Archive for January, 2008

A House that was Home: Oyvind Hjelmen

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Many of us have had the rather gloomy experience of clearing out a house when an elderly relative dies or goes into a home, and over the years I’ve seen quite a few photo essays around this theme, with photographers often photographing the house they grew up in as it is cleared ready to be sold.

I’ve done similar things myself, though more often regretted the fact that I never managed to get round to recording such places as my father’s old workshops at the back of his family house, sold when I was away from home at about the time I took up photography seriously. His premises were a health and safety officer’s nightmare, with a more extensive collection of tools from the cart-building trade than I’ve seen in any craft museum. But around 1970, nobody was interested in such things.

My Aunt’s house (C) Peter Marshall

Years ago, when one of my aunts moved out the home in which she had lived for around 50 years into sheltered housing, I did go round and photograph her, and her house in a small series of pictures, just before she moved.

My Aunt’s house (C) Peter Marshall

But most of the pictures I took, and almost all of those sets of work that I’ve seen by others in the past, have perhaps been too personal, too linked to the photographer’s own memories, to be of much interest to others. But there are exceptions, and one of them inspired this posting.

What made me think about this are a set of 12 pictures by Norwegian photographer Oyvind Hjelmen, ‘A House that was Home‘, on the ‘Lens Culture‘ web site. This series of a dozen small square images (the original prints are 12x12cm, exactly the size that I see them on my monitor) demonstrate Hjelman’s sensitivity to light and the subject. As Jim Casper writes, they “reverberate with a visual language of archetypes, memories and dreams.”

House that was Home VI

Oyvind Hjelmen

Jim has written rather more that you can read on the site, and I’ll leave it to him rather than write more myself – so do take a look. The above image from this series is also available as a signed limited edition print from Lensculture editions.

You can find out more about the photographer on his own web site which has four portfolios, including ‘House that was Home‘, which has one picture not shown on Lensculture.

Despite using Flash, it is a very clean and nicely designed site that is reasonably fast to load. The text is in English, although Google thinks otherwise and tells me “Yvonnee Charlotte Erdal bor i Bergen og er en anerkjent fotograf både innenfor kunstnerisk og kommersielt foto,” suggesting I might like to restrict my search to English sites. Fortunately I’m not so chauvinistic and though seriously linguistically challenged I don’t let it worry me. After all it is the pictures that matter, and they are worth looking at.

Using Your Existing Flash with a Nikon

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

One of the extra expenses in moving to recent Nikon cameras is that they are designed to with with flashes that use Nikon’s interesting i-TTL flash system. It’s an innovative system that uses flashes of light to communicate data, but one that I’ve not found entirely meets my need.

Apart from making older flash units like my perfectly serviceable Nikon SB-80DX apparently redundant, it also appears to make my older non-Nikon units unusable as well. Of course this isn’t really the case – just that they don’t work as i-TTL units.

Perhaps even more annoying, with i-TTL there seems to be a longer delay, at least with the Nikon D200, between the pre-flash – used for measurement – and the actual exposure flash. Long enough for many people to blink. As a work-around you can make one normal flash exposure and then lock the flash setting (perhaps using FV lock: CS f4) so that there is no pre-flash for further exposures. Its probably fine for some situations, but not for those where your subject is changing rapidly – most of what I do.

‘Freedom to Protest’? Police get heavy-handed at Downing St, Jan 12, 2008.
More pictures on My London Diary.
D200 with SB-80DX, 1/30 f8. EXIF indicates “
strobe return light not detected” but we know better. I used the settings below.
(C) Peter Marshall.

Important: You follow the advice given here entirely at your own risk. Some older flash units put high voltages on the hot shoe which may fry modern cameras. You should test older flashes before using them on any modern camera.

The only flash unit I’ve tried the method here with is a Nikon SB-80DX, but it should work with any unit that has an auto-exposure mode that allows you to select the aperture setting. The detailed instructions are for a Nikon D200, but there is no reason why a similar method shouldn’t work with other cameras.

  1. Fit flash to hot shoe.
  2. Turn on camera. Use the button to the left of the lens mount and set the flash to normal front curtain sync mode. (It won’t work in rear curtain sync, and you are better off never using red-eye reduction – correct it in software if you get it. The +/- flash exposure compensation setting using the flash button has no effect with this method, so don’t bother with it.)
  3. Set camera to A (Aperture Priority Auto) mode.
  4. Set the aperture and film speed you want to work at. In this example I’ll use f8 and ISO 400
  5. Turn on the flash, using up/down on the main control button to change the flashing ISO to 400, then press it to set.
  6. Set the flash mode on the flash to A.
  7. Set the aperture on the flash unit relative to that you set on the camera. As a starting point, set it one stop wider – f5.6 in this example. The important thing to remember is that setting a wider aperture gives less light and vice-versa. (For more precise control you could alter the ISO, but on the SB-80DX this is trickier to do. You may find it easier to start by setting the ISO on the flash to twice the figure on the camera.)
  8. On the camera, go to CS e2 and set the minimum shutter speed to use with flash. To use the flash as fill in daylight I usually set 1/60 or 1/125. In low light I generally want to use a slower speed (often 1/15 or 1/30) to get a little more exposure from the ambient light. For nice long blurs use a slower speed.
  9. Use CS e1 to set the flash sync to 1/250 (Auto FP) or 1/250.
  10. Everything should now work ok. But take a test shot and check the histogram.

Remember that setting exposure compensation will have no affect on the flash – but will alter the ambient contribution (if any) to exposure. To change the flash exposure you need to alter the aperture (or ISO) set on the flash unit.

If you find things start going wrong with your flash exposures, the first thing to check are that you haven’t changed either the Exposure Mode (A) or Flash Mode (front curtain sync.) It is surprisingly easy to press buttons without meaning to!

Peter Marshall 

Rights of Publicity etc

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

Perhaps the clearest thing you can say about Rights of Publicity is that they are a mess. And it’s a mess to which the recent decision in California concerning images of Marilyn Monroe, which you can read about on the ‘State of the Art‘ blog only adds. Monroe was of course photographed by many photographers, notably Dennis Stock, Milton Greene, Sam Shaw, and Tom Kelley. I suspect this is a story which will continue in various courts.

If you want to read more about the confusion of legislation world-wide, the best introduction I’ve found comes from the Australian consultancy Caslon Analytics.

My own advice for photographers is simple. Don’t photograph celebs. It may mean passing up a bit of income now, but it will avoid the possibility of a lot of hassle in the future for us and our heirs.

Outside the National Gallery, Jan 2008 (C) Peter Marshall

A better reason for not photographing them is simply that in general I find them – and the pictures of them that clog the press – extremely boring. There are just so many other more interesting things to photograph.

But it wasn’t a surprise when out of the sixteen stories I’ve so far posted this month, the only one to attract any attention from the mainstream press was a small protest outside the National Gallery in London against the expansion of an airport in Siena. Although it’s a cause I’m in favour of, here’s part of what I wrote about it:

The protest group is apparently led by the young grandson of a Lord, and includes models and young people from some of the richest families around (the kind of people who own Guinness rather than drink it.)

If you had a nice big villa there you probably wouldn’t want all sorts of riff-raff coming in on cheap flights either, and would have been there outside the National Gallery too.

I do think it’s time to take urgent action about airport expansion, particularly because of the effect of increasing flights on climate change. Far more pressing than Siena is Heathrow, and the No Third Runway campaign.

Global Climate Change March, London, Dec 2007 (C) Peter Marshall

To be fair, those protesting against Siena that I talked to also told me that they would think about doing more to protest against the expansion of Heathrow.

This week’s crash-landing at Heathrow again raises the question of safety, and the danger of having a major airport in such a heavily built-up area. I grew up under the main flightpath in Hounslow, a major centre of population only a couple of miles from touchdown, and live in another highly populated area where where planes on approach to one of the alternative runways (fortunately now seldom used) come in low enough to rattle the windows. So while applauding the brave performance of the senior first officer John Coward, I’m also shocked at the fool-hardiness of the authorities in allowing Heathrow to remain, let alone to expand.

Haswell Plough

Friday, January 18th, 2008

Chris Steele-Perkin‘s black and white images from Northumberland in the show ‘Haswell Plough to Harajuku‘ at HOST gallery in Honduras Street, London until 31 Jan are well worth a visit. He started shooting the work as a commission for Side Gallery (and one of the images in the show is of the late Murray Martin, one of the founders of Amber/Side, with whom Steele-Perkins often stayed while working on the project) but continued to go back and work on it for some years.

Central to his work was a market at Haswell Plough where the photographer got to know many of those he photographed. The work is a nostalgic view of the countryside as a rural Arcadia, recording it clearly but also with great affection, and I think you can see all of the pictures in the show, along with others in the display from his 2007 book, Northern Exposures, published by the Northumbria University Press and featured on the Magnum web site (click on ‘View all images’ for the obvious.)

In the HOST show, there were also a few large images and a montage of 100 colour prints from Harajuku. I think most or all of these are from his second book on Tokyo, Tokyo Love Hello also on Magnum. I felt the small images of these were actually more impressive than the larger prints, and looking at the images on the web I wonder if they are not even better there – and certainly would be so if better presented on screen. Quite understandably, for anything other than small thumbs, Magnum protect their commercial interests by using both a visible watermark and rather low quality jpegs. This isn’t a complaint – but a simple statement. Every time I go to the site I applaud Magnum’s generosity in making so much great photography available to us all.

The countryside work I find more interesting. Perhaps even though it is in my own country it is in certain respects more foreign to me than Japanese city life. When the Countryside alliance made its protest marches in London against the hunting ban, there were times when I felt a great distance between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – as the campaigners alleged.

In Trafalgar Square (C) 2002, Peter Marshall

Of course the countryside hasn’t closed down with the ban, nor has hunting entirely stopped. Different practices, a certain amount of deception and even some defiance, but country life continues.

Jane Bown: Deservedly Well-known

Friday, January 18th, 2008

In the Guardian/Observer Newsroom at 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1, until 25 Jan 2008 you can see ‘Unknown Bown‘ 1947-67, with many of the images also on-line, in a Flash presentation that covers her photography over 60 years.

The Newsroom with some folders of the Manchester Guardian and Bown’s show

Hers is a truly remarkable career – and on-line you can see the first picture she took for the Observer on the 28th January, 1949, a portrait of Betrand Russell. In 2006, she was still taking portraits, and really not that differently, with the best perhaps her image of Dame Maggie Smith, as well as a freshly informal image of the Queen which makes her look like someone’s granny, just after the hairdresser has been in, gussied up for a trip out from the old people’s home.

The selection in the Newsroom does include some of her better-known pictures – and quite a few of those that are on-line, but also has pictures I’d not seen before, including some of the more interesting in the show. So while on-line, Southend on Sea 1954 is just her very well-seen view of two people in deckchairs from behind, in the gallery under the same title there is also a far more exciting and lively Cartier-Bressonesque group (she photographed the man himself in 1957), a man sprawling in the foreground, a woman standing holding a towel or clothing (and another man appears to be dangling one of her feet from his hand) as a boat leaves. And those hats! Similarly there is a picture from the 1957 Fuel Crisis on the wall which I find much stronger than the on-line image.

Much of this work was taken when she was herself a young mother, and there are some fine portraits of young children on the wall (perhaps just a few too many.) But throughout her career she was someone who obviously made people feel at ease – and children are perhaps more sensitive than most adults. She makes people – wherever they are – feel at home, at ease. Where some photographers set out to shock or surprise, her work usually has a warmth, a friendliness, a domesticity that appeals.

Where she does sometimes produce work that is striking is by her use of light. Perhaps her most striking portrait is that of Samuel Beckett, made in 1976, and it is certainly one that qualifies for the title ‘iconic’; on those rare occasions when I think of him, it is her image that I see. But perhaps the selection for the presentation suffers from an overdose of politicians and pop-stars, and is based rather too much on the names rather than the quality of the images. Of course they are all good pictures, but I think not always among her best images, and sometimes are overshadowed by the again iconic images by other photographers.

On show at the Newsroom is also the old Rolleiflex which I think it says cost her £50 in 1947, which seems excessive. In the 1960s she was still carrying this (or perhaps a similar replacement) to assignments in a shopping bag, though changing times and expectations led her to increasingly use an SLR from that time on.  At first it was a Pentax, but one of the things I have in common with her is that we both bought an Olympus OM1 more or less as soon as they came out in late 1972, though I think hers lasted longer, and definitely captured many, many more famous sitters. You can also see more of her work as a student, as well as a picture of her tutor, Ifor Thomas, who recognised the talent of this 21 year old who had just come out of the WRNS and enrolled on his course at the Guildford School of Art. At the time it was the only place in England where photography was not simply taught as a technical subject – though unlike some colleges today they also made sure that students learnt their craft.

I could write more, but I’ve just found two other features on her at the Guardian, Jane Bown: A biography, and an introduction to the Unknown Bown written by  Germaine Greer that perhaps tells you rather too much about Greer’s own prejudices, particularly on the subject of Diane Arbus,  but does also have some interesting thoughts about Bown and her work. Those who know their photography will also spot a few obvious errors, such as the fact that her Olympus OM1 will not be 40 until 2013 and is unlikely ever to sport a 50mm f2.5 lens. They didn’t make one, and most of us were happy with the f1.8, which was a superb performer at the f2.8 that Bown habitually set – with shutter speed of 1/60th using whatever light was available. And if she needed more, most people had a reading lamp. It’s also a discussion of her work that ignores the great cultural and photographic influences of the era in which she grew up and started work, in particular the illustrated weeklies such as ‘Picture Post‘.  While few in that era would have known the name of, for example, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and most photographs were published without attribution (as too many still are) the influence of his and other similar work was strong enough in the early 50s for young turks to feel the need to rebel against it, while others, such as Bown, developed their own style very much within its general ambit.


Friday, January 18th, 2008

Just when I thought I had flash sorted out, it jumps up and hits me, just refusing to do what it ought to be doing and what I wanted.

Not quite what I intended, but still usable…

I set 1/15s and it gave me 0.80s, and a rather more abstract effect than I wanted. Both images (C) 200, Peter Marshall

In the heat of the moment (I was covering a demo outside the jail against the death of women in Holloway Prison) it isn’t easy to think clearly. I still don’t know why the method I’ve been using with great success should suddenly stop working, but I do know what should have been the first solution to try.

In the old days, cameras were simple, mechanical devices. Worked by levers, springs, a bit of clockwork. If something went wrong it was usually pretty obvious – you couldn’t wind the film on, or nothing happened when you pressed the button. The big change came not with the switch to digital imaging, but with the introduction of electronics into the actual working of cameras. At first we mainly had it in exposure metering, and it was analogue rather than digital and pretty benign, even extremely useful. And it also gave us far more reliable and accurate shutter speeds.

In many ways the Olympus OM4 represented a near-perfect mix of manual and electronic camera, although if the battery went you were left with only a single emergency shutter speed of 1/60s. But for those of us who took black and white seriously, it had a built-in metering system that was perfect for the precise placement of shadow detail.

As someone who taught photography to beginners, the increasing electronic complexity of cameras after that soon became a nightmare. Where previously you could pick up any camera a student came with and show them exactly how to use it, you now – unless they owned the same model as you – had to get them to bring in the manual and pore through a hundred pages of Japlish for even the basics.

So if, like me you are out there and things get pear-shaped, the first thing to remember is that you are not dealing with a camera, but with a computer. If you are using a flash as well, things are even worse, because you have two computers and a network to trouble-shoot.

Fortunately I know a bit about computers (and networking) as well. The great majority of computer faults can be cured simply by re-booting. A few cameras actually do have a button you can press (often only with the tip of a pen) to do this, but more commonly it involves taking out the battery, counting for 10 seconds or longer and then replacing it. (The camera I have to do this most often with isn’t a digital camera, but a Konica Hexar F, a great camera for street photography despite only having a fixed 35mm lens.)

If you are using a flash, then it makes sense to give that the same treatment. Mine also has setting using the buttons which will reset it to factory defaults, which, given its incomprehensible menus and non-intuitive setting methods is probably no bad place to start.

Once you’ve rebooted the two computers, its also worth thinking about the network. There is an old rule about trouble-shooting networks, around 99% reliable, and is expressed simply: “Cables, cables, cables!” If like me you usually plug your flash directly into a hot shoe, then the appropriate paraphrase would be “contacts, contacts, contacts!” Clean them and then make sure you push the unit firmly all the way into the shoe.

More pictures from that demo are of course on My London Diary.

Seeing Orange

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Amnesty organised a vigil at the London US embassy to mark 6 years of illegal detention of prisoners at Guantánamo last Friday.
(C) Peter Marshall, 2008

By the end of last Friday, I never wanted to see an Orange jump-suit again. Of course, like almost everyone else in the civilised world, I believe that the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay should never have been set up, and that it should certainly be closed down without further delay.

I don’t support suicide bombers or those who carry out acts of terror that kill the innocent. But it makes no sense to try and combat these by the denial of human rights and the detention, torture and humiliation of hundreds of largely innocent men. And most of those detained were innocent, people who were desperately unlucky to be at the wrong time in the wrong place, some expendable so far as those who denounced them to the US under torture or for cash rewards, others almost randomly selected.

If there was proper evidence against them, they would by now largely have been tried and convicted by proper courts. The British citizens – as others – who have been released have not been brought to trial – because there was no evidence to do so. It’s good news that some of the British residents there have also been returned (though the Spanish government is trying to extradite two to stand trial in Spain) but very bad news that two are still there along with around 250 other prisoners.

Jackie Chase holds a picture of Binyam Mohamed, still imprisoned, at the Parliament Square rally, part of a day of action by the London Guantánamo Campaign and Cageprisoners.
(C) Peter Marshall, 2008

One of these is Binyam Mohamed, whose is currently in a very poor state of heath and unlikely to survive any further prolonged confinement.


Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

I’ve always had a rather edgy relationship with flash. Of course like most photographers of my era I grew up with the conviction that it was a mortal sin, thanks to guys like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Available light was everything, and as much as striking a match would somehow destroy the vital integrity of the moment.

It’s still a way I like working, at least at times, but there are other occasions on which really my Leica, even with film pushed to ISO 1600 and the great old 35mm f1.4 won’t deliver. The M8 doesn’t help a lot, turning that 35mm a standard lens, and its performance above ISO 640 isn’t too great.

Digital has led to a distinct rise in what people expect – at least technically – from work in poor light. My library would almost certainly now reject those great grainy images I still rather like, and the best modern digital cameras can now deliver results at high ISO that a few years back we would have thought impossible (and still are impossible with film.)

But that still leaves me with a problem. First I haven’t got a Nikon D3, and the D200, while a fine camera, is best used below ISO 1000. Then there is the matter of lenses. Because of the smaller sensor, what I’d really like for that camera in low light is something like a 20mm f1.4 lens. What I tend to be using is a zoom lens with a maximum aperture around f4. Sigma do actually make a 20mm f1.8, so perhaps I should try one.

Back to my sins, (and there are even yet photographers fighting some kind of rearguard action against digital that seems to me more religious than practical,) digital cameras and modern flash technology have actually greatly simplified matters, making fill flash, once a tedious necessity that I struggled with roughly twice a year, part of my normal daily routine. Probably a majority of the pictures that end up on My London Diary use it, though not always too obviously.

Freedom to Protest – last Saturday at Downing St (C) Peter Marshall, 2008

Flash at night – and it was getting dark when I too the picture above – still presents a few problems, and thanks to my poor luck and inability to keep hold of a working SB-800 with it’s all-singing i-TTL flash system, one which I’ve recently been getting to grips with using an older SB-80DX unit. I’ve actually come to quite like the simple and slightly Luddite approach this requires, and when I once more have a system that actually talks to my camera may just try and stick with it.

Ford Lawyers Goof

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

The latest silly story on the ‘intellectual property’ scene comes from the Ford Motor Company, whose lawyers have blocked the production of the 2008 BMC calendar. BMC stands for the Black Mustang Club, a misguided organisation that has some kind of perverted interest in spewing out carbon dioxide using hardware that Ford produces.

A law firm representing Ford has blocked not only blocked production of the calendar on the basis that it infringes on Ford’s trademarks by the use of images of Ford cars, but it has also claimed it owns the rights of all the various images, logos and designs made for the BMC, as well as any pictures anyone may have made of a Ford car.

Of course, this claim will have great consequence for photography. Take a look t that great Walker Evans classic, American Photographs, and you will find a number of images in which cars, probably largely Fords, play a key role. One is parked outside a barber shop:

and in the next plate another is central outside the Cherokee Parts Store,

then comes the main street of Alabama’s county seat lined by autos,

and the little set of 4 images finishes with a neatly parked line along the wet main street of Saratoga Springs.

Evans of course is past worrying about it, but if you wanted to bring out a new vision of America, you would now have to contend with Ford’s lawyers.

I read about this story first on PDNPulse, which had picked it up from The Consumerist, but you can read more about it from the source, the Black Mustang Club forum where you can also see some previews of the calendar. The BMC had sent to to Cafepress to produce and sell. They have a long list of prohibited content on their site, which includes “NO pictures or photographs of products (such as toys). Even if you own a product, trademark laws may still prohibit you from selling merchandise that features pictures of it.” The page also has a convenient link to additional information on intellectual property on Nolo, where you can get the advice that trademark protection applies to the use for competing goods or services that could cause the consumer to be confused.

As BMC’s members are now aware, the whole paraphernalia that has been allowed to grow up around intellectual property is a ridiculous nonsense which has surely been allowed to go considerably too far. Of course we need laws that protect original creative works, and also laws that stop people other than Ford making cars and using Ford logos on them. But here we have a case that clearly involves no conflict of interests and is equally not derogatory in any way to Ford, but rather serves them as valuable free marketing. Far from preventing such use, Ford’s interests would be better served by encouraging and even sponsoring such usage.

The thread has generated 53 pages of comments on the BMC Forum, and they have had to start a new thread to take some of the load – the issue has generated over 8 million hits on the site. I suspect that shortly someone in Ford will come to their senses and give the calendar the go-ahead, because the issue is digging a huge pit of negative responses from American customers. I can’t resist quoting a part of one comment on the site: “many staunch Ford supporters are now saying (paraphrasing), “If this is true and continues, I”m going to dump my (Mustang, F150 SuperCrew, 6.0 PSD, insert model name here) and buying a (Challenger, ’09 Camaro, Ram Quad-Cab, Tundra Crew-Cab, Cummins Turbo-Diesel, DuraMax Silverado HD, insert competing model name here) because they’re being @-holes!

Walker Evans images above are from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection. If you would like your own Walker Evans print, go to the Library of Congress site and look at the catalogue of Walker Evans images there – it includes most of this best-known works. Some but not all are available as high quality digital files that you can print – better than Evans did if you have a suitable printer – for yourself. For example there is a 20Mb TIFF version of the Cherokee Parts Store image, although you will find it needs quite a lot of retouching, presumably because of processing faults from the original negative.


The day after I made this post, Ford had the sense to settle the problem with the BMC and allow production of the calendar to go ahead. However the statement from someone at Ford, “Ford has no problem with Mustang or other car owners taking pictures of their vehicles for use in club materials like calendars. What we do have an issue with are individuals using Ford’s logo and other trademarks for products they intend to sell” is perhaps deliberately lacking in clarity as the BMC is of course selling a product which does include the logo.

Trademark law was essentially aimed at preventing other people passing off their goods as those made by the trademark holder.  Not to stop people taking photographs or even publishing them.

Polish up your Polish?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

I’ve just had a reminder of the couple of visits I’ve made to Poland to the FotoArt Festival in Bielsko-Biala in 2005 and 2007, as there are now a couple of short videos on YouTube. The 2005 clip perhaps gives a bit more of the flavour of the festival, and has around a second of my back looking at an exhibition as well as me standing up and looking at the audience as I was introduced to them. You can also try and recognise some of the other photographers – Eikoh Hosoe is pretty easy to spot!

Eikoh Hosoe taking a photograph in Alcatraz, Bielsko-Biala, 2005

The second, from 2007, has more of the fine piano-playing from the opening ceremony, along with interviews with the pianist Janusz Kohut and Nina Rosenblum, whose American English gets faded out and replaced by a Polish translation. The show of her father’s work was the highlight of the event, and Nina showed the fine film she made about him.

Nina and Naomi Rosenblum at the Walter Rosenblum show in Bielsko-Biala

You can read more about the events and see my pictures from Poland in the posts Bielsko-Biala and Bielsko-Biala Diary here, or read my actual illustrated diaries from both the 2005 and 2007 event.