Archive for January, 2009

Most photographed event in the Universe

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The Obama inauguration turned out to be a rather a non-event for many including some photographers who were trapped in an underground queue despite holding tickets.  Jacquelyn Martin spent the day photographing some of those around her who didn’t get to see the event but were caught in the Purple Gate “Tunnel of Doom.”

One of Mustafah Abdulaziz’s images also seems to show a similar tunnel, but obviously he didn’t get trapped and managed to turn in a nice essay on the people who came to the event, even if  he wasn’t anywhere near the President either.

Thanks to Ami Vitale who started the post ‘Most photographed event in History, ever, in the Universe’ on Lightstalkers with a picture of her first boss settled comfortably with his camera and cat at home in front of a large TV  rather than nearly freezing to death like Chris Morris 150 ft up on a tower.  Others have contributed their stories and pictures to the discussion (and thanks to Lisa Hogben for the link to Abdulaziz on Burn.)

Burn, “an evolving journal for emerging photographers… curated by magnum photographer david alan harvey” looks an interesting site, and one that go back to. It’s amazing to find that Harvey only started the site three days before Christmas – after a month it already looks an exciting and established site.

Clapton Park

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

This is my latest postcard, printed a couple of weeks ago to take to Hackney Wick, where the Wick Curiosity Shop was having a stall at the Hackney Wick: 2012 Community Meeting.

Clapton Park Estate, Lea Navigation © 1982 Peter Marshall

I wasn’t sure when I sent this to the printers exactly where I had taken the picture – it was after all 27 years ago.  At the time I’d only taken around 30,000 black and white photographs (and a few thousand transparencies) and could probably have told you exactly where each one was made – it was only a few years later that I started making more careful records. Occasionally I’d scribble the odd note on the contact sheets, but these were few and far between.

Looking carefully at the image, and at the pictures before and after it on the contact sheet I can work out that it shows the Clapton Park Estate, opposite Hackney Marsh.

Hackney holds some kind of world record for the 22 tower blocks it has blown up.  There were 5 blocks here (I think one is behind the others in this shot.) Two were blown up in 1993, another two in 1995 and the fifth was painted pink and converted into luxury flats.

Lightroom Recovers Again

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

For those of us who shoot largish numbers of pictures with digital SLRs there are really two outstanding choices of software to handle your files, Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture. And if, like me, you prefer to use PC rather than Mac, that leaves Lightroom.

Using it, I can take pictures, download them to my PC, rename them, add that essential metadata including keywords, select the best images, add them to my searchable catalogue, adjust the tonal curve, exposure, contrast etc, get rid of chromatic aberration, cut down noise, apply sharpening and do all the really basic things that every image needs before outputting jpeg (or TIFF) files for all my specific uses (web, my clients, image libraries.)  Almost every step is speeded by appropriate presets which I’ve set up and most of the processing takes place in the background as I get on with working on further images.

With Lightroom 2.1 we got  some great tools for dodging and burning images, and as I wrote at the time,  Photoshop was hardly necessary for working with digital images except for a few essential third-party plugins, some of which can also work standalone or as plugins to cheaper  – or even free – image manipulation software.

I do have other software which can do a great job of converting RAW files to images. Phase One’s  Capture One 4 is an improvement on earlier versions, and Nikon’s own Capture NX (I only have Version 1.3.5) has the advantage of knowing more about Nikon files and a few nice touches. But frankly both are a pain to use and lack the superb workflow of Lightroom, as well as many of its features.

So Lightroom has become central to my current work. When LR 2.0 came out I loved the new tools, but was crippled by its slowness at importing files, making jobs that should take minutes into hours.  in the post Lightroom Repaired I rejoiced that the release candidate for 2.1 had solved the problem.

But a similar problem developed with LR 2.2; if, like me you began to make extensive use of the local adjustment tools you soon found that the program seized up, or crashed. There was a very obvious memory leak.

I’ve got used to having Windows Task Manager open and every ten or 20 images having to kill the Lightroom process. Each time it took perhaps a minute or so to get it up and running again and find the image I was working on, so it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a major pain, especially as writing batches of jpegs to disk would also have the same effect. I could no longer leave the machine writing out a hundred or two files while I relaxed and had a meal.

So I’m very pleased to report that this particular bug has now been squashed in the release candidate for Lightroom 2.3, which I downloaded (133Mb) on Sunday; it has since behaved itself perfectly on my system.

Lightroom is I think a great program, one that is fast becoming a classic for photographers in the same way that Photoshop itself is for graphic designers (and we photographers used around 5% of it because that 5% was as good or better than anything else on the market.)  But I’m very worried about depending for a living on software that is clearly released without proper testing. Two recent major versions with such obvious bugs is more than unfortunate.

Remember the Holocaust

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

© 2006 Peter Marshall
Unite against Facism – Woman in rally against the BNP at Dagenham, 2006

Today, 27th January is National Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the tragic loss of life in the genocides of World War II, in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The date is the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

© 2007 Peter Marshall
At the foot of the tree

I’m not attending any of the events that take place today, but have taken pictures related to it in the past.  One of the annual ceremonies is held at the Soviet War Memorial in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth park, next to the Imperial War Museum where a small tree was planted in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust 1939-45.

© 2007 Peter Marshall
Martin Stern leads the walkers from Cambridge to Downing St

One inspiring man who I met on a number of demonstrations (and photographed) was Leon Greenman, Auschwitz Survivor 98288, born in Whitechapel, who well into his nineties took an active part in campaigning against fascism, both through educational work and through the Anti-Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism, who sadly died last year.  Another survivor was Martin Stern, taken by the Nazis in Holland at the age of five and one of only around a hundred of 15,000 children sent to Terezin to survive, who in 2007 led the Cambridge to London ‘Walk 4 Darfur’, part of the 2007 International Day of Action on Darfur.

© 2005 Peter Marshall

Roma were also persecuted and killed by the Nazis, and in 2004 I photographed the March Against Racism on Roma Nation Day, while a few months ago I was with them outside the Italian Embassy in a protest against ethnic cleansing taking place now in Italy.

BBC Ban on Humanitarian Appeal

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Around 10,000 people attended a demonstration at the BBC building in central London on Saturday 24 Jan, 2009, in protest against the continuing siege of Gaza and to show their contempt at the partisan decision by the BBC not to broadcast the emergency appeal for Gaza. Protesters marched from a rally there to Trafalgar Square.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

I woke this morning to hear Tony Benn being interviewed on Radio 4 about the BBC decision not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee emergency appeal for humanitarian aid for Gaza. Taken on the spurious grounds of ‘impartiality’, it is a decision that is clearly partisan, placing the Corporation firmly on the side of the government of Israel and their sick fiction that there is no humanitarian crisis there.

I was delighted to be able to congratulate him on this performance in person as he sat outside Broadcasting House. In the interview he gave the details of the DEC appeal on air (see below), and he told me he had repeated this in BBC TV News interview. He also told me that the whole Today programme studio had been on his side, against the decision taken by the BBC hierarchy.

If you missed his contribution you can hear it again on the BBC web site. He tells people they can make cheques payable to the ‘Disaster Emergency committee Gaza Crisis’ and send them to PO Box 999, London EC3A 3AA, or go to any Post Office and make a payment quoting Freepay Number 1210. You can also go to the DEC web site and make a contribution,

Later the Today programme broadcast Caroline Thomson, one of the BBC bosses attempting to justify the decision. Frankly what she said was appalling and my immediate response was to log on to my computer and send my complaint to the BBC. You can hear her on the Today site, as well as International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander who asked the BBC to think again.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Tony Benn leads a small group into Broadcasting House to deliver a letter of protest

After a short press conference outside Broadcasting House, Tony Benn led others into the BBC building to deliver a letter of protest. Around 20 people entered and then a policeman stood in front of me and prevented me from following them. But they soon came out and  moved up the road to where the rally was to take place. Police pushed a number of demonstrators who wanted to continue to demonstrate outside the BBC across the road away from the building, and tempers got a little raised, but there was no real violence.

Speaker after speaker denounced the BBC decision and called on them to change their mind, and there was considerable cheering when it was announced that other broadcasters had decided to run the appeal. Benn in his speech forecast that the pressure on the BBC which was coming from all sections of the community would soon force them to change their mind.

The demonstration had been planned long before the DEC appeal became an issue, and the starting point at Broadcasting House was chosen to draw attention to the lack of honest and unbiased coverage of the Israeli attack on Gaza by the BBC. This was not  the fault of the many journalists who – in so far as the Israeli press ban had allowed – had worked as well as they could, but an institutional bias, in part resulting from the same kind of misapplication of the idea of impartiality that led them to the ridiculous decision over the DEC appeal. The demonstrations main aims, also reflected in the speeches at the rally were to call for an end to the blockade of Gaza, for a stop on arms sales to Israel and for the Israeli war criminals to be brought to justice.

The rally overran and the march proceeded to Trafalgar Square directly rather than as had originally been planned going past Downing Street, and shoes were thrown on the road outside the BBC rather than there. A few people were arrested for obstructing the police as the march reached Piccadilly Circus, and stewards halted the march, apparently demanding that those arrested should be released before they went on. But after around ten minutes the march moved on anyway to a final rally at Trafalgar Square. As this got under way I left, walking past many police vans parked around the square and in Whitehall. There had been a very strong police presence throughout.

At home I read the Press Association report of the demonstration. Ridiculously it stated there had been 400 demonstrators at the BBC, and I think this was the figure used in the BBC news I heard at 6pm. On their web site the BBC now says 2,000. The report on Sky quotes a police estimate of 5,000 – which would normally mean there were 10,000 on the march. It would seem that the PA reporter only looked at the few people on the pavement outside the BBC for what was essentially a press conference (the police wouldn’t allow demonstrators to remain there) and ignored – or didn’t notice  – the thousands across the road.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Police clear demonstrators away from Broadcasting House

More pictures on My London Diary

Gladstone and Matches

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

I’m not sure why, at least according to the BBC, celebrations for the ‘Grand Old Man’ of Victorian politics, William Ewart Gladstone (29 Dec 1809 – 19 May 1898) should be launched today, but his was a story linked with Bow, where I went on Sunday for the Three Mills Loop guided walk, which takes place roughly monthly.

The first half of the walk took us from the mills through the centre of the Olympic site on the Northern Outfall Sewer (rebranded in the 1990s as the ‘Greenway’) and then along the Navigation tow-path to Hackney Wick, where we turned down the Hertford Union canal, crossing this to go down Parnell Road. Here, where the walk leader went into the newsagents to buy an ice-cream, we were close to a part of the story linked to Gladstone, although the statue comes later.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

Further on we passed Bow’s most famous factory, the former Bryant & May match works, set up by two Quaker businessmen in 1861. It’s a fine brick building, now a gated yuppie ‘village’, but was notorious in the 1880s for its low pay, poor working conditions and “phossy jaw” a disfiguring disease that led to early death for many of the young women workers caused by the white phosphorus used to cut the cost of making matches. It earned its place in labour history when Annie Besant went there and organised the Match Girls’ Strike in 1888, winning better working conditions and more pay.

But it was really the Salvation Army that changed the match industry, with William Booth buying up an empty factory close to that ice-cream shop in Lamprell Street and making ‘Lights in Darkest England‘ safety matches which used the more expensive red phosphorus in place of the cheaper but highly dangerous white allotrope.  Booth also paid his workers more and gave them safer and better working conditions  – including tea-making facilities. He promoted these matches through the cooperative movement and also with consumer power, harnessed by the ‘British Match Consumers League’ which he set up, urging members to harass their shopkeepers at least twice a week until they sold the army matches.

It was this campaign that forced the other match manufacturers to switch to the safer red phosphorus and in 1901 Booth was able to close the factory having virtually eliminated the problem, although it took another seven years before the use of white phosphorus in matches was made illegal at the end of 1908. And yes, it’s that same material as Israeli forces have been caught using illegally in densely populated areas of Gaza.

In 1871, Gladstone’s chancellor decided to impose a tax on matches, and there was a public outcry. Although the government went as far as actually producing 1/2d tax stamps with the catchy motto “ex luce lucellum” (from light a little gain) pressure from campaigners (including the Queen herself) led to the proposal being dropped. The match workers from Bow took part (urged by their employer who had threated to pass the tax on to them) in a massive march to Parliament, which although described by some as “entirely peaceful” actually involved some massive and brutal brawls with the police in Trafalgar Square and on the Embankment.

After the proposal was dropped, Bryant and May celebrated with the erection of an ornate drinking fountain in 1872 opposite Bow Road Station (it disappeared when the road was widened in 1953, but a small plaque marks the site) but the workers were less happy when the management docked their wages to pay for it. On the day it was unveiled some of the women slashed their arms in protest, dripping the blood onto the fountain.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

It was Annie Besant who got this story mixed up with the statue of Gladstone shown here, sculpted by Albert Bruce-Joy and donated by Theodore H Bryant in 1882, and it seems unlikely that workers either had their pay docked or celebrated its erection with their blood. But in 1988, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the strike, the Gladstone statue was daubed with red paint. After the council cleaned it, someone came back and daubed it again, and you can still see it now on the plinth of the statue and also on the hands in this picture.

There is a good illustrated account covering some of the above and other relevant local history on the Kingsley Hall web site.

More pictures from the walk on My London Diary.

Olympic Panorama

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Olympic stadium and site, 180 degree view from the Northern Outfall Sewer, Stratford Marsh, Sunday 18 Jan, 2009.

That’s it really. Too small to see here, but larger on My London Diary, though the orginal is about 10,000 pixels wide. A little more about it there as well, and a second panorama of the same scene from a slightly different viewpoint. Stitched with PTGui from four Nikon D300 images taken using my thumb as a special panoramic mount!

Of course I also have panoramas taken from the same places before the work on the site started. And hope to also be taking pictures there when its all over.


Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Certainly the new president seems to be good news for those still in Guantanamo – and perhaps it won’t be long before London can welcome back two former residents, but so far I haven’t been too impressed by the photographs I’ve seen of the event.

You can read the story of how Chuck Kennedy got his widely published low angle shot from a remote Canon 5D Mark II fitted in a Pelican case to muffle the shutter noise on  Poynter Online (thanks to PDN Pulse for the link) but despite showing some great ingenuity I think it makes the president look rather odd and doesn’t really convey a great deal in the way of atmosphere. But of course I’m not from the USA.

Of course at a huge events like this, only one camera got that front row space and all credit to Kennedy for coming up with the idea and getting permission. But another picture, which doesn’t include the president, seemed to me to to say far more about the occasion and to show you don’t need special facilities to photograph major events. Published on the Heading East blog, it’s an image by New York freelance Rachel Feierman (her work is distributed by Sipa Press) and you can see more of her impressive work on Politics 08 and other projects on her web site.

Observers and Events

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Photographing last Saturday’s demonstration about Gaza in Trafalgar Square on Saturday I was very aware how the presence of photographers and the way that they react to events can actually very much influence what is happening.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

At times speakers had to stop and wait because of the noise, which was prompted by the activities of a smallish group of men at one side of front of the crowd facing the speakers. As well as chanting noisily they also burnt Israeli flags and posters, and of course when they did so a crowd of photographers formed in front of them.

Obviously they felt deeply about what was happening in Gaza and wanted to show it, but this and other similar displays at the demonstrations are very much designed to catch the attention of the press, and very much encouraged by the press reaction.

As photographers we need visual symbols, and the more powerful these are the easier our job becomes. So of course, with all the others I went and photographed what was happening.

But once I’d got some pictures of a burning flag and images that I thought showed their anger I walked away and photographed other things, leaving them alone. Not that it made any difference as there were plenty of other photographers encouraging them. But I wanted to hear the speeches and photograph the speakers and the audience, and this was an event that was very much about women and children, so I tried to concentrate on them.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The police often accuse photographers of provoking demonstrators to violence, but in general I don’t think we do, at least not to any measurable extent. Demonstrators are far more often provoked by the police – and being pushed around or hit by a baton is considerably more effective effective provocation than a camera. Even the way the police use cameras is often considerably more provocative than the way that journalists usually work.

Most of the time we are doing our best to record what is happening rather than to be a part of it, but there are times when our presence as observers can very much change the events we observe, and we need to be aware of it.

You can see my photographs from the rally in Trafalgar Square and the women and children’s march along Whitehall on My London Diary as usual.

Hoppé Mad

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

I have a great deal of interest in the photography of E O Hoppé – and indeed included him in my list of two hundred or so ‘Notable Photographers‘ that I put on line in 2000.  I have a particular interest in him as I share his fascination with London, and like him have spent many years photographing it.

But today I got an email quoting an article from Luminous Lint  which suggests he is a recently rediscovered early Photo Modernist and goes on to quote photography curator Phillip Prodger of the Peabody Essex Museum as comparing his pictures to those of Steichen, Stieglitz, and Weston. Frankly this is utter nonsense, not least because it’s hard to rediscover someone who was never lost – as my listing on a major photography site visited by millions demonstrated.

According to  The Recession or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Photographs! Bruce Silverstein, one of my favourite photo dealers,  whose New York gallery represents Hoppé, (and a show of his work including ‘Early London Photographs’ opens at the 24th Street Silverstein Gallery in February 2009) is quoted as saying “it is becoming increasingly clear that E.O. Hoppé played a major role in the evolution of Modernist photography both in Europe, having influenced the industrial images of Albert Renger-Patsch and Werner Mantz, and as well in the United States, where his images predate equivalent but better known works by Charles Sheeler, Walker Evans and Berenice Abbott.” I’m sorry Bruce, but I can’t take this seriously.

Quite a Hoppé industry is certainly developing, with a number of books forthcoming. Hoppé too was very industrious in his lifetime, and I have at various of his books scattered around the house, mainly for their topographic interest, including his ‘The Image of London‘ published by Chatto and Windus in their ‘Life and Art in Photograph‘ series in 1935,  which was probably the closest he came to producing an ‘art’ book.  Does it show a ground-breaking photographer?  In no way, though the negative image on the dust jacket is interesting, considerably more so than the same image printed conventionally as Plate 1 of the book.  Everything else about it’s 100 photographs is competent but rather ordinary, even pedestrian and at times hopelssly corny.

Hoppé, born in Munich in 1878, studied photography but became a banker and this brought him to London in 1900. Here he became a leading pictorial photographer, one of the founders of the London Salon – and the work which he was taking in the 1920s was still very much in that tradition – as can be seen in a number of the works from around 1926 on the Silverstein Gallery site, for example Middletown in the Snow. It could indeed be compared with pictures by Stieglitz  – but those he took in the 1890s, and can hardly be seen as innovative. And somehow Stieglitz clearly has the edge – you feel the weather and the cold and the atmosphere rather than just a pretty picture.

Like many others, Hoppé was influenced by changes that were taking place particularly on the continent of Europe after the First World War, and in particular at the Bauhaus in Weimar from 1919-25, as well as the work of many other photographers who were beginning to exploit the possibilities of smaller and more flexible cameras. I don’t know what evidence there is to say that his work influenced people such as Renger-Patsch, but so far as I am aware – and on the evidence of the work I’ve seen – he was a follower of wider trends rather than in any sense an initiator. But his widely published work – in books such as ‘The Image of London‘ certainly did help to set norms, though I think others did it rather better.

It is interesting that both Hoppé and Sheeler photographed the Ford plant in 1926/7, and you can compare the their images –  Hoppé and Sheeler. Then go back  and look at  a similar subject photographed four years earlier by Edward Weston, Armco Steel, 1922.
If you can’t see the difference, then you certainly shouldn’t be writing about photography.

Of course the article isn’t really about photography but about the market and market values. Hoppé’s work – or at least his more interesting images, such as those on show at Silverstein –  may well be a very good investment, and like most non-USAmerican photographers is undervalued, but don’t let’s get the real value of his work out of proportion.