Archive for April, 2008

Protest Against Forcible Deportation to Iraq

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Kurds protest

Friday was a gloomy day for me, although the weather was typical April sunshine and showers. I’d decided to cover a demonstration by Iraqi Kurds about the forcible deportation of their fellow asylum-seekers back to Iraq. It takes a considerable and shameful leap of the imagination for our government to consider that anywhere in Iraq is a safe place to return those who have previously fled in fear of their lives. Even though the Kurdish area may be safer for most than the rest of the country, among those who have been returned were people who came from elsewhere in the country, as well as some who feared retribution for their previous support of Saddam and their Christian religion.

Our policy on returning people who have failed to gain permission to remain is shameful, but the way it is implemented is even more so. Dawn raids, violence, dumping people at inappropriate destinations without support or resources and so on. All done to appease the racist elements of our popular press (and apparently assisted by racist attitudes in parts of our civil service that deal with immigration, along with inappropriate government-set targets that reduce people to numbers.)

Even those papers that might support human rights – even for immigrants – generally fail to regard such stories as news. The plane-full of Kurds dumped in Iraq at the end of March was reported only in the Guardian among the commercial newspapers, and no mention of Friday’s demonstration appeared anywhere – other than perhaps in the odd blog, and of course my own report on Indymedia.

Jean Lambert

It wasn’t a particularly exciting event. There was no riot, no arrests. It was a relatively small protest, with most of the speeches not in English. One exception was Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, the only British politician to take an interest, and I admire her for it, but have to apologise for detaining her for a few seconds as she was about to leave. After I’d taken a couple of pictures and thanked her, many of those taking part in the demonstration came up to her and wanted to have their pictures taken with her, so she was still at the event 5 minutes later when the heavens opened and we all got rather wet.

More about this and more pictures on My London Diary.

I suspect rain was also behind another reason for me feeling gloomy on Friday, when I finally had to admit that my 18-200mm VR lens really wasn’t working well enough and took it in for service. For some months it’s been getting harder and harder to get auto-focus at shorter focal lengths – and I’ve often found myself having to zoom out to focus before zooming back to take a picture – and sometimes missing a picture by doing so.

The long zoom range comes with a quite impressive extension to the length of the lens, and this basically seems to pump moisture into the lens even from the slightest of London drizzle, often resulting in condensation on inner elements. It’s a very handy lens in dry weather, but one I’ve come to leave at home when the forecast is bad. But on a few occasions recently its been impossible to avoid it getting a little damp, and I suspect this will result in a very expensive bill for repair.

Its great to be able to read the news that commercial media doesn’t bother with on Indymedia, but it has several flaws, especially for the professional. Not least that it doesn’t pay – nor does this blog or My London Diary.


Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

It’s a while since I last visited Silverprint in Valentine Place, off Webber St, a few minutes walk from Waterloo Station in south London. With the shift to digital in most aspects of photography, my requirements for photographic materials in general have dropped greatly. I seldom make actual prints, viewing images on screen, supplying work as digital images.

Even for exhibitions I’ve supplied work digitally. The 24 pictures I sent to Brasilia travelled by e-mail (all 96Mb) and I’ve previously written about my excitement when the prints, made by the best lab in Brazil, in Sao Paulo, were unwrapped for hanging. I’ve not actually seen the extremely large print made from my file I sent to Hungary for the touring ‘Europe Of Culture – The Culture Of Urbanity‘ show, and even for the two shows across London in Hackney which I had pictures in last year the images were sent as files.

This picture was in ‘Out and About in Hackney ‘at the Hackney Museum

The pictures for the Roof Unit show at Space went digitally because we had decided to print using Lightjet, and I have to admit they were very nice prints, although probably I could have done as well on the considerably cheaper Epson R2400 I normally use.

But most of my older work on photographic paper was made on materials imported by Silverprint – and it’s precursor in Muswell Hill, Goldfinger, where I benefited from the advice that was available both personally from Peter Goldfield and Martin Reed and in print in the old Goldfinger craftbook. Later came an encyclopaedic Silverprint Ag+ manual and Silverprint magazine that became Ag+ magazine.

You can read the latest news from Silverprint on their web site and one of the more interesting additions to their range is InkAID, which enables you to coat almost any surface – including traditional fine art papers, metal, plastic and wood veneers, so they can used to make decent ink jet prints – assuming of course that you can feed them through your printer.

Also available as a large download(10Mb) from the site is an article by a photographer I mentioned recently, Angus McBean, written and photographed by him for ‘Homes & Gardens‘ magazine in March 1977. This describes the restoration by him of his Elizabethan house, and as might be expected he certainly makes it into something theatrical if not a place I would find comfortable to live in. The photography is of course extremely professional, but frankly rather ordinary, and unless you have a particular interest in period homes your time would be better spent at the rather eccentrically designed Angus McBean web site.

Reasons to Celebrate: Bilal and Bert

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

It’s always good to be able to celebrate things connected with photography, and today I’ve received a couple of pieces of good news.

Firstly, the US military have said they will release AP photographer Bilal Hussein today, two years and a few days after his arrest. As the e-mail from the Free Bilal committee stated, “It seems the nightmare will soon be over. Let’s just wait to see the photos and the video of our dear colleague truly free to celebrate.

Secondly a small cause for celebration in London SE1, where a public vote by more than 5000 local residents has recognised Bert Hardy (1913-95) as worthy of a blue plaque at his birthplace in Webber St, just a short walk from one of my favourite photographic suppliers, Silverprint.

Hardy is best known for his warmly human pictures of people, many of which from the period around the 1939-45 war appeared in Picture Post, and your can see over 20 from around the Elephant in 1948.

Hardy, who got a job at a nearby photo-processing plant on leaving school aged 14, was one of the first British photographers to work professionally with a Leica, starting by using it to photograph cycling events.

Editor Tom Hopkinson recruited him to work for ‘Picture Post‘, and his war pictures so impressed him that Hardy became the first photographer to get a byline in the magazine.

Hardy’s great asset for Picture Post was his ability to go anywhere and get on with the people he had to photograph, whatever their social background. He really was interested in people and his photographs show this.

He was called up and sent as a photographer to cover the armies advancing across Europe after the invasion, photographing the Rhine crossing and many other events. He was among the first allied soldiers to enter the concentration camps and photograph there.

After leaving Picture Post he did some advertising work and set up a photographic printing business, Grove Hardy Ltd, in Burrows Mews, Southwark.

You can now find many of his images on the web, as well as several pirate copies (not in the links below) of the short text I wrote about him some years ago!

James Hyman Gallery
Getty Images
Google Images

Burt Glinn (1925-2008)

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Burt Glinn, one of the first batch of American photographers to join Magnum (associate members with him in 1951 were Eve Arnold and Dennis Stock) died on April 9 of kidney failure and pneumonia, aged 82.

You can see more about him on both Magnum and the Magnum blog. In the 1960s he was also the President of the ASMP and you can read a lengthy interview about his life and work made with him over the phone by the editor of the ASMP bulletin in January 2007.

Glinn was a real hard-working photographer and a fighter for photographer’s rights. He got what was perhaps his best-known picture by arriving “late and out of breath” at the Lincoln Memorial when Kruschev was the first Soviet premier to visit America, and was too late to go up in front of him with the rest of the press – so he shot from behind with a Nikon and a 50mm lens, making just a handful of exposures with the press motioning him to get out of their picture, and was soon moved away by security.

Bilal Hussein Cleared, Still Held by US in Iraq

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Free Bilal icon

The good news from the Free Bilal Committee is that an Iraqi court has dismissed the terrorism charges against Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein and ordered his immediate release.

But at the moment he is still held by the US Military, almost 2 years since they first detained him on April 12, 2006. It is not clear yet whether they will release him or not – they claim that a UN mandate, valid until the end of the year, allows them to hold anyone they think is a security risk whatever the courts say.

A further allegation, which appears to have no substance, has been made against Hussein over an incident in which he and two other journalists were taken at gunpoint by insurgents to see the body of a kidnapped Italian journalist.

Bilal Hussein’s case is, as the Free Bilal Hussein web site puts it, “a serious affront to the press as a whole, as well as to democratic traditions.” He was one of the AP team in Iraq to be awarded the 2005 Pulitzer prize for Breaking News Photography “for its stunning series of photographs of bloody yearlong combat inside Iraqi cities.”

Almost 2500 journalists, photographers and writers from around the world have signed the petition for his release, along with over 750 working in fields outside of journalism. Many of us have also written in print or on-line about his case and added the graphic at the top of this post which links to the petition site.

A Day with Panasonic

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

I’ve often seen the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boats) speeding along on the river and wondered what a trip in one would be like. Today, thanks to Panasonic, I got to find out. It actually felt surprising smooth and safe, although they did tilt at quite a steep angle when turning sharply at high speed, and I often felt a need to hold on with one hand while taking pictures. But it was enjoyable and rather more exciting than the conventional river trips, although these would be considerably easier to take photographs from.

RIB Thames

If you are planning a trip to photograph London from the river, its also worth taking a look at the tide tables. When the tide is fairly low you do get the advantage of some uncovered sand and mud which might add pictorial interest, but at high tide the added height gives you a better viewpoint, as do the raised decks of some of the larger river boats.

Panasonic had invited a number of bloggers to come and look at their latest products, both in their Lumix range of still digital cameras and also their camcorders.

We met in Dali Universe, handily close to Waterloo station, and the morning started with an opportunity to handle the cameras and then a presentation about them. Panasonic came to still cameras late, but have from the start realised the need to offer new ideas, becoming one of the more innovative companies. Some of the ways they are doing this sound very interesting, such as intelligent exposure which can, among other things – and if I understood correctly, make use of different ISO speeds in different areas of the same image to produce more evenly lit effects when using flash.

Panasonic cameras also have benefitted greatly through cooperation with one of the most repsected firms in the business, Leica in lens design. It is perhaps the link-up with Leica that has enabled them to offer wider angles of view on their compact digitals, with 28mm or even 25mm equivalent as the widest angle of view on many of their cameras. Leica make some of the best wide-angles available for use on their M-series cameras, and I only wish I could afford a couple of their recent designs to use on my Leica M8, which gives the sharpest results of any digital camera.

After the talk we were allowed to choose a camera to get some hands-on experience with during a RIB river trip, which took us up close to Canary Wharf then back past the Houses of Parliament and then to the pier at the London Eye. It was an exhilarating journey.


Panasonic DMCFX-500

Given my preference for wide-angle lenses, I chose one of the new compact cameras with a 25mm lens to use on the trip, the Panasonic DMCFX-500. It’s a beautifully compact design and gives sharp 3648×2736 images, as I found under rather trying conditions of shooting from a RIB going rather fast along the Thames. If I needed a new compact for general use, this would be camera around the top of my list. It’s not fair to judge it from my limited trial under rather trying conditions, but it generally performed pretty well, and I imagine if I’d had the time to read the manual and fine tune things it would have done even better.

The colour was pretty good, the images were showed low noise. I left the camera on auto, and it was a sunny day, so almost all were at ISO 100). They had good detail with just a hint of over-sharpening (less than with the default settings of many compacts.)

But it isn’t my ideal camera. Despite the nice large clear viewing screen I still want an optical viewfinder, but that is fast becoming a lost cause. But what I had most problem with was shutter lag. Perhaps 20% of the pictures I took were not as intended, either because of the speed of the boat which meant the camera was pointing at something different by the time the picture was actually made or because I’d not held the camera still for long enough after pressing the shutter.

I blame Henri for this, Cartier-Bresson that is. Long ago I read his advice on taking pictures, about getting to know your camera so well that you could make all the settings needed without looking at your camera, then take pictures in a single rapid movement of the camera to your eye for the 1/125 of a second or so needed to frame and expose before bringing it down again. With a compact camera you need to remember to keep holding it steady for a second or so after you press the release, and the delay with the FX-500 seemed just a little longer than my current compact – so more pictures of the back of the seat in front of me than I really needed.

The camera also features image stabilisation, but either I didn’t have it turned on or the vibration on the RIB was just too much for it to cope with, and many of the images at longer focal lengths were unsharp due to camera shake. I didn’t see any problems with those taken on dry land, but mostly those were wide-angle pictures.

The screen image was large and very clear, possibly the best I’ve worked with in bright light. On auto, the camera also made some fairly intelligent decisions about when fill-flash was needed, although it wasn’t clever enough to spot the reflective clothing in one picture that always creates problems with its use.

Overall it seemed a nice camera to use, although I would need to get used to the shutter lag and for this reason wouldn’t choose it for action photography. But as a camera to put in your pocket for when you don’t have your Nikon or Canon DSLR it would be a reasonably versatile choice.

Examining the images back at home on my computer I was pleasantly surprised by the image quality. It seemed pretty even across the frame and there was little or no vignetting, perhaps thanks to the Venus4 engine. It looked as if this was also doing a fine job of removing chromatic aberration, as although there was some weak red cyan fringing, this could not hardly be improved using my usual software lens corrections. There was also a small amount of blue fringing visible, but not objectionable in any of the images I took.

The exposures were pretty consistent, and mainly more or less spot on, though in some cases a little highlight detail was clipped. I didn’t find out if it was possible to display a histogram or otherwise examine this. But there were quite a few images where it occurred to me that a RAW file would have been a great advantage. I don’t like to shoot jpeg, but most of these were very acceptable straight out of the camera, though almost all were improved slightly with a little tweaking in Lightroom.

Overall, although the Panasonic DMCFX-500 seemed to be a very good compact camera with the 25mm lens and image quality (at ISO 100 – not tried at faster speeds) a big point in its favour, but the shutter lag did seem worse than my current model, and the shot to shot time also seemed a little slower, although I didn’t measure it.

If you don’t already have a decent digital compact, the DMCFX-500 is certainly worth a look. It would be a good camera to take on a holiday where you wanted to travel light. Some people might prefer the longer 10x zoom range of the slightly less compact TZ5, but this would be my first choice


What really impressed me more than the still cameras was the amazing quality of the video made on the same boat trip using the Panasonic HDC-SD9 was amazing. We we were able to see it immediately on our return to Dali Universe, played back a a very large widescreen TV, and the colour, exposure and general image quality were superb.

Also impressive was the SDR-SW20, although the image quality is only DVD standard. This camera can shoot under water – even in the sea – up to 5 foot below the surface and is robust enough to juggle with (though you do need at least three for this.)

I was so impressed that I decided it was time to try video again and came away from the afternoon with the diminutive Panasonic SDR-S7, only 180g and fitting a pretty small pocket. Although I don’t think its likely I’ll stop using the Nikon D200 or Leica M8, perhaps soon you’ll see the occasional video added to this blog!

More pictures (but no video) from the day on My London Diary. All pictures in this post and the My London Dairy post were taken with a Panasonic DMCFX-500.

Portraits and Paps

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

If one thing is certain it is that the inquest verdict on the deaths of Di and Dodi will not end the conspiracy theories surrounding what actually happened leading up to their deaths in Paris in the early morning of 31st August 1997.

Its also clear that the blame attached to the paparazzi that “the speed and manner of driving of the following vehicles“, in the views of the majority of nine jurors “caused or contributed to” the crash will do nothing to improve the image of photography.

Of course it is the very same public that deplore the way the paps acted on that evening who also fuel the apparently insatiable appetite for the celebrity snaps that more or less fill our popular press, spawning a ridiculous number of magazines and web sites and are becoming more and more common in what we used to think of as the serious press.

Blaming the paps is an irrelevance. They are the driven not the drivers in this situation. I don’t know why other jurors dissented from the majority verdict, but I hope it might be because they take a similar view to me.

Assuming you aren’t royalty but just an ‘ordinary’ celebrity and want to avoid the attention of paps, it isn’t too hard. Try – as at least one person has done – buying a number of sets of the same fairly normal clothing – and having same look each time you go out. Make yourself reasonably available to press photographers, dress and behave sensibly in public. Be polite to photographers and don’t assault them or employ others to do so, but don’t be too cooperative. Look at them and give them a nice smile (which they will soon come to hate) and just shake your head when they ask you to do silly things.

But of course most of those taking part in the circus thrive on it; celebs get the photographers they deserve, which is perhaps why the pages I flick through rapidly on the free sheets or see people sitting beside me on the bus or in the tube reading are full of such ordinary and banal images of them.

Last week I went to the National Portrait Gallery in London, largely to see a show of pictures of brilliant 18th century women, the original ‘Bluestockings‘. There were some good portraits, though of course none were photographs (and the set of modern photographs connected to the show failed to interest me) as well as some very interesting books and other artefacts, but while there I did wander around the other rooms of pictures. The work on show changes from time to time, but there are usually a few good photographic portraits on show as well as rather more paintings that hold my attention.

The show ‘Born 1947 – Camera Press at 60‘, which closes on 20 April 2008, celebrates 60 years of the UK’s largest independent photographic agency with specially commissioned portraits of celebreties who are also 60, along with some of founder Tom Blau‘s informal protraits from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Blau (1912-1984), was a Jewish Hungarian reporter and photographer who was born and brough up in Berlin, leaving Nazi Germany in 1935 to come to London. Here he worked as a freelance photo researcher and in 1938 was employed to help set up an international photo library, Pictorial Press, was owned by three Hollywood producers. In 1947, after having become a British citizen, Blau put up £2000 to found his own agency, Camera Press. His grand-daughter, Emma Blau, (b1975,) currently has one picture on display in Room 39 of the NPG, although my favourite image in that room is Angus McBean’s 1950 print of Audrey Hepburn.

Images and the Press

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Thursday this week at the Old Lecture Theatre, Westminster University in Regent St, London, at 7pm, Media Workers Against the War are hosting a debate ‘Iraq 5 years on – How the media sells war and why” with Dahr Jamail, Iraqi independent journalist and author of “Beyond the Green Zone“, the Guardian‘s Nick Davies, author of “Flat Earth News“, Kim Sengupta, defence and diplomatic correspondent of the Independent and Lindsey German, national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition.

The venue is 2 minutes walk north of Oxford Circus and tickets can be bought on line – £5, £3(concessions.)

In their mailing, MWAW give a number of links to the ‘iconic’ image of the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, the most memorable image from the Iraq invasion until we saw those pictures taken by soldiers of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, showing clearing how this event was staged for and misrepresented by the media. One of the best of the links is an interview with eye-witness Neville Watson on Australian TV, together with footage of the scene in a You-tube video.

For a rather different story about photographing the news, read the Reuters blog, in which their senior Bangkok photographer Adrees Latif describes how he took the pictures of the killing of Japanese video journalist Kenjii Nagai which have just won Latif the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.

Latif’s story gives a real description of the problems of covering such protests. You can see a larger version of his winning picture on the Pulitzer site. Also on the same site is the series of nineteen colour images, an intimate chronicle of a family coping with a parent’s terminal illness, which gained Preston Gannaway of the Concord Monitor her Pulitzer for Feature Photography.

Eid Milad-Un-Nabi

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Thanks to a signal failure due to a cable fire in the Waterloo area, my train up to London came to a halt in Feltham, then crept forward slowly to Twickenham before expiring completely. Ten minutes later another service took me the few hundred yards further to St Margarets, where I abandoned rail and jumped onto a passing bus to Richmond.

I’m not quite sure why our railways still essentially rely on nineteenth century technology, particularly when the manpower to keep it working as it used to in the old days has long since become prohibitive, and various rationalisation programmes have cut the flexibility and redundancy needed to give it reliability. It seems to have been almost six hours before the system returned to more or less normal working, and things were still in a mess when I came home several hours after that.

We have reliable fault-tolerant communications systems (you are reading this thanks to one) and navigational systems that could locate every train on a network to within a few centimetres and give its accurate speed and direction. Modern systems could be devised that would enable much higher traffic densities without sacrificing safety, and make problems such as this a thing of the past.

However, should you ever want a slow and frustrating ride through some of the more obscure southwest London suburbs I recommend the 493 route, which even includes a ride past Wimbledon Park and the world’s most famous tennis club before taking you past the dog track and on to Tooting.

Not expecting such travel problems, I hadn’t allowed the extra hour or two, not bothered to take a map, both of which would have been useful. So perhaps might have been a phone that could have used the Transport for London journey planner, although as so often this fails to find the fastest route (the 493 at 80 minutes is the best it suggested when I tried it out after I got home. In the unlikely event you ever need to do this journey try a 337 to Clapham Junction and then a 219, which should save you 20 minutes or so – and changing at Wandsworth for the 270 to Tooting Broadway could be even quicker…)

Thanks to a half-mile run after I abandoned the bus I almost reached the starting point for the Tooting Sunni Muslim Association’s procession for Eid Milad-Un-Nabi as they started ‘promptly’ only around 20 minutes late.


The Juloos to honour the birthday of the Prophet, and was part of an all-day community event which I attended last year, going into the clebrations inside the Tooting Leisure Centre and being very impressed by the ‘whirling dervishes’.

This year the weather was not quite as good, and there seemed to be rather fewer people taking part, although as last year this did include local community representatives including the Deputy Mayor of Wandsworth, Councillor Mrs. Claire Clay.

Last year we had better weather – and better pictures?

This year I left the procession as it turned into Garratt Lane as I wanted to go into the centre of London and view some exhibitions.

End the Siege of Gaza – Another Demo

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Around 50 people turned up to protest opposite Downing Street on a wet and wintry Saturday afternoon (5 April 2008) calling for and end to the Israeli siege of Gaza. The measures imposed in September 2007 are an illegal collective punishment against the population and have already resulted in many dying.

At Downing st

The demonstration was one in a series organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign , which calls on the British government to end the arms trade with Israel, and to press Israel to abide by international law, end its illegal occupation and allow the return of refugees.

Man with Palestinian flag

While the demonstration was taking place on the opposite side of the road with friendly cooperation from the police, one young man with a Palestinian flag went and stood on the pavement outside the gates to Downing Street. He was pulled to one side and questioned, and his flag taken from him and dropped on the ground, the officers explaining to him that because of the SOCPA law he was not allowed to demonstrate there. He picked up the flag again, and one of the officers swore at him, grabbed the flag out of his hands and dropped it on the pavement.

While I was there the man with the flag was informed that he was being stopped and searched under (I think) section 44 of the Terrorism Act, 2000. I could see no evidence of any specific terrorist threat in his behaviour that would justify this – waving a flag is not terrorism.

Another officer moved in front of me to prevent me from photographing this and on learning that I was press insisted I move further away as he alleged I was interfering with the actions of the police – although I was clearly at a reasonable distance by this time. After making my opinion clear I moved back as ordered.

At this point a woman officer came up and held her hand in front of my lens. I told her that this was illegal and that one of the senior officers in the Met had told a colleague that he would consider it “a sacking offence” and she hurriedly moved off across the road and away from the area. Unfortunately I failed to get her number, or that of the other officer who impeded me – I was still busy trying to take pictures.

I left and returned across the road where the protest was continuing. The man was still being held by the police when I left the area. You can see more pictures from the demonstration on My London Diary.