any of the commercial products I’ve tried.

A single swabbing won’t always remove all dirt – either with a homemade swab or commercial ones. Occasionally I’ve had to use 3 or 4 before I was satisfied. At 10p a time it isn’t a problem, but using commercial swabs at £4 or so a time, costs soon mount.

Of course even that is cheap compared to taking your camera to a repairer for cleaning (and costs there can mount if the dust is hard to clear.) The other good reason for doing it yourself is the great time saving – no travel and no waiting until a technician is available – or leaving your camera to collect later.


Although I’ve yet to hear of anyone having problems from using this method, it is always possible, and you follow any of these suggestions entirely at your own risk.

Teamphoto at the Gym

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

I’m not sure when the ‘Turnhalle’ or ‘German Gymnasium’ at the back of Kings Cross lost its national epithet. The building itself has received a considerable makeover during the recent and continuing rebuilding of the area, looking as clean and shiny as it doubtless did in 1864-5 when it was built, and its fine brickwork and interior roof beams, although it has unfortunately lost its former entrance building. The German Gymnasium has hosted varied events over the years, from the first London Olympics in 1866 to more recent fetish events, but it is simply as the Gymnasium that it makes a fine venue for Brian Griffin’s latest show, ‘Teamphoto’, on a somewhat temporary looking first floor in this large hall.

Brian Griffin in an interesting jacket at the opening

Griffin was commissioned to produce a series of pictures to mark the building (at last) of a high speed rail line to link the Channel Tunnel with London, which unfortunately for those of us in the south and west, serves a rebuilt St Pancras station, and will significantly increase my journey times to Paris. Ah progress!

Working with art director Greg Horton, he concentrated on the team of people who worked on the line, described as Britain’s largest construction project (the Channel tunnel to which it links, was officially described as “many years of boring activity”.)

One of the more interesting aspects of the evening was that many of those portrayed in the images were present in person at the special preview, and I was intrigued both to eavesdrop on their comments – and in particular those of their friends – as well as to compare the person with the image that Griffin had created.

Two of the workers with portraits of them by Brian Griffin

The pictures fell into three major groups – workers, bosses and groups – with a few others. The images of the workers were mainly powerful black and white ‘studio’ portraits, heads taken against a plain background, sharp, detailed and contrasty, showing every pore and every blade of stubble with perfect clarity. They reminded me strongly of Helmar Lerski’s portraits of industrial workers and others published in his ‘Kopfe des Alltags’ (1930), glorifying the everyday faces in strong close-up, and of the images of workers as heroes in Soviet Socialist Realism, mythic stakhanovites.

If Griffin’s workers are heroes, the bosses and managers often seem lost, dejected, ill at ease or just downright shifty. The colour images often look like the odd random scenes from old films you might come across flipping through the channels on a hotel TV and quickly move on in hope – usually forlorn – of something better. I overheard one man ask a colleague if he had seen his portrait yet, and he continued that they had thought of sticking up a post-it on the frame with the caption “Someone’s stolen my fxxking car

I found many of these fascinating studies, generally more so than the black and white workers, powerful though some of these are. There were a few that were clearly following a storyboard (the post woman delivers a copy of the 1996 Act of Parliament for the line to a man in a suburban yard in America), others where I could identify a clear reference (one of my favourite images in the show is a Hopperesque tableau set in a hotel lobby, the subject at the counter, a head just visible on the other side and a third man in the open lift, all captured in a light that somehow curiously drains away much of the colour of the scene) but others that just left me guessing. Odd corners of sites, car parks, rather anonymous spaces that were perhaps convenient to where the person was working.

The groups are Frans Hals oils , perhaps the Cluveniers and I think a style that has often been used in advertising. Griffin’s examples are lively but to me have less interest than the other work in the show. Some of the images that don’t fit into the main three categories also intrigued me; a straight forward image of a driver and another man on a construction train, and my other favourite image in the show, a black and white of a man in an office viewed through a venetian blind, which reminded me of the best of Griffin’s portraiture for ‘Management Today’ that established his reputation.

Of course, openings are only partly about the pictures, and it was good to meet the photographers and others present, including in particular Paul Trevor, back from Spain on a visit connected with his forthcoming London Photo Month show, here talking to BJP editor Simon Bainbridge.

Teamphoto continues at the Gymnasium, St Pancras, NW1 until Nov 19, 2007.

Brian Griffin’s web site

Bad Press?

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Yesterday I was out covering protests against the arms fair taking place in East London as a freelance photographer. I wasn’t commissioned but I hope to sell some of the pictures through the libraries I place work with as well as possibly direct from my own ‘My London Diary’ web site where they will be posted shortly. I’ve also already contributed a couple of short reports to ‘Indymedia‘ on both the march by the ‘Campaign Against the Arms Trade‘, here passing down the Barking Road,

CAAT March on Barking Road

and the Space Hijackers, who hired a tank (or at least some similar military vehicle) to take

CAAT March on Barking Road
themselves to the event after the police had stopped their own real tank. In the picture it has just arrived and stopped outside the main vehicle gate of the arms fair.

Like most news photographers, I have a press card. On the back of mine it says “The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland recognise the holder of this card as a bona-fide newsgatherer.

A few months ago a joint working party of police and journalists came to an agreement over guidelines for relations between the press and police, recognising the need to allow proper access to events and cooperation between police and those carrying the card.

Unfortunately although the Chief Police Officers may recognise the card – and have read the guidelines, too many officers lower down haven’t. Yesterday, when asked at one point to show my card, I was even told it wasn’t a real press card and the officer concerned wouldn’t recognise that I was press. Last year I took a picture of a fellow photographer and union member having a similar confrontation:

In his case, the police held him inside a cordon for 20 minutes although several colleagues showed their own cards to make it clear his was genuine. I was lucky in that I was just threatened with arrest if I didn’t stop arguing and get back on the other side of a police line. So I did as I was told despite being rather worked up. Unfortunately although I told him I was taking his number I was so agitated that I forgot it before I could write it down, so I can’t make a formal complaint. I thought I had it on a picture, but it isn’t visible.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been threatened with arrest for just trying to do my job. I don’t think I’m getting any special treatment, and other photographers who photograph similar events suffer in the same way. Mostly I get on well with police, and they are sometimes very helpful, and of course I recognise that they often have a difficult job.

In handling demonstrations such as this by the Space Hijackers, they do seem to me to make the job more difficult for themselves by deliberately provoking the demonstrators, often moving them – as they did me – for no good reason and imposing arbitrary restrictions. The continued and over-aggressive photographing of people also raises the temperature and can be of little real use – they must by now have several thousand images of me on record.

Police photograph partying demonstrators
Demonstrator and police photographer

I go to events aiming to record what happens, to tell the story – as I see it – using my camera. I like to think of my camera (and flash) spreading a little light on what is happening, and making it known to a wider audience.

Some police – not all, but too many – seem to want to keep things private. They would prefer the press didn’t come along to demonstrations, or at least stayed in a nice neat area somewhere under police control. They think of those of us who cover such events and interact with the protesters as ‘bad’ press.

More pictures from both events on ‘My London Diary’ shortly.

Peter Marshall 

My Peckham

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Peckham had a mythical quality for me as a young child, the distant place not at the end of the rainbow, but of the No 37 bus route. When I finally was taken there it lived up to its promise, the gloomily industrial end of the Surrey canal at Canal Head, bustling crowds in its cosmopolitan high street, and at the large green expanse of Peckham Rye. Although I never heard a bus conductor shouting “Garden of Eden!” as the bus reached what was then a common rendezvous for courting couples and would have been too young to have understood his meaning.

Over twenty years later, returning in the 1980s, both Peckham and I had changed a little. There was no water in the canal for a start, and although the high street was still cosmopolitan, the cosmos had shifted slilghtly. Peckham had also started to gain a reputation for something different, particularly in parts of the area, such as the 1965 North Peckham Estate. And I was a photographer.

Mostly what interested me at the time were the older buildings, the remains of a prosperous early and mid-Victorian suburb (many of the meaner houses had by then been replaced by even meaner council estates,) which I photographed in black and white, but the colour pictures were more concerned with Peckham and how we lived in the 1980s. These are scans from the en-prints made at the time, so are slightly and rather randomly cropped. The originals show a little of that special shift to brown of ageing Kodak prints, still visible in the scans despite my corrections.

Canal Head
Canal Head with settee, 1989 (C) Peter Marshall

Choumert Road
Choumert Road, 1989 (C) Peter Marshall

Choumert Road
Choumert Road, 1989 (C) Peter Marshall

Rye Lane
Rye Lane 1990 (C) Peter Marshall

Since then I’ve been back to Peckham occasionally. Earlier in 2007 I accompanied the Human Rights Jukebox in June, and returned for the end of its showing and the ‘I Love Peckham‘ festival h in August. For that there were sofas on the street in Canal Head once again.

I Love Peckham

The last (I think) event of ‘I Love Peckham‘ was a show, ‘Peckham Rising’ at the Sassoon Gallery which I have written about in another piece on this blog.

Peter Marshall

Peckham Rising

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

The Sassoon Gallery is a nicely converted space in a railway arch under Peckham Rye station (train or bus is much the best way to travel there), in an enclosed yard which is reached by walking through a bar, Bar Story, in Blenheim Grove.

Peckham Rising is only on show until 9 Sept, so get there fast (open noon-6pm.) It is a show curated by Paul Goodwin, a research fellow at the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths in nearby New Cross, as a part of his ‘Re-visioning Black Urbanism’ project. It includes work by three artists, photographs by Thabo Jaiyesimi and Daniele Tamagni and a sound piece by Janine Lai.

Installaion - Thabo Jaiyesimi
Thabo Jaiyesimi’s work on the gallery wall

Thabo’s series of eight images taken on the streets explore some of the issues and cultural richness of the area, often using vivid and emotional colour. A sign for housing in front of a locally notorious block of flats, shop fronts making the link to Nigeria, and another image with a black woman making a phone call tell of the distant roots of many in the area. A crowd bustles in front of the bus from central London, a black woman in a white coat pulls her shopping trolley in from of a bright orange wall and a telephone carrying a advert for the 2005 film ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’, a partly autobiographical movie in which Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as ‘Marcus’ plays a drug dealer who aspires to be a professional rapper.

(C) Thabo Jaiyesimi
Image courtesy of Thabo Jaiesimi

For me the most interesting image was one taken on the recent protest against gun crime in Peckham. Thabo’s flash lights up a pink glove pointing at the poster on a man’s chest reading “MURDER £20,000 reward”. The black girl’s finger points as she reads the smaller print, but reads like a gun. You can see more of his work on his web site.

Installation - Daniele Tamagni
Daniele Tamagni’s work on the wall

I talked to Italian photographer Daniele Tamagni about his work in Peckham, and he showed me a newspaper feature on his previous show of pictures taken in black churches in Peckham. The large image from this project on show at the Sassoon was an extremely striking picture, a sea of white-robed figues with a woman in the foreground coming towards the photographer cradling a baby. The only white face in the image, carefully framed between the figures, is a statue of Jesus, arms outstretched on the wall at the front of the church behind the people.

Although there were a number of interesting images in his work, overall I found the selection too disparate, and at the same time too small to represent the multiplicity of Peckham. I would much rather have seen a more focussed display of his work – such as that on the churches or another project Tamagni has done on hairdressers in the area.

Listenitng to the sound piece by Janine Lai
Listening to Janine Lai’s sound piece

The voices recorded by Janine Lai, who works at Peckham Library presented an interesting kaleidescope of views from Peckham residents, although I found the presentation difficult to follow, trying to listen to two people at a time. It will also doubtless work rather better during the rest of the show than at the opening, with only three sets of headphones available. Perhaps for the opening it could have been put through a loudspeaker?

Perhaps the hardest part of the show for me were the texts by the curator, Paul Goodwin. In so far as I could understand the rather obscure language that is apparently a prerequisite for academic credibility, I think that he seemed to be promoting a rather uni-dimensional view of Peckham that is as limiting in its different way as the media stereotypes which he seeks to confront.

But Goodwin’s intention is, at least in part, to promote dialogue, and both the show and the lively ‘Peckham Regeneration debate‘ that took place during the opening showed a more cosmopolitan Peckham than emerges from the apparently simplistic viewpoint of black urbanism. It is an interesting show, although I’m not quite sure why, according to ‘Myspace‘ it is Female and 47 years old!

The Debate
The Peckham Regeneration debate – a contribution from the floor

You can see more of my pictures from the opening, (shot with a Leica M8 and a 35mm f1.4 lens that can almost see in the dark) on ‘My London Diary‘ shortly. They include images of the speakers at the debate, more of the installation and some pictures of the photographers I met at the show.

The Sassoon name is one with an interesting Peckham connection. The Sassoon family were Sephardic Jews, descendants of King David, and were some of the first Jewish settlers in Bagdhad, where they became courtiers and wealthy businessmen. But it was only in the nineteenth century that David Sassoon established a great empire trading with India and the Far East, and sent one of his son’s to open a small outpost in London in 1858. After his death, the family, sometimes referred to as the Rothschilds of the East, largely moved to England.

In 1932-3, the incredibly wealthy widow of Meyer Elias Sassoon, Mozelle Sassoon, engaged architect Maxwell Fry to build Sassoon House, his first modernist work, a still striking block of working class flats in St Mary’s Road, Peckham, as a gift to the Pioneer Housing Trust in memory of her son, R E Sassoon.

(C) 2007, Peter Marshall
R E Sassoon House, Peckham. (C) Peter Marshall, 1989, 2007

Mozelle was the great aunt of Siegfried Sassoon, although he first met her in 1914 when he was in his late 20s. His artistic talent probably came mainly from his mother’s side, where hordes of the Thornycroft family – including many talented women, were well-known as sculptors and painters in the 19th century – as you go over Westminster Bridge you pass Thomas Thornycroft’s ‘Boadicea and Her Daughters.’ But probably the best-known Sassoon now is hairdresser Vidal, who, so far as I know, is without links to Peckham (although his Greek-born father’s family had its origins in Iraq) and was born in poverty in Whitechapel.

Peter Marshall

Taming the Swirl

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Since I’ve had the Nikon 10.5mm semi-fisheye I’ve come to regard it as an essential lens. It isn’t something I want to use every day on every subject, but when you find a subject that needs it, it is generally the only thing that will do.

One thing I love is the ability to shoot in crowds, where you have essentially zero working distance – if you try and draw back to get your subject in frame, other people just fill up the gap. With the ‘fish’ you can avoid leaving gaps and take your pictures. But there is a down side, and it is what happens close to the frame edges, where people (or anything else) gets curiously curved towards the edge and stretched out vertically. Sometimes you get a face that looks more like a caricature drawn on a kind of crescent moon.

Corrected Image
Image has been corrected using Fisheye Hemi.

It’s all a matter of perspective, and working on digital makes it a simple matter to alter the perspective projection; many images are considerably improved by re-mapping them using the free Panorama tools plugin for Photoshop. Its perhaps surprising that changing to the normal rectilinear mode seldom gives usable results, at least not without excessing cropping. It just isn’t a viable method for very wide angles of view, as it greatly stretches anything near the edges of the picture.

Usually the best results are made using the ‘QTVR-Panoramic’ setting, although the ‘PS-Sphere’ can also be interesting. Both do however involve a noticeable loss of the image.

You can see some examples and comments in my Getting More from the Nikkor 10.5 Fisheye
and also Fisheye Hemi and other plugins. The others include the very versatile PTLens, an essential tool for anyone shooting digital, particularly if you ever photograph subjects with straight lines.

The two images here were both made using the appropriate Fisheye Hemi plugin to remap the perspective. I also used Lightroom to remove chromatic aberration and remove the slight lightening at the edges of the frame – a kind of negative vignetting.

Corrected using Fisheye Hemi
Another corrected fisheye image

I don’t know what Reuters would make of this; it almost certainly would be in breach of the actual rules they set down. To me, this kind of manipulation is an important part in making my pictures more accurately represent the situation I was photographing. It would be nice if lens-makers could produce lenses that worked more like the way that we see things, but I think physically impossible. With digital we can use software to get closer.

Peter Marshall