Archive for November, 2008

Cérémonies du 11 novembre

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

We hadn’t realised that the French still hold their major commemoration of the First World War on armistice day, November 11th, and that it is a bank holiday there – unlike in Britain, where remembrance day is largely celebrated on the nearest Sunday (we officially moved it to that date in 1939 so as not to hamper the war effort), as well as a number of related events at the weekends around – such as the War Widows that I’d photographed on the previous Saturday (8th Nov.)

war widows at Cenotaph

I’d planned a walk around one of my favourite areas of Paris – Belleville and Ménilmontant in the north-east – calling in at a few shows on the route, but by the time we’d got to the fifth place that was closed we were beginning to get the message.  And also rather tired of walking, so we went into the café opposite the town hall in the 20e where I sat down to enjoy a Blonde (the only beer on their list I hadn’t tried before)  while Linda tried to warm herself up with a hot drink.

Rue des Cascades

Suddenly we heard the sound of a brass band, and then saw out of the window an approaching procession, and I picked up my camera and rushed out, leaving Linda to guard my camera bag and half-finished beer.

Coming across the place and going down the street towards the back of the town hall was a military band leading various dignitaries with red white and blue sashes,  a couple of banners, a group of children and a small crowd of adults. It was the l’UFAC (Union française des associations de combattants)  and the  Comité d’entente des associations d’anciens combattants et victimes de guerre along with other associations of patriotic citizens commemorating the 90th anniversary of the official ceasefire (at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) in 1918, although they were doing it a few hours later in the day.

The parade (which I later found had started at the  Père-Lachaise cemetery just down the road) came to a halt at the back of the town hall where there was a memorial to a Brigadier killed in the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Although the November commemoration in France is for the First World War, there were also groups at the parade remembering the French Jews who were deported and mainly died  in labour and concentration camps in the Second World War.

As an outsider whose oral French is pretty poor it was a little difficult to understand the finer details of the ceremony that followed, in which flowers and a large wreath were laid, and also I found it rather difficult to know exactly how I should behave in photographing the event. I also soon realised I had made a big mistake in not bringing my camera bag in my haste, as the card in the camera was full and after taking a handful of pictures I had to start deciding which images could be deleted so I could continue to shoot.

Nov 11

There were a couple of French photographers  – perhaps from the local press – there, but all they were doing was standing around looking rather bored, and I decided in any case that they were not where I would want to photograph from. You can see a few more photos of the event on My London Diary.

After that they all went into the courtyard of the town hall (another place I’d been hoping to see a show)  and I went back to finish my beer.  Then we decided to take the short walk down to the cemetery and have a walk through there – one place at least that was still open. Again, more pictures of this on My London Diary.


BNP Address List – Identity Crisis

Friday, November 21st, 2008

A couple of days ago, a list of addresses of people connected to the BNP was made public on the web – and I guess most of us now have seen a copy, even though it is no longer on the blog where it was posted. A quick ‘google’ will let you find both the original list and also a number of sites where you can do on line searches by location, postcode,  etc as well as mapped data. The BNP list contains a Peter Marshall (who is presumably the Peter Marshall  also listed on a BNP web site as the BNP candidate for the Central Ward in the 2008 Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council local elections) but it certain isn’t me.

NF marchers in Bermondsey, April 2001

Among several people who made the list available on their own web sites for a while was a photographer Peter Marshall, (or Pete) who covers some similar events to me, but is based in the Birmingham area. When his name was published in the papers, somel people assumed it was me.  There is yet another photographer of the same name who works as a wedding photographer – and doubtless others. c

Peter Marshall just happens to be a very common name. Here are just a few more of us found in a quick search on Google:

  1. Peter Marshall, academic, activist, author of books on William Blake, William Godwin, a history fo Anarchism and much more
  2. Peter Marshall  a Scottish-born Presbyterian  who was chaplain to the US Senate during the Second World War.
  3. Peter Marshall, son of No.2, also a USAmerican preacher, who got to before me
  4. Peter Marshall USAmerican singer game show host
  5. Peter Marshall UK television announcer who hosted Sale of the Century years ago.
  6. Peter Marshall “one of the greatest squash players of all time.”
  7. Peter Marshall a leading USAmerican swimmer.
  8. Peter Marshall, Commissioner of the City of London Police around 1980
  9. Peter Marshall, a photographer based in the Birmingham area
  10.  And then there is me! One of my various domains is which has some old pictures of Paris I took in the 1970s. But I’m I hope rather better known for My London Diary.

I think I was possibly given the name Peter after No. 2 on the list, but so far as I know am not related to any of the others. My own personal details have been on the web since 1995, but were very definitely not in that BNP list.

Unite against the BNP Rally – Dagenham, Dec 2006

Do I have any connection with the BNP?  Well, I have photographed a number of right wing demonstrations – as have most photographers who cover events on the streets. You can see my coverage of both the demonstration against the BNP and the BNP meeting addressed by Richard Barnbrook at Dagenham in December 2006 on My London Diary. But I’m clearly opposed to them and their policies.

Nothing much happens on Mondays

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Monday is a good day to travel to Paris, but not a good day for doing a great deal there, as so much is still closed on Mondays (and no, they don’t really enjoy that mythical ‘continental weekend’ that big business uses to push for more Sunday opening of shops here, as most places are also closed then too – or as they often like to put it more positively, “ouvert tous les jours, sauf lundi et dimanche.”

Quite a lot of the galleries add jeudi and/or samedi to the list also, and for most of them don’t bother to get up before lunch. Finding shows open in Paris can be quite a problem, and actually finding and getting in to the galleries can be even more so.

Of course, both the Mois de la Photo and the Photo-Off give dates of shows and time and dates of opening and I’d spent some hours poring over their leaflets to find four shows that should have been open and in roughly the area where we were staying in the north of the city.  The first, by Frédéric Delangle, I’ve already covered, and offered no problems of access, though we did manage to walk past the door and explore much of the rather interesting building before deciding to try the cafe in which it was taking place.

Next we went to see Harry Gruyaert‘s TV Shots, listed as being in the Passage du Desir, although actually in the building adjoining this. Fortunately this was something I’d discovered on a visit to a previous show, so this year I wasted no time, although I don’t think there was anything on the street to tell people that this was were the show was.

We walked into the darkened space where we sat surrounded by 4 screens on which images were projected (mostly these seemed to be the same images, but shown a few seconds later on the different screens) to a specially compiled soundtrack using archive TV material.

Gruyaert found himself living in a flat in London with a malfunctioning TV set, and instead of doing the sensible thing and turning it off and going down the pub, he started to photograph the screen, moving the aerial and fiddling with switches to distort the colour and displace the tri-colour images even more.  He seems to have wasted quite a few films this way, as the show included several hundred pictures. For the installation these images were digitally enhanced to give even more garish results.

The installation is supposed to immerse the viewer inside a box of sound and pictures, cutting off other sensory inputs, producing a “hypnotic or hallucinatory” effect. According to the notes this also “seems to be calling into question the vocabulary and habits of photojournalism” though mostly to me it seemed to be showing how boring most sports coverage on TV is (and we did also get some dancing and news.)

Watching TV in France – as I did for a few minutes most days in my hotel bedroom – actually seems to me to call much more into question about TV. One of my questions would certainly be how a country which shows such great interest in film can produce and put up with such terrible production for TV.

I could not stop thinking while sitting in the box that I would have found it much more interesting if Gruyeart had gone out and taken his camera with him. As you can see from his Magnum pages he is a far more interesting photographer than this show would suggest.  And of course another to add to quite a long list if anyone ever asks you to name a famous Belgian.

Our next call was to view ‘Semantic Tramps‘ by Christophe Beauregard, and we walked up and down the Rue de Lancry looking for any sign of the Galerie Madé. What you can see from the street at the address given is certainly not a gallery. But as in many Paris streets there was also a door at roughly the right place.  We pushed it, tried pushing the buttons but it remained firmly shut, and we were about to give up when someone came out and we could get in to the yard.  Walking through this it still wasn’t clear where the gallery was, but eventually we saw a small poster and made for the door.

One of the things that I remember came as a shock on my first visit to Paris in the 1960s were people living on the street and begging. I’d lived in London and in Manchester and in those days this was an extremely rare sight, certainly in the city centres, though a few years later it became common here too – and for a short while perhaps even more common than in Paris.  Here of course there are many – particularly asylum seekers – who fail to get adequate support from the state and are not allowed to work, but in France the problem seems to be greater still.

At a glance,  Beauregard’s pictures might appear to be of some of the homeless on the streets, but looking closer you can see that this is not the case. They are too clean, too wholesome, too pandered.  These are images ‘posed by model‘, and the images are nicely made and use the whole team of stylists and more and could well appear on the pages of Vogue with  captions under telling us those distressed jeans cost only 300 Euro a pair.

Do I see any point in this exercise? I tried hard, but couldn’t. You can see more pictures and the photographer’s text (in French) and make up your mind.

The next show we tried to find had an address that was even less useful, although the small print (which I only read later) did actually tell you it was somewhere accessed from a different street a quarter of a mile away – as we’d found after only around half an hour of searching.  Unfortunately the door was locked and the building empty. It was also ‘exceptionally closed’ on the Tuesday and Wednesday too.)

By contrast, after our evening visit to Chartier (more for the experience than the food) we took the Metro to Montmartre and a ride on the funicular for a quick visit to Sacre Coeur – getting in almost all the tourist stuff in one go.  There we saw a 24/7 photography show; the former water tower on the RueNorvins is now the home of La Commanderie du Clos Montmartre, a body dedicated to Parisian wine-making, and on the railings were landscape photographs of wine-making areas around the world.

Goodbye Carte Orange

Friday, November 21st, 2008

I can still remember standing in a photobooth in Montreuil around 1983 and  posing for the picture that went on my first Carte Orange, although I’ve had several since then having lost them or left them at home when coming to Paris.

For years, coupled with a Coupon Hebdo bought on a Monday it’s provided a cheap and easy way to get around the city – a week’s totally unlimited use of buses, Metro, RER and other trains at any time of day or night for a ridiculously cheap 16.80 Euro – a little less than £14 even at the current bad rate of exchange for travel within the city itself. For longer stays a monthly coupon offers even better value, and even if you are staying in the suburbs tickets to cover the outer zones as well are great value.

The impressive (if impractical) Ville Savoye, around 29km from the centre of Paris

A couple of summers ago we explored some of the haunts of the Impressionists on the banks of the rivers in greater Paris – the Seine of course, but also the Marne and the Oise, visted Le Corbusier’s Ville Savoye at Poissy, went to Pontoise and more as well as travelling around the city whenever we wanted. The ticket covering Zones 1-5 cost around £25. The cheapest way we could have done this in London would have cost around half this per day.

Le passe Navigo Découverte (from the RATP site)

However, though I feel a little sadness at the disappearance of these tickets with their reflective metal strip along the edge at the end of this year, it won’t greatly alter the cost of travel as they are being replaced with ‘Le passe Navigo Découverte’, although this will add an initial cost of 5 euros, but can then be charged with a weekly ticket at the same cost as the Carte Orange. Those who live or work in the Paris area can get a free personalised Carte Navigo, which have already been in use for some other fares for some years.

We certainly got our money’s worth out of the Carte Orange, travelling around to try and find the various shows, as well as doing a little of the tourist trail as going to find some new places to eat. I love walking around Paris (and we did a lot of it) but it’s good not to have to worry to much about where you are going, knowing you can just jump on a bus or on the Metro anywhere to take you back to the hotel when you get tired. Last year there was a transport strike, and although I enjoyed photographing the accompanying demonstration, it’s really better when they are working.

Media scrum around the front of the march, Nov 2007, Paris

Hopefully it won’t be too long before London catches up again by making Oysters usable on the overground railways and also in the whole of Greater London including those suburbs left outside the old GLC area on political grounds in the sixties.  But somehow I don’t see us matching either the fares or the service in Paris

Mois de la Photo: Frédéric Delangle

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Troisième territoire, a series of diptychs by Frédéric Delangle, on show at the Maison de l’architecture en Ile-de-France, not far from the Gare de l’Est in the north of Paris, was the first show I visited in the Mois de la Photo as it was about to close.

Delangle was born in the Paris region in 1965 and studied photography at Paris VIII University from 1989-94 before working as an architectural and landscape photographer. For almost all his work he has used a large format 4×5 camera with colour film.

In Troisième territoire, he pairs urban views from cities in the North (mainly France and Switzerland) with those from the South (India, Japan, Bangkok…) Like many other urban landscapists, his preferred view is usually from on high, looking down, although some views are from street level.

Although the intentions of the pairings is perhaps to draw attention to the similarities and differences between the two halves of our world – the haves and the have-nots – the pairings seem often to be chosen simply in visual terms, concentrating on the surface rather than function. Thus (use this link to open the pair in a separate window) a view of allotment gardens in the outer Paris estates of Pantin, with the tower blocks of the public housing behind them (and perhaps with another such block providing the viewpoint) is paired with the roofs of a shanty town  in New Bombay, the little plots of green with their garden sheds forming a similar patch-work to the corrugated sheets of the dwellings.

In fact, often the juxtapositions within a single image – for example that of Bombay – that are more telling than those between it and its neighbour image of Basle. Most if not all these images were actually taken as single images in other sequences, as can be seen on Delangles web site, and although I found many of the images intersting, the overall concept was perhaps unconvincing.

Another pairing – the third down on the Terre Entière site – has at its left a fairly random movement of people on the streets of Paris below six giant portrait heads on the frontage of a Commerzbank building, and at right a far more enigmatic image of some kind of organised manifestation on the streets of Bangkok, the edge of the pavement lined by young men in identical white shirts and blue shorts, apparently waiting for something to happen. The Bangkok picture to me seems to work at a very different level and to raise very different questions, although it supplies annoyingly few clues as to their answers.  It was one of many times in Paris that I longed for a better caption.

The text accompanying the show links the work to Dusseldorf school, but one could equally look at other sources, including an older tradition of urban landscape, or even the same nineteenth century USAmerican landscape tradition that was also referenced by the New Topographics.

Although all the recent work on Delangles site is in colour, perhaps the work that appeals to me most strongly is his Périphérie-Périphérique from 1991-1992. All made from an elevated viewpoint, these pictures show the ‘popular’ quarters of the banlieue surrounding the Paris outer ring road. Because of the vibration from the traffic he was unable to work with 4×5 and these are taken with a 6×6 medium format camera; the square format gives the work a tighter composition.

Paris Photo Party

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Paris Photo is of course only a front. Why so many photographers and others go to Paris in mid-November is to attend Millie and Jim’s Paris Photo Party.


If you’ve any interest at all in photography, you will be a fan of Jim Casper’s  lensculture web site and blog and, like me, look forward to each new issue of this online magazine devoted to “international contemporary photography, art, media, and world cultures” with keen anticipation.


For me it was a great opportunity to further my scientific researches into the effect of champagne on photographic reflexes and I took the utmost advantage of the situation, although my results were somewhat inconclusive, and further work on the problem is clearly needed.


I’ve decided not to put names to the pictures, but you may well spot some familiar faces from photography, film and publishing. The photographers included several whose work was on show in Paris. There are more pictures from the party in a special Paris2008 supplement to My London Diary.


The party was still going strong – with people still arriving – as I left around 23.30 to take the Metro across Paris to my hotel. It kept going for me too on the Metro as I had an animated conversation about photography with a number of young women I met there, ending as we walked through the lengthy passages under the Gare du Nord to change to different lines – fortunately their English was considerably better than my French.


Smokers enjoy this view from the balcony

In the days after the party I went to several shows I might have missed if  I hadn’t met the photographers there – because there is just so much happening in Paris with many interesting shows as well as those included in the ‘Mois de la Photo’ and the ‘Photo-Off’.

Catherine Cameron was showing work at Galerie Plume in rue Montmorency in the IIIe – you can read more about her and the show in Lensculture.

And on Saturday I went to Galerie Blue Square in rue Debelleyme, also in the IIIe, to see the remarkable images from the Global Underground project by Valera and Natasha Cherkashin.  I intend to write more about this in a later post.

Paris Photo: Siskind and Fukui

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

As in previous years, I found Paris Photo rather a strenuous event. But then I make it so by trying to see everything, but to do so in the shortest time possible. It’s really a mistake to go on my own and to try and work so hard, because there is just too much there.

But I dislike the location, deep underground with no natural light, and, at least on the opening night far too much noise and far too many people, and there is just so much to do and see elsewhere in Paris. Paris Photo is in some ways the nasty medicine to be swallowed before I let myself enjoy the rest of the city, but also hidden in it are many treats.

Actually compared to previous years there was perhaps a little less going on at Paris Photo, with one or two familiar faces among the American dealers in particular missing, although there were still 18 US galleries there, including five listed as first-timers (Stephen Daiter, Robert Mann, Sepia International, Weinstein and Yoshii) as well as Janet Borden and Jackson Fine Art returning after an absence.

Perhaps most noticeable from the US were a number of galleries with work by Aaron Siskind (1903-1991) – it seemed to be his year.  Bruce Silverstein who represents the estate, tells me that a major show of his work is in the offing.

Business appeared to be pretty good despite the current financial problems, with people perhaps feeling that it’s better to have pictures than stocks and shares.

This year the overall emphasis of the show was on Japan, and it was good to see more work by some of the Japanese masters although for me the contemporary work in the Statement section from eight invited Japanese galleries was largely disappointing.

Among those whose work did take my interest, were the night urbanscapes of
Nobuhiro Fukui, (b1972, Naruto City, Japan) who lives and works as a magazine editor in Tokyo.  In an interview,  he talks of a long love of walking the city late at night, and when a few years ago,  inspired by the work of Osamu Kanemura (who later he went to as a workshop student), he decided to take up photography and bought a digital SLR it seemed natural to take pictures while he did so. He actually finds a bicycle the best way to get around the city at night, going to new places and photographing whatever he finds there. The large inkjet prints (and most of the best prints on display at Paris Photo except ‘vintage prints’ were inkjet – though travelling under a wide range of aliases) on display demonstrate clearly the superb quality that can be achieved at night using long exposures on digital cameras. The images show the superiority of digital under these conditions, with its lack of reciprocity failure and colour shifts and its ability to cope with unusual light sources.

More of my thoughts from Paris Photo in later posts.

Paris and London: MEP & PG

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Late yesterday I got back from a week in Paris, and one of the highlights of any trip there for a photographer has to be a visit to the Maison Europeene de la Photographie (MEP) .

I’ll write in more detail about some of the things I saw there in other posts, but what really struck me – yet again – was the complete difference in outlook between the MEP and our London flagship The Photographers’ Gallery (PG).

Of course we can hope that some things may change when the PG moves to more extensive premises shortly, but the biggest difference so far as photography is concerned is one of attitude. The MEP clearly believes in photography, celebrates it and promotes it, while for many years the PG has seemed rather ashamed of it, with a programme that has seemed to be clearly aimed at attempting to legitimise it as a genuine – if rather minor – aspect of art.  (It was something that worried photographers in the nineteenth century – but most of us have got over it by now.)

One important difference between the two spaces is that at the MEP you pay to see photography – 6 euros (3 for reductions) though Wednesday is something of a photographers’ evening as entry is then free to all. (A press card gets you in free at all times.) This charge doesn’t appear to put people off, and almost every time I’ve visited over the years I’ve had to queue anything from 5 to 20 minutes to get in. But it does make it a little more of an event to go there, and it does mean that the MEP has got to offer something people feel is worth paying for.

The staircase at the MEP

Of course the MEP does have a rather grand space with perhaps 3-5 times the size of the old PG, it also makes better use of it – at the PG half the space was usually largely wasted by being a coffee bar with a few pictures around the wall (and I think some other areas, such as the print room could also have been far better used.) And although I did sometimes enjoy meeting people in the cafe and having a coffee, I’d rather have been able to see a proper show and then pop across to the Porcupine or elsewhere to socialise (which of course I also did over the years.)

Sabine Weiss signs books in her MEP exhibition
Sabine Weiss talks to visitors and signs books at her MEP exhibition

This time, one floor of the MEP – perhaps around the total amount of exhibition space at the PG – was given over to a retrospective of the work of Sabine Weiss – which I’ll write about in another post. A Swiss-born photographer, she started her distinguished career in Paris and took arguably her best pictures there, so this was a particularly appropriate venue, although it would be nice to see this work in London too.

But one could also propose shows by a number of British photographers of similar stature who have so far been largely or entirely neglected by the PG. Not that I would want any gallery to be insular, but I feel major galleries do have a responsibility to promote work connected to their country and place, especially when like London and Paris they have played vital roles in the history of the medium.

Another floor of the MEP showed the complete photographic works of David McDermott and Peter McGough, two USAmerican artists who have made extensive use of various alternative printing processes (good salt prints, rather indifferent cyanotype and gum bichromates etc) as a part of an extensive lived re-enaction of life as late nineteenth and early twentieth century gentlemen. I don’t think they would want to be called photographers, but their work, as well as the interest of the processes concerned was witty and full of ideas, whereas some of the shows by artists at the PG seem very much one-trick ponies – including the last that filled the space adjoining the book shop.

Another, smaller space at the MEP covered the career of Turkish photographer Göksin Sipahioglu, who became ‘Monsieur SIPA, Photographe‘ after founding his agency when he came to Paris as a photographer in the 1960s.

Sipahioglu is a perhaps unfairly often thought of as a no-frills photojournalist who excelled at being there and getting pictures rather than for subtlety, but the work on show made me want to rewrite the lengthy piece I wrote about his work a few years ago.

Also showing in the MEP were a series of colour portraits  of artists in their studios by Marie-Paule Nègre, originally produced on a monthly basis for the Gazette de l’Hôtel Drouot to accompany interviews with the artists. While the theme is well worn, the images were well done and often had a freshness and interest. Which is more than I can say for Mutations II  / Moving Stills, a selection of videos made by European artists – part of the European Month of Photography – the short sequence of which I viewed had all the Warholian attraction of paint drying. However each did have its small group of apparently enthralled watchers.

Although of course curators play an important role in the exhibitions at the MEP (from a visit a year or two ago I recall an awesome show of the life of a single photograph by Kertesz) I get the feeling that photography at the MEP (and perhaps in France in general) is still very much based on the work of photographers. In the UK in the late 1970s the Arts Council made the fatal mistake of handing over the medium to curators and galleries, and we – as the PG evidences – are still suffering from it.

Poles Celebrate 90 Years

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

11 November 1918 was the end of the ‘Great War’, the war to end all wars. The war brought an end to Austro-Hungary, Germany was defeated and Russia was busy having a revolution. Out of the chaos came a new Polish state, and Polish Independence Day is celebrated every year on 11 November.

Rt Click, View image to see larger

Poles in this country got in early with a celebration on Saturday 8 Nov, and I photographed their march through Westminster to a rally in Trafalgar Square, attended by  Polish Cardinal Jozef Glemp,  Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last émigré President of the Republic of Polan, the Polish Ambassodor tot Great Britain and several thousand others.

More pictures on My London Diary

Rt Click, View image to see larger

Bee-keepers swarm in Whitehall

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

As you can read in My London Diary, I owe my very existence to the honey bee, although the only thing I’ve done to repay my debt to the species is to eat the honey others have stolen from them.

Beekepers at Parliament

But bees are much more important than just suppliers of honey. Bees play a vital role in the production of fruit and other foods, with around a third of our food supply dependent on their pollination.

The loss of our bees would be a catastrophe, but it seems increasingly a possibility with Varroa mites (which have killed a large propertion of our wild bees) developing resistance to current treatments which have saved those in hives, and the more recent and still unexplained colony collapse disorder which has caused huge losses of bees in the USA and is now in parts of Europe.

Bee-keeping was seen as an important source of home-grown food during the war. Afterwards interest gradually fell away but is now reviving, even in cities, where some people keep bees on rooftops as well as in gardens. The revival is a part of a greater interest in healthy foods and home growing that have seen more turning to allotments too.

Several hundred bee-keepers came to Westminster to lobby MPs for increased funding for research into bee health, and took a petition with over 140,000 signatures to Downing St.

More text and pictures on My London Diary