Archive for January, 2008

Reality Crossings

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I’ve just today got my copy of the Winter 2007/8 issue of ‘European Photography‘ magazine (no. 82 – the web site is out of date and still shows 81, another worthwhile issue, but on ‘Photography in Berlin’ as the current issue), which is devoted to the project ‘Reality Crossings’ shown at the 2nd Fotofestival Mannheim_Ludwigshaven_Heidelberg (FMLH for short) in Sept-Oct 2007. Unfortunately I wasn’t invited to be there, but from this magazine issue I think that ‘Reality Crossings‘ may well turn out to have been one of those significant defining moments in photography – like such shows as Szarkowski’s “New Documents” in 1967 or William Jenkins’ “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” at George Eastman House in 1975. And although I didn’t see either of those shows, they changed photography and they changed my photography.

Reality Crossings was a much more diverse show than either of those I’ve mentioned, and the issue contains a photograph (or in some cases, several) and a short statement (mainly by the curator) about the work of around 66 photographers as well as introducing almost 20 videographers. You can see some of the work on the festival web site, (the link is to the English version). I’d recommend anyone with an interest in contemporary photography to both buy the magazine and to look at the work on the web.

Of course many of the photographers in the show will be familiar. They include several I’ve written about elsewhere, including Michelle Sank, Michael Ackerman, Christian Schad and Michel Tichy (as you can see, not all the work is contemporary) as well as a number already on my ‘to-watch’ list.

Of course a publication – or even an exhibition – with such a large number of voices has to be unsatisfactory in that it can only give the merest glimpse of what activates the various authors. It’s even rather an introduction than a manifesto, but, as the introduction by curator Christoph Tannert states, it is “based on realism as an outlook on life” and demonstrates “that courage is indispensable in the pursuit of truth.

He goes on to say “The documentary must be confronted with the psychedelic extravagance of the photographic eye, which also involves conjugating structures, reflecting on form itself.” This is a thought which resonates with me (and I think will do so with all fellow ‘post-street‘ photographers) and which reflects some of the spirit which has inhabited my own work, both in the post-industrial landscapes of ‘London’s Industrial Heritage‘ and in the web-centred profligacy of ‘My London Diary.’

Future-Proof Camera?

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Leica M8 owners have recieved an interesting e-mail promising an update package for the camera, the first in what is described as “a perpetual upgrade program” which will result in the Leica M8 being able to “incorporate the latest refinements and developments in handling ease and technology.”

Registered users can buy certificates for the upgrade in March, but the factory will not start the work until August 2008, and we have still to be told the cost, but it sounds as if it will be very useful.

Included are two features which are significant improvements:

  • Scratch-proof sapphire glass cover for the LCD monitor.
  • Noise-optimized shutter with a fastest speed of 1/4000s.

The shutter noise has been one complaint by many users, including myself, who found the M8 sound much more obtrusive than the film Leicas. You can compare the two in the sound files on the Leica M8 Downloads page.

Also welcome is the news that a firmware upgrade, version 1.201 available from tomorrow, Feb 1, (presumably from the download page above) will improve the automatic white balance, one of the annoying minor (for those of us who shoot RAW) defects of the camera.

Leica does seem finally to be getting its act together with the M8, and it’s good to see that it intends to keep the early purchasers of the camera up to date rather than bring out a new model every couple of years. I just hope the cost will not be too great.

Along with Cornerfix – and of course those IR cut filters – we look like ending up with a truly usable camera. Like earlier Leicas it is a great camera to use – within its limitations, and the discipline that this imposes can be extremely productive. I found it very useful in Paris last November when I wanted to travel fairly light, shooting mainly with a 35mm f1.4 lens. Although it isn’t as flexible as a digital SLR, for certain things it is still the best tool. While the SLR is the Swiss Army knife of photography, the Leica is more of a scalpel.

Who Polices the Police?

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

The answer of course is that the police do, and when 20,000 or so off-duty police marched through the centre of London last week, there were a few of their uniformed mates there to make sure things went smoothly. However the guy that usually divides the estimates of numbers on marches by 2 or 3 did seem to be taking a day off!

Apart from the numbers, it was a pretty miserable show, and the police clearly needed to take some lessons from the Space Hijackers, who had thoughtfully set up a professional demonstrators stand at Hyde Park Corner to give them advice.

At the start, both ‘Class War‘ and ‘FITWatch‘ had turned up to show them how a mere handful of demonstrators can create rather more interest. With the uniforms being watched by a large media crowd, they were mainly careful to act rather more carefully than is sometimes the case when dealing with – and arresting a couple – of the protesters. The start of  the march was delayed for around half an hour by the protests.

But unfortunately one single man outdid even these, the presence marching with the police of the BNP mayoral candidate for London – largely keeping out of the way of the press – was the evening paper’s headline story.

I’d photographed him at the start of the march, but hadn’t thought anything of it. It’s no secret than there are many BNP sympathisers in the police, and it was no surprise to see him there, It was only when other photographers started to get a little excited about it, later in the march, that I thought I should perhaps get a better picture – but by then he had disappeared. In fact the picture the newspaper used wasn’t any better than mine.

At least one policeman in 20,000 has a sense of humour, and there were even a few who were clearly amused by the ‘professional protesters’, though rather more who shouted abuse (often using language that could have got them arrested!)

I also came in for a certain amount of abuse and pushing for being a photographer at one point in the march. The police do really have some problems they need to sort out, and their relationship to the media is one – though perhaps less pressing than others.

I’m not anti-police. They have a tough job to do, and need more and better training to do it. It is a dangerous job, and this was brought home when wreaths were laid at the National Police Memorial to commemorate those who have died doing it.

More pictures and text on the march on My London Diary.

All pictures are (C) 2008, Peter Marshall. All rights reserved.

Capa Treasure Trove

Monday, January 28th, 2008

The discovery of Robert Capa‘s negatives from the 1930s, long thought to have been lost after he left them in Paris when he fled from the Nazis in 1939 is a remarkable piece of news, although rumours about their survival first began to spread around 1995.

Three flimsy cardboard cases containing around 50 tightly rolled nitrate base 35mm films of various lengths, in total around 3500 negatives, are now being investigated and catalogued by experts from the George Eastman House working for the ICP. Most of the strips are indexed in the lid of the box – and you can read many of these in the interactive graphic from the New York Times feature. Much of the story is told in the slide show there, and you can read more details in the article, The Capa Cache.

The negatives first came to light after a Mexico City film-maker inherited them from his aunt, whose father had been a general and Mexican diplomat stationed in Marseilles in the late 1930s, where he had helped Republican refugees to go to Mexico.

Capa had left his negatives with his darkroom manager, Cziki (Imre Weisz), another Hungarian, who took them to Marseilles, possibly hoping to flee to Mexico. But he was arrested and interned in Algiers (though he did later get to Mexico City, where he died in recent years.)

It took over ten years – and the efforts of curator Trisha Ziff – to persuade the film-maker and his family to make the collection public, and that the most suitable home for the negatives was the ICP, founded by Capa’s brother, Cornell Capa.

Some of his most famous images have already been located among the films, and more are likely to be found. Capa worked with his partner, Gerda Taro, until her death in the war, and the collection is likely to raise more issues about which of the images were her work, as well as possibly settling any remaining doubts about one of the most famous and controversial images in the history of the medium, Capa’s (or Taro’s?) “The Falling Soldier.

More Blueeyes

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Another issue of the on-line photography magazine Blueeyes, edited by John Loomis and his team, is always worth a good look, and the seventeenth issue which appeared recently is another fine one.

Little Voice‘ is a powerful essay by Lisa Wiltse (b 1977, Weston, Connecticutt, USA) who got her BFA from the Art Institute of Boston in 1999 and is now a staff photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald. Her work has concentrated on humanitarian issues in Central America, Uganda, India. In Little Voice, she looks at the consequences of the annual flooding in Bangladesh, which this year displaced some 9 million people. The country is one of those most at risk from global warming, with a sea-level rise of only 1 metre being enough to flood half the country. Her essay demonstrates the emotional power of black and white photography at its best.

Cosmin Bumbut’s work on Blueeyes is very varied, with both colour and black and white and a wide range of subject matter and approach, coming from a number of different projects. Among the best images for me are several interiors, including a fine image of a two people and two where we see through doorways. Born in Romania in 1968, he studied at the Film Photography Dept 0f the Film & Theatre Academy in Bucharest, and he is now based in that city as a freelance photographer.

Bumbut was also one of the founders of Punctum, which is a downloadable Romanian photography magazine – the latest edition includes work by Lois Greenfield. Don’t miss looking at the pictures from Rosia Montana on his own site.

Kelly Shimoda was also born in Connecticut, but in 1976, and is a Brooklyn based freelance. She studied American Civilization & Latin American Studies at Brown University and worked for six years before taking the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism certificate program at the International Center of Photography in New York. In 2005 she founded the collective Veras Images, on whose site you can see work by her and ten other photographers.

Her project on Blueeyes, ‘Last Saturday Night‘, uses richly emotional colour to look at the final nights of the last two roller disco skating rinks in New York that closed early in 2007. Some of those skating there had started as kids 40 years ago.

As well as these major portfolios there are several other contributions worth looking at, and of course the archives. Blueeyes publishes documentary photography projects that focus on social, political, and environmental issues, and welcomes submissions of suitable unpublished projects – see the simple and clear guidelines on the site. But like many worthwhile things in photography, Blueeyes is a labour of love, produced without sponsorship and advertising – and without payment to any of those concerned.

Copyright – more from Dan Heller

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Dan Heller has made another post on image rights this week, with his Proposal for Privatizing the Copyright Registration Process which in some respects make sense, but perhaps only if you are American and in business in America. There, rather than accepting the international agreed approach, they set up a two-tier copyright system.

Like almost every other country on the planet, if you produce a creative work in America, it is automatically copyright.  But in the USA, that kind of copyright the rest of us over the world use isn’t taken too seriously, because you can only make a reasonable claim for lost revenue and expenses if someone violates your copyright.

By bribing the US Gov’t with $45, they will let you sue for totally unreasonable ‘statutory damages’ through the US court system.  However although many professionals and businesses will bother to cough up the $45 and follow the relatively simple process, it isn’t something that Joe Public will bother with.

It is fairly simple to do, and your $45 can cover a large collection of images – such as a year’s work, so long as you can fit viewable image files onto a single disk. The only slightly tricky thing for those of us outside the USA is finding a method of payment that the office will accept, and so far I’ve given up at this point.

Heller argues that by making private companies able to act as agents for the US Copyright Office,  it could become cheaper and simpler to register copyright – for example sites such as Flickr and YouTube could offer it as a part of the upload process.

It isn’t actually a bad idea, but I think I’ve a better one, simpler and that could fairly easily be applied.  Simply to abolish the US Copyright Office, which actually serves little useful function, and to come in line with the rest of the world, but to change the law and procedure to make it possible to claim sensible copyright damages .

Such a law could be enacted in any country. I’d suggest setting a minimum level of damages – perhaps of £100  ($200) with a general presumption that the damages awarded should be perhaps 3 times the normal fee for normal infringements up to perhaps 10 times for wilful infringements, together with the award of reasonable costs.

In the UK, damages could be sought through our ‘small claims’ procedure – as they can currently be pursued, although this is a system in need of some radical overhaul.  Most cases of copyright infringement are clear-cut and largely administrative rather than requiring expensive legal argument and decision, and should be dealt with by some kind of simplified process. There is no little for high legal costs – or for the kind of swingeing damages sometimes awarded in the US courts.

However, as in some other – and rather more important areas – we can probably rely on the American government to continue going on its own way.

Peter Marshall

Photographers and Politicians

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Nowadays it seems to be de riguer for celebs feeling a tad low on publicity oxygen to slap a pap, and the police always seem to have better things to do than investigate cases of assaults on photographers (perhaps because the officers are too busy assaulting those photographers who cover demonstrations – more on the event where this took place on My London Diary.) So it was good to hear (thanks to PDNPulse) that it isn’t open season for politicians to give us a kicking too – or at least not in the USA.

Douglas Bruce, a new qand already controversial Republican in the house from Colorado Springs, interrupted his public prayer at the start of the session in the Capitol, diverting his thoughts from the holy to the lowly photographer crouching rather too close to his feet for the photographers safety. Bible in hand, Bruce booted photographer Javier Manzano one in the knee, upset that he was being photographed during his prayers.

According to the report in The Denver Post, Bruce thinks its ok because he just “tapped him with the bottom of my shoe” and his assault didn’t leave the photographer squirming in agony – there was “no sound, no shriek, no anything” – clearly we need to make sure to squeal well, though that could be tricky should you happen to be knocked unconscious. Manzano actually didn’t seem to be badly hurt – you can see a video of the incident on CBS4Denver although it doesn’t show the actual impact – you see Bruce moving to take a fairly firm swing and hear a thump. And before you get to the action you do have to put up with some more thumping in an ad for medical heart testing.

Bruce is still refusing to apologise, adamant that it is the photographer who should apologise – presumably for doing his job of taking pictures and getting kicked. He continues to refuse despite a 5-1 ruling from a Capitol panel that the Speaker should request a formal apology from him for disrupting the dignity of the chamber. The panel also unanimously recommended that the House should censure him.

The Denver Post already has, with a columinst giving him the tag of ‘Girlyman’, because he “kicks like a little girl” and suggesting that in any other business his conduct would have led to suspension or dismissal.

The Denver Post prints a picture taken just before the kick by their own photographer, and it clearly gives Bruce a dignity that his subsequent action shows is unfounded. Manzano was working for the Rocky Mountain News, where his rather more straightforward picture appears with their feature on the incident.

As this article states “House rules allow the media full access to the floor where the incident occurred. No restrictions are placed on photographers during prayers or any other activities.” Of course, things are rather different in this country and it may perhaps be wise to give Gordon Brown a little more room.

Thinking of politics and the press, things are also different in Brazil.
Congress Brasilia
This picture shows is the area immediately next to the lower house in their Congress building, open to the public, where representatives stroll out from the chamber and are interviewed by the press. As for security, I did write my name and country in the visitor book, though I think this was probably optional.


Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

For most users of the Leica M8, Cornerfix must rank as one of the most useful piece of software available, and certainly the best value since it comes free, thanks to the generosity of its writer, Sandy McGuffog.

The M8 designers found that the way to get sharper results, and to make a 1.3x size sensor usable with their wide-angle lenses was to use a thinner IR barrier filter over the sensor. When they released the camera they appear not to have realised the problems this would cause photographing in particular some black synthetic fibres.

The first job I used my M8 for included photographing a group of people demonstrating against the development of Queen’s Market in Upton Park (pictures and text are some way down the page on the link) outside a shareholders’ meeting in the City of London. Most were wearing black but these clothes were rendered nicely by the M8 in various shades of plum and brown.

More uncorrected Leica images from this event

Careful selection of much of the black clothing in the image, darkening and slightly de-saturating it to produce a more natural result took several hours of work for a small repro fee. I’d done a quite a few test pictures before I took the camera out on this small job, but hadn’t chosen the right subjects or lighting to show how bad the problem could be.

By contrast, here is a picture taken with the Leica under similar lighting at last Saturday’s Ashura procession in London, using the same 21mm Voigtlander lens, taken and processed as described below:

No problems with colour, although rather more shadow noise from the M8 than I would like. The pictures in My London Diary were taken on a Nikon D200, which is more flexible and gives better colour although slightly less resolution.

Leica’s solution was to partly to provide a couple of free IR cut filters for the front of the lens. Apart from these being in rather short supply and slow to arrive, these were an excellent solution for 50mm and longer lenses, but gave an additional problem with wide-angles. Rays from the corner of the image came through the filter obliquely, resulting in a longer path and an over-correction, resulting in cyan vignetting at image corners.

Modern Leica lenses have a set of dots on the rear of the mount which can be in six positions and allow infrared sensors on the camera body to identify the lens. Using this information, camera firmware can correct the vignetting. Overall it’s a very good system giving better image sharpness across the frame than other cameras, but it leaves a problem for those of us who want to use non-coded lenses.

Leica will add lens codes to some older lenses (at considerable cost) but my wide angle wasn’t one of them. In any case I mostly use the considerably cheaper and more compact Cosina Voigtlander lenses. Various people soon found do-it-yourself ways to code these lenses, and for a time my old Leitz 35mm was working well this way. Then the ‘Sharpie’ marks wore off, and after wasting several hours trying to get it working again I gave up.

Cornerfix removes the need for lens coding, correcting the vignetting in software by using a simply created lens profile. It can actually do a better job than firmware as you can create different profiles for different lens apertures, though I think this isn’t really necessary.

To create a profile, you need to photograph a neutral sheet – either grey or white – filling the frame and using even light, avoiding any exposure clipping. Loading this into Cornerfix enables you to create a profile in a few seconds.

As stated, you can create profiles for different apertures, and also for different lighting conditions, however so far I’ve not really found this necessary, perhaps because the light has generally been overcast! Perhaps if we get a summer?

You need to separate out your DNG files by which lens was used, and then these can be batch processed to produce files with _CF suffixed to the name. If you are someone who changes lenses, this could be a problem. File size is also a slight issue for archiving; the _CF files with lossless compression are considerably larger, and Adobe Lightroom seems to lose the compression, producing 40Mb files compared to the original .DNG from camera at around 10Mb.

So I’m having problems in fitting Cornerfix and the processed files into my workflow and archiving. Should I archive the originals or the processed files? How do I fit this in with using Lightroom?

But Cornerfix itself couldn’t be simpler:

Shoot your white or grey card, load the image, use the Lens Profile menu to create a lens profile and save it into your cornerfix directory or elsewhere.

Most of the image settings should be left at the default unless you have good reason to alter them, but you may like to enable lossless compression:

Once you have lens profile(s) for your lens or lenses, you simply need to load the profile, then load either a single image or a batch of images for processing and let the program get on with it.

Left is input file, right is output.

Total process time on my computer is around 8 seconds.

During batch processing it writes the output to the same directory, so you should normally have copied the files onto your hard disk first. The output files are also DNG files and can be processed in any raw processor as normal.

Ashura Procession in London

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Saturday wasn’t much of a day for taking pictures, the odd spot of rain in the air and pretty well zero light. But one of the things about photographing events is that you just have to get on and do it, whatever the weather. And Saturday was the 10th day of Muharram, Ashura Day when Shia Muslims remember the martyrdom of Husain and his small group of followers at Kerbala, Iraq in 61AH.

I was surprised to one London blog mentioning this event as a part of “Hidden London” last week. It isn’t too easy to hide several thousand people walking along one of the major roads in the capital, especially as some of them are banging drums and blowing trumpets, while others chant through loudspeakers to lead the mainly black-clad walkers in their mourning.

I’ve photographed it several years, I think for the first time in 2000. Despite the weather I was pleased with several of the images I got, particularly this one:

Ashura Procession, London. (C) Peter Marshall, 2008

It’s an image that for me captures some of the fervour and chaos of the event, and the participation of the men involved (I also got another picture I like of some of the women.)

This is an uncropped digital ‘straight print‘ developed from the RAW file using Adobe Lightroom, and it would benefit from a little ‘burning‘ and ‘dodging‘ before making the final output, but I seldom find time for this before putting work on the web. You can see this and some of the other pictures I made at the event on My London Diary as usual.

Peter Marshall

Andrew Hetherington and Chris Floyd

Monday, January 21st, 2008

A week or two ago I was looking at Andrew Hetherington‘s web site and wondering whether to write a blog post about this Dublin- born photographer who is currently extremely well-thought of in New York and whose work I first became aware of when he was selected for PDN’s 30 photographers to watch in 2003. (The site will still work if you allow pop-ups for it.)

I didn’t get round to writing about him then, largely because his site is so slow to load on my fairly basic 1Mb broadband connection that I got fed up. But just click on one of the portfolios and go and read e-mail for a minute or two or make a coffee, because they are really worth waiting for. Once loaded the site works reasonably slickly (almost as well as if it had been well-written in html) and the images are great – and good quality.

(You can also download each of the three portfolios as a PDF. Mix and Match 1 has I think 32 pictures and is around 3.2Mb. But I don’t recommend this, as someone has made rather a mess of this file – I didn’t bother to try the others. The image quality on screen is nothing like as good as you would expect from 100Kb jpegs, and very poor compared to the flash. They are also curiously distorted on my screen. The flash presentation shows images on my screen as sharp 98mm squares. At full size in the PDF they are extremly nastily artifacted and 198mm wide, 230 mm tall. The quality become almost acceptable when viewed at 33% but the distortion remains.)

One of Hetherington’s favourite photographers is obviously Martin Parr, but I say that not in any way to detract from his work but to locate it in a broad area of work. It’s easy to see why people are talking about him, and work that I think is successful in both artistic and commercial terms.

I came back to look at Hetherington’s web site thanks to a link from the EPUK newsletter about a feature on his blog, what’s the jackanory? where in a post called ‘London Calling‘ he picks up on a post by photographer Chris Floyd (have that mouse at the ready at the bottom left of this page to douse the music when that site loads) made as a comment on another blog, Rob Haggart’s A Photo Editor (is anyone in this business still taking pictures rather than typing into blogs?) with an interview in which he discusses with Chris Floyd the current state of photography in Britain.

Those of us in Britain will indeed recognise many of the things that Floyd says – and backs up from his own experience. The piece perhaps won’t endear itself to my friends in Birmingham, nor photographers in Manchester, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow etc with the comment “Britain is not like America. The UK media market is London, London, London. Trailing a distant fourth place is London” though it may be hard to argue differently.

But its a long, interesting and fairly wide-ranging conversation about the current state of the industry, with some comments on Martin Parr and Ryan McGinley among others, as well as on being an artist. Of course it comes from a particular viewpoint, and is between two photographers whose ways of thinking come very much from their successful commercial practice and shared experience in New York.

And while you are on Chris Floyd’s site (see link and note above), don’t miss The Nineties, in the Archive Section. Some fine pictures I can appreciate even though I’ve no interest in (and don’t recognise) most of the celebrated subjects.