Archive for December, 2007

Legal eBook and more

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Thinking about Kindle (as I was at the end of my piece on ‘Magnum Magnum‘) reminds me that there are already some very useful eBooks available for photographers that you can read on your computer screens – and if you haven’t got a decent screen on your computer, you need one as a photographer.

I’ve got most of my camera manuals in Adobe PDF format – they either come that way on a CD with the camera or I’ve downloaded them from the web site. They take up very little space on a hard disk, and generally they are a lot easier to find there than the paper copies (and when I’m away from base for more than a day, I’m likely to have my notebook with me so I can read them.)

I’ve also got a commercial electronic book (PDF)  that tells me all the things about my D200, including some that don’t really get mentioned (and certainly not explained) in the manual. Again it sits on my notebook and I can consult it when I’m away from home. One big advantage of the having the information in electronic format is that it becomes searchable, while in the printed manual you either have to try the contents or index, both of which usually seem to miss out what I’m looking for. It saves an awful lot of frustrated thumbing through pages.

If I worked in the USA, there is another eBook I’d buy today, which is the Photographer’s Legal Guide
by Carolyn E. Wright, Esq, the author of the PhotoAttorney blog I’ve mentioned before. At a download price of $9.95, it seems a snip – that would only pay for a few seconds of the average lawyer’s time (you can consult her at $250 an hour.)

If, like me, you are based in the UK, you may find it worth downloading the free UK Photographers Rights PDF, a short document written by written by Linda Macpherson, a lecturer in law at Heriot Watt University, and inspired by Bert P Krage’s The Photographers’ Right for the US, a document I first recommended rather a long time ago. His web page also lists a similar document for Australia. These are handy documents, 2 sides of A4, and despite the differences between US and UK law, Krage’s document contains much sensible advice that applies anywhere, and I carried it for some years in my camera bag.

UK photographers can also find useful advice on other web sites, including that of the Association of Photographers, and their book Beyond The Lens, which is rather surprisingly considerably more expensive to download as a PDF than to buy as a printed copy. You can however simply download single chapters and the appendix with some useful forms is available free.

Magnum Magnum

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Three posts on the Magnum blog let you take a look at three sample chapters from the incredibly weighty recently published “Magnum Magnum” in which Magnum members write about other Magnum members and half a dozen of their photographs. The book weighs in at 6.5 kilograms, almost a stone for those who still think in old money.

The samples on line are Chien-Chi Chang by Bruce Davidson, Eve Arnold by Elliott Erwitt and, to me the most interesting, Antoine d’Agata by Patrick Zachmann.

Chien-Chi Chang’s work is great, but perhaps I find it a little too pretty – but I also respond that way to some of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work.

I have to admit to a blind spot so far as Eve Arnold is concerned. Of course her work is very professional photojournalism, but it seldom makes me sit up and take notice. Her portrait of Francis Bacon – one of the six – is fine, very recognisable, tightly framed, nice colour, but really pales beside Bill Brandt‘s photo or the artists’s own self-portraits or those head shots by John Deakin and Dmitri Kasterine or… And I wonder what Brian Griffin would have made of him (I was pleased to be at Space in Hackney yesterday on the last day of his show there to hear him talk about his career, and about making many of the portraits.) Don’t get me wrong, I would certainly have been pleased to have taken a picture like hers, but it just seems to lack the spark of the others. The only picture among her six that strikes me as a little special is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which could so easily have been extremely boring.

What I like about d’Agata‘s work is the element of surprise or even shock. Zachman writes about this very well, and I won’t attempt to repeat or better him. Where I don’t think he really does the photographer justice is in his choice of six images, with a couple that are surely not among his best images. Take a look at his Magnum portfolio and you will find it hard to avoid the same conclusion.

You can currently see d’Agata‘s work at the Photographers’ Gallery in London until 27 Jan, 2008. It is worth a visit, although I think the display is rather poor compared to seeing his work on screen. As well as large images from the series Insomnia (2003), the gallery has a montage of several hundred small images from other projects including Vortex (2003) and Stigma (2004), which for me are far too dominated by the way they have been put in frames and fixed to the wall. Many are also virtually impossible to see.

Magnum Magnum seems to me to be a volume making a great case for the death of the book and its replacement by some more convenient viewing method. Or else trying to be both book and trouser-press or exercise equipment. Surely it can’t be long before we can have a lightweight device with a large, paper-quality viewing screen, given that small and slightly primitive versions such as Amazon’s Kindle have appeared.

Cannon Balls to Fenton

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

I have to admit that when I first read Errol Morris‘s lengthy blog post on which of two Roger Fenton images of the ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death‘ where the Light Brigade charged to its death in 1855, my first thought was “who cares?” Or, as Simon Grant put it last year in his piece for the Tate, “Does it matter?”

In fact I still somewhat feel that way, but there is no doubt that the controversy that his article and the follow-ups to it have aroused are of interest. You can read part 2 and part 3 here – the link on his blog is now incorrect. (though perhaps he will put it right if he reads this.)

Fenton made two pictures of the valley. One with no cannon balls on the road, but plenty on the rougher and apparently lower ground at its edge and the second with quite a few on the smoother road.

Library of Congress:

Ask yourself as a photographer, going to photograph this scene, whether it is likely that you would decide to clear off the road to make another photograph? Can you imagine Fenton saying, “Marcus my man, just tidy up that roadway there’s a good chap, those cannon balls just look too untidy.” and Sparling saying “Yes Sir, right away” getting down to it? (You might also ask why so many balls should have stopped rolling on the smoother road rather than going down into the gully by its side, especially if you’ve ever played bagatelle.)

Then read many thousands of words and consultations with experts of all kinds by which Morris finally proves (in part 3) – at least to his satisfaction – what I think any successful working photographer would have known all the time.

But I’m being unfair, because a) other people have suggested the opposite, and b) much of the discussion the issue invoked is fascinating. Point a) perhaps just goes to show that many people – even people with big reputations – who write about photography are basically word guys who’ve never really worked with the medium. But read it – along with Morris’s earlier pieces, Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire and Will the Real Hooded Man Please Stand Up for some fascinating argument that often relates to the peculiarly American obsession about not posing or in any way interfering with news photographs. (His latest piece,
Primae Objectiones Et Responsio Auctoris Ad Primas Objectiones (Part One),
is a reply to some of the over a thousand comments made about his previous Fenton pieces, and is also worth reading, although I feel at times far too long-winded and suggesting he has run out of anything fresh to say. Given the number of words he has now expended on the issue, I’m only surprised he hasn’t yet found the 7th Lord Lucan, descendent of the unfortunate 3rd who got Raglan’s order to charge in 1854, carrying it out to the letter despite knowing it was mad. Almost as mysterious is the change of the Lucan Arms, down the road from me towards Laleham, once a decent local, now morphed into the abysmal and anonymous Anglers Retreat.)

I’m a photographer who doesn’t like to pose things, and have spent an awful lot of time cursing (if usually only inwardly) the guys from the big print (what we once called ‘Fleet Street’ – about all that’s left is the Cheshire Cheese) as they get in and interfere with the people I’m photographing. But even though I don’t like to pose people, I’m very aware that I can’t photograph without a point of view.

Climate Change Demo

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The news from Bali this morning is grim, though there were a couple of glimmers of light, including Kevin Rudd announcing Australia’s acceptance of the Kyoto Protocol. Perhaps there is some hope for those Tasmanian Wedge-Tailed Eagles now, but progress over tackling the bigger issues remains blocked by the USA, Canada and Japan.

The Statue of Taking Liberties

I’m still wringing out my camera after the London event in the Global Climate Change March on Saturday, which also saw Critical Mass out in force, as well as over 6000 marchers. The guys from Surfers against Sewage, in wet suits and carrying their boards were probably the most appropriately dressed for the occasion, or perhaps Lucy as a mermaid with her warning about rising sea levels.

But, as was emphasized by the number of placards opposing the expansion of Heathrow, our government – like most others around the world – is still sitting  foot firmly down to the floor of the juggernaut, driving hard for extinction even as they start to make noises about the impending doom.

You can see many more pictures of the march, and of critical mass on ‘My London Diary.’  I, and my equipment, got too cold and wet to really do justice to the rally that followed the march in Grosvenor Square.  And of course you can read more about climate change at the Campaign against Climate Change web site.

Demonstrations such as this have a vital role – as I hope to be saying next week in Brasilia, where I will be showing similar images – in bringing environmental problems to public awareness and making it possible for politicians to think what was previously impossible.

And unless they do, it’s increasingly difficult to remain optimistic about the future.

Property Licences – who needs them?

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

I’ve written several times over the years about property licences.

Basically saying that in general there seems to be no justification for them, either in this country or in the US, although that doesn’t stop some agencies and libraries asking for them, and certainly some clients won’t use your work without one.

I’m not a lawyer, but in the past I’ve read all the legal advice I could find in books and on-line about the issue, and been unable to find anyone suggesting there was a legal basis for the requirement.

One site that I trust more than most is PhotoAttorney, written by Carolyn E. Wright, of Decatur, Georgia and a real expert in US Law as it applies to photography, and this week she has again repeated her position, which goes a little further than mine – and certainly carrys rather more authority – that it is probably “detrimental for photographers to obtain property releases.

Her comment applies to all kinds of property, although where I most often come up against it is photographing buildings. Fortunately I don’t work in the USA, where photographers have to do a little research as architectural historians, since – as it says on the US copyright site, “Copyright protection extends to any architectural work created on or after December 1, 1990.”

In the UK, copyright law specifically exempts buildings, and we can probably photograph almost any building from a public place without worrying about copyright – and generally make use of the images without copyright releases.

There is even apparently no problem when photographing sculptures that can be seen ordinarily from a public place in the UK, although you do need to respect the artist’s moral rights – in terms of attribution and not treating the work in a derogatory fashion, at least if the work is included in more than an incidental fashion.

There are also a few well-recorded pitfalls. If you want to photograph the Eiffel Tower, don’t do it at night, because although the structure can be photographed freely, its lighting is apparently copyright (and copyright is also claimed on some other buildings – including the Louvre and its pyramid.)

However even in France it is likely to be OK to publish pictures so long as your picture is a wider view including other buildings, and copyright laws in some other countries do not recognise the French claim. Well-known properties in London which are claimed to be copyright apparently include the London Eye and the Gherkin . You can read lists including these and other claims on some stock photography sites, such as iStockphoto.

Buildings, particularly in the US, can also be trademarked, which can also put their use off-limits for commercial photography without permission – and examples of these are also given in these lists. At this year’s NUJ Photographers Conference barrister Henry Ward, who specialises in copyright, gave the opinion that this “doesn’t hold water” in the UK (but also gave apparently contradictory advice on the copyright of buildings such as the Gherkin, at least according to the London Freelance feature.)

One problem familiar to UK photographers is the London Transport logo. If this is the point of your picture you may have problems (although probably unless you were actually using the image to promote something transport-related there would be little actual legal case) but it would clearly be unreasonable for any objection to be made if it is incidentally included in your picture taken on a London street.

Back to the PhotoAttorney blog, Wright’s recent posting on property releases is of particular interest, because it recounts a case where the need for these is currently being put to test. The College of Charleston Foundation has taken photographer Benjamin Ham to court over a picture he is offering for sale of some of their trees, accusing him of trespass, invasion of privacy and ‘conversion’ – which appears to mean profiting from the use of college property in his picture.

As Wright points out, some of the claims seem odd, and at least one unsupported by any reference to a specific law, but it does seem as if this may be an important test case for photographers – assuming that it is taken to a conclusion.

However a complication in the case is that the College alleges that the photographer “passed through locked gates” (how?) and ignored signs prohibiting trespass in order to take the picture.

It will be interesting to see whether the case is actually determined by a court, and if so what the decision will be – and I look forward to reading Wright’s comments. However the parties may well come to an agreement out of court.

Bilal Hussein and Press Freedom

Monday, December 10th, 2007

If you are a photographer and work in Iraq, you run the risk of being imprisoned by the US military. The Committee to Protect Journalists claim that “dozens of journalists – mostly Iraqis – have been detained by US troops over the last three years.”

They get arrested for photographing or filming things that the US army would prefer not to be recorded. Those we know about were mainly working for major foreign agencies such as Reuters and Agence France-Presse, although I wonder if in fact we only know about these people because they were employed by the agencies. Are there many more we don’t know of?

Most get released without charge after a few days or weeks, but the site lists eight cases of more prolonged detention of up to a year. The details of each case ends with the statement: “Charges Substantiated: None

Of course the best known case is that of Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held for almost 20 months. I’ve previously written about him here (and elsewhere,) and linked to the campaign to free him, urging others to join in the petition to free him.

His case at last came to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq yesterday, 9 Dec 2007, but the magistrate issued an order that everything should be kept secret, so the AP report can only report the bare facts. Although Hussein and his lawyer were allowed to see some of the material presented to the court, they were not allowed to take copies to use to prepare his defence, and no actual charges were made.

Hussein and his lawyer have also not been allowed to talk privately in order to plan a defence; their meetings have been held with a US soldier and military interpreter present.

It is now up to the Iraqi magistrate to decide whether there is any case to answer – and if so, it will be dealt with by a panel of three judges. It isn’t clear how long this will take, and certainly at the moment there are grave doubts about whether if the case does come to trial Hussein and his lawyers will be given the opportunity to prepare a proper defence so that he can get a fair trial.

Here in the UK of course we do things differently, although perhaps not so differently if you read the time-line of the SOCPA antics by police and courts as published on Indymedia. It is news and I think important news that has hardly been covered by the mainstream press.

One thing that gives photographers (and videographers) covering events such as these on our streets a little – if limited – protection is the UK Press Card. It isn’t perfect, but it does at least sometimes mean that photographers will get treated as reporters rather than as protesters. This Saturday, photographing a picket at Tesco Metro in Lower Regent Street, I would quite likely have been arrested for refusing to go into a pen when told to do so by a police officer if I hadn’t been able to show my card.

Picket against Tesco support for bio-fuels, London, Dec 8, 2007

Strangely enough, most of the times when I’ve really needed a press card have been at small events – like that picket – where the mainstream press aren’t interested and none of the photographers working for them cover.

I photograph them – as do others – because we think it important in terms of freedom of the individual, freedom of expression and a genuinely free press that such things should be recorded and published – even if only non-commercial media – such as Indymedia – are prepared to do so. Most of us also make some money out of such pictures through their use in small publications and as stock. Not a great deal, but with luck enough to make ends meet, at least along with the occasional more lucrative jobs.

Some news photographers are scheming to severely limit the issue of press cards, basically to guys like them working more or less full-time for the big newspapers. It is a change the police would welcome as making their job considerably easier, but which would severely curtail the wider freedom of the press.

Peter Marshall 

Make a fortune from copying

Friday, December 7th, 2007

If I were Jim Krantz I’d be talking to a lawyer.

In 2005, of his pictures sold for $1.2 million and he didn’t get a cent. Not even a name check. Trousering the big money is Richard Prince, an acclaimed artist, whose contribution was to copy and enlarge Krantz’s image, taken as a Marlborough ad – and apparently – if the reproductions on Art Knowledge News and the New York Times are reliable (Randy Kennedy’s article appears in both), add a colour cast.

Of course the whole thing is an incredible admission of a total aridity in the art world, and of course the total lack of appreciation of photography – Prince is quoted as once sending an e-mail saying “I never associated advertisements with having an author.” What phenomenal ignorance and arrogance.

Krantz of course is such a successful commercial photographer that he doesn’t need the money, and what he is really concerned about is “attribution and recognition.” But I’d certainly like to see him take Prince to the cleaners.

And I’d like to see all the art critics and increasingly photography critics who for some odd reason feel that Prince’s work is worth writing about to acknowledge that what they are really writing about is work by other people – just blown up large.

I’ve written previously about the importance of moral rights. This is a good example that makes the case.

You can also see Jim Krantz’s ‘art work‘ on line. Not entirely my kind of thing, but more interesting than Prince.

Big Sister

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Although it’s the pictures taken in a Prague on-line brothel in ‘Big Sister‘ by Czech photographer Hana Jakrlova that are attracting most attention (my favourite is a polar room set with roofless igloo and large polar bear,  otherwise vacant) I think the best work on her site are the black and white images, particularly in her ‘Europe’ portfolio.

I’ve not previously come across the idea of an on-line brothel, but apparently it is yet another case of de-professionalisation, this time of the porn industry, where male performers now actually pay while punters watch over the internet. At least as yet photographers are only expected to work for nothing rather than pay for the privilege.

Jakrlova was born in Brno 1969, and studied architecture for 7 years in Prague, then two years at the Institute of Creative Photography in Opava. Later she did a year at the ICP in New York. She has lived in London, Paris and New York, and now works from both Prague and New York.

On the website you can also preview her two books, in the meantime: europe (2006) and the rather more conventional ways of communication (2000.) It’s a shame that this actually seems to be the only way that either of these two books are generally available, although a Dutch version  of the later book is listed.

Peter Marshall

Cruel Fur

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Like many people, I thought fur was a thing of the past, remembering those old ladies who came to admire me in pram and pushchair, moth-bitten foxes around their necks, pungent with lavender and mothballs and worse. Later came the campaigns against fashion furs that meant that only the most thick-skinned of dumb animals would be seen alive in another’s coat because of the extreme cruelty across the whole industry.

It was this well-documented cruelty that led to the closure and banning of fur farms in the UK, but in other countries they remain alive and even more sick. I’m not a veggie but I am opposed to cruelty against animals (and wish that all farm production reached the standards of the best.)

So it disgusts me to hear that the big names in fashion and fashion shops are promoting the use of real fur trimming on their garments, and that these are on sale in shops in this country – and that it is perfectly legal to sell these cruelly-produced products. It’s a particularly stupid and callous trade, particularly stupid because in almost all ways the artificial alternatives look and perform better than animal skins. Anyone buying them is paying to wear a badge of cruelty.

Around 250 people joined a march on Saturday past some of the shops selling these tainted goods in Knightsbridge. The march paused briefly outside several shops before halting outside Harrods, apparently the only department store in the UK that still deals in furs, and where there is a regular picket every Saturday. After a brief address and many shouts of “Shame on Harrods”, there was a minute of silence before the march moved on, and I left them.

Outside Harrods in Brompton Road, Knightsbridge.

Surely it’s time the Government made time to ban this trade. It is one piece of legislation which would gain approval from the great majority of the British public and the kind of measure which would provide a sadly needed increase in their support.

Peter Marshall

Christmas comes early…

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Christmas comes early in Surrey and doubtless everywhere else. So far I’ve photographed three Christmas events on the south-west fringes of London (and am wondering whether I can fit another in this evening.)

They switched the Christmas lights on in New Malden on 23 Nov, and it was Winter Wonderland in Wimbledon last Thursday. Friday night it was pouring with rain, but the Hampton Hill Christmas Parade went ahead as usual – if rather wetter.

I don’t much like working in the dark or in the rain, and struggling with an umbrella and a recalcitrant camera and flash made me wish I’d stayed in the pub. But all the performers in the parade were out there, mostly getting soaked, so I felt I ought to stick at it too.

Here’s one that I rather liked, and may get on my Christmas card.

Peter Marshall