Archive for April, 2009

Jiro’s Café

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Of course it’s only sensible that the lighting in art galleries is on the pictures, but it doesn’t make things easier when you are trying to photograph the people at an opening. There might be ways around this with some serious effort, but I hadn’t gone to the opening of Jiro Osuga‘s installation, Café Jiro, in the Flowers Gallery in Cork St, London, to take pictures, but to admire his incredible imagination and painting.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

The lighting on the pictures gives a white balance at around 2300K (and around -6 magenta) so using flash to add a bit of light would really need a suitable filter to bring it from around 5600K. And there is a largish door and window at one end of the room with evening daylight at closer to 8000K. I’m travelling without my camera bag, just the D700 with a 20mm, and its built-in flash isn’t too great in any case, so though I take a few with it, most of the time I elect to work with available light at ISO 3200 and later adjust the lighting balance in Lightroom, burning the brightly lit painting on the walls and dodging the dimmer figures.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

I discover you can even apply a little amber to the street outside the gallery to more or less neutralise the colour cast should you want too, but I quite like the mixed colour effect. The quality from the D700 at ISO 3200, which allows hand-held exposures at around 1/100, f3.5 in the fairly dim interior, is nothing short of amazing compared with the bad old days of film.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

I’ve long been an admirer of Jiro’s work and have organised several group shows including some of his pictures, but in this show he has created something on a larger scale than before, re-creating the whole ground floor of the gallery as ‘Jiro’s Café’. The words ‘accessible’ and ‘fun’ can seldom be attached to shows in this most famous of Mayfair gallery streets in London, but this show is certainly both, and also a powerful showcase of the intelligence and vision that Jiro’s work always displays, applied to a much larger canvas, or rather series of canvases.

The large area around the room took seven months to paint in the artist’s studio, where he could only see and work on it a canvas at a time, and it must have been a considerable relief to see it altogether for the first time in the gallery when the show was hung and find it all fitted together perfectly.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

My pictures concentrate on the people at the opening – and particularly on friends of mine who were there – including the artist.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

A few of those in my photographs are also in the paintings, particularly the gallery staff who can be found in the kitchen. Y0u can see 19 panels on the Flowers Gallery web site
which includes most of the display except the topmost level, but you really need to get to Cork St and see it as a whole to appreciate it as an ensemble and the relationships between the parts. In the basement gallery there are also other some smaller paintings by Jiro (and some other gallery artists) in the downstairs area.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

Although it contains some references to the original site for which it was designed – such as the windows on the front wall which are those of the street opposite, it is a work that would stand on its own and could be shown in galleries and museums elsewhere, and I hope others around the world will get an opportunity to see it.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

At the gallery you can buy a nicely illustrated catalogue for a tenner and also a one metre long thin card showing all the paintings that make up Café Jiro at a quid, including the panels in the doorway showing a dog tied to the café’s sandwich board. In my photograph he is being photographed by his owner and his head is clearly visible on the screen of her camera in a larger image. Hidden behind her head is the painted wheel of Jiro’s bicycle.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

Don’t miss it. The show continues until May 23, 2009.


Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

30 – photographic show at the Shoreditch Town Hall, London, open 10-6 until 2 May 2009, is a show by 30 photography students from the University of Westminster, where ‘producing a photographic show’ was a module on their course.

You can see some of their names with an example  of their work on the 30 blog,  and if you are anywhere within distance I think it’s a show worth seeing, both for the impressive range of work on display, but also for the location itself.

Where else can you see a film of a bride and groom projected above a urinal, images made to fit in a room with the floor half dug up and a large brown earthenware pipe and much much more, and some of the pictures simply pinned up on decaying walls are well worth a look.  This was an exhibition I really enjoyed visiting, which is more than you can say for many at more prestigious venues. It has a liveliness that makes the current offering at the Photographers’ Gallery I visited the previous day seem extremely sad.

It’s good also to see a student show with such a wide range of work, rather than some that seem to be largely a series of clones of a particular tutor or small group of tutors.  There is certainly a lot of talent here, though perhaps a little depressing to reflect that with the current state of the market for photography nearly all of them will end up doing other things for a living. Of course that isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I’m sure that photography will continue to enrich the lives of many of them – and of others who will continue to enjoy their work.

Don’t put off going to see this – it ends this Saturday. Here are a few of the pictures I took of the location and the work on display.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The Grand Demonstration

Monday, April 27th, 2009

There are of course no photographs of the ‘Grand Demonstration‘ organised by the Metropolitan trades unions to campaign for the release of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834, although I was rather surprised that a Google search appeared to turn one up – actually a photograph of a contemporary engraving.

Trade unions had been legal for ten years at the time and the men from Tolpuddle were propelled to fame (and a very uncomfortable trip to Australia and back) only because a local landowner spotted a chance to attack trade union activites using the then current equivalent of our anti-terrorist laws, the Unlawful Oaths Act, passed in 1797 to prevent  naval mutiny.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Children from an Islington school tell the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs

Over 100,000 marched from Copenhagen Fields (now rather reduced in size as Caledonian Park) in Islington down to Parliament carrying a petition with over 200,000 signatures, and, at least according to that engraving, wearing top hats.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Frances O’Grady, TUC Deputy General Secretary unveils a plaque about the 1834 march

Saturday’s event, backed by the TUC, was on a rather smaller scale and unfortunately had not a single top hat, though there were a number of colourful trade union banners and it was led by the fine Cuba Solidarity Salsa Band. And rather than going to Parliament and then on to Kennington Park as in those hardier times, it stopped a short way down the road at Edward Square for a festival. But although small it was still quite a grand demonstration, and the sun came out for it.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

But perhaps the biggest difference between marches then and now is that the 1834 demonstration and the rest of the campaign was actually successful in getting the men released and brought back to England. The considerably larger march in 2003 (and the many other large marches and protests in London and elsewhere) against the invasion of Iraq failed to  have any effect on the Blair government.

More of the story and more pictures on My London Diary.

Where was St George?

Monday, April 27th, 2009

I spent much of the day on April 23 looking for St George around the centre of London, and was largely disappointed. Celebration of our patron saint’s day still seems to be pretty low key, and I found a handful of members of the English Democratic Party in Trafalgar Square trying to drum up support for a national holiday every April 23. At least this year – unlike last – they were allowed to visit our National Gallery in the square, which was also putting on some related events. Apparently last year they were refused entry for wearing the national flag.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Looking for St George’s Day in Trafalgar Square – more pictures

Others were in the square expecting something to happen, but without success, though when I returned later things were a little livelier. Meanwhile I knew that the theatre group, The Lions part, were giving some performances during the afternoon in Southwark and I went to take some pictures of St George and the others there.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
The Lions part: St George (& the Dragon – more pictures)

There were other things going on that I missed, some on purpose. Boris took a trip to the City for some cheap publicity, and Southwark Cathedral and St Georges Church were also marking the day with events.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
England Supporters – More pictures

I went back to Trafalgar Square on my way to the Photographers’ Gallery, and found around 25 young people having a noisy time on the plinth below Nelson, and then another theatre group who had come out from their show in the National Gallery decided to put one on in the square also – with a little more audience participation than they are used to.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
St George is defeated by the Turkish Knight, while ‘Lucozade Man’ looks on. More pictures

The latest show at the Photographers’ Gallery didn’t detain me long, though as always I read the texts and looked at the pictures and other objects. As before the most interesting work was on around the edges, in the print room (including a couple of nice prints by Thurston Hopkins – which reminded me very much of my own games on the streets in the 1950s) as well as work by Guy Tillim I’ve mentioned before.  Although I appreciate a wide range of work across all the genres, the PG doesn’t seem to be showing much of quality outside the odd bit of photojournalism these days.

In the main show, the work of Gerhard Richter stood out rather more than head and shoulders above the rest (perhaps from the ankles up?) , though I don’t think the small photographs which he has over-painted actually have a great deal to do with photography or being a photographer – and there are some rather more interesting examples on the web site.

One of those admiring Hopkins work with me was  Shimelis Desta, formerly the court photographer to the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, some of whose work was shown in the Photographers Gallery in 2007. You can see a CNN film about how he managed to get this work out of the country on YouTube. He tells me that he has more interesting images than those that were chosen by the curators for that show, so I hope that one day we will see more of his work.

Slough Vaisakhi

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

The Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha in the north of Slough is around ten miles – an easy bike ride – from my home, though I always do an extra half mile or so. Slough isn’t a place a visit too frequently, and something about it means I always get lost, despite knowing exactly where I want to go.  Somehow, as usual, I end up in the middle of town on the wrong side of a wide road with a fence down the middle, and have to divert and cycle through a subway.

Fortunately I’d left home early, and arrived in plenty of time, well before much had started to happen. Photography often involves rather a lot of hanging around and waiting, because it isn’t much good arriving with your camera after things have happened – and the only time I’d come to Slough to photograph the Vaisakhi celebrations before I had been just a little late.

Being there early did give me the opportunity to go inside the Gurdwara and take a look around, and as well as taking a few pictures get to know my way around and talk to people.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
The Panj Piyare process from the prayer hall, swords raised

© 2009 Peter Marshall
Women throw flower petals at the Guru Granth Sahib

I was at the top of the stairs when the procession came out of the prayer hall and made its way down and out to the crowds waiting below; all the time women were throwing flower petals over the Guru Granth Sahib and I joined them to take pictures from their viewpoint as the scriputres were carried to the waiting float.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

Most of the pictures inside were taken with a 20mm lens on the Nikon D700, and this enabled me to work in rather crowded conditions. The 20mm is a nice compact lens too, and although in some ways I’d prefer a wide zoom, I’m getting to like working with a fixed lens again.

This was the first real set of pictures I’ve taken with the Nissin Di622 flash, and I was impressed. It just worked, and seemed to keep up rather better with my fairly rapid shooting than the SB800 generally does.  I simply put it on the hot shoe, flipped out the diffuser to cover the wide angle and shot in ‘P’ mode, moving from indoor exposures of 1/60 at f5.6 to outdoors at 1/250 at f18 (at ISO 400.)

I’d tried shooting inside with available light earlier, and at ISO 2000 could work at around f4 and 1/100, but the colour was poor with the fluorescent lighting. On the stairs light levels were higher with a large window adding daylight, but the mixed lighting seemed an added problem. So flash seemed the obvious choice, although I felt a little obtrusive using it. But my previous experience photographing at other Vaisakhi celebrations and a Sikh wedding was that this was unlikely to present a problem to those I was photographing. And I did really want it for those petals.

More pictures from the event – many of those outdoors taken with a Sigma 18-125mm on the D300 – on My London Diary. The Sigma – which I’ve had for a few years – seems more robust than the Nikon 18-200mm, and has similar image quality – very usable rather than really superb. It lacks the VR of the Nikon lens, but I seldom seem to see much benefit from this in practice – and certainly not on sunny days. I have less focus problems with the Sigma, and its one fault is that the zoom ring works in the wrong direction.

Working with two bodies again does make life easier in most ways – though I wish they were lighter and came with straps that could never get entangled!

Orangemen on the March

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

I was brought up a Protestant, but not the marching kind. But perhaps our ‘Glorious Revolution‘ of 1688 that brought King William III to the throne in defence of both Parliamentary democracy and the Protestant faith is something we should celebrate more widely.  Particularly in times such as this where I think Parliamentary democracy is endangered.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
A new banner for the Medway Martyrs Lodge, founded in 2007, is unveiled

Orange Marches and the Orange Institution have of course been extremely contentious in parts of Northern Ireland but there seems little reason for them to be so in London, particularly as the Orange Institution has made clear it “will not accept into membership those with racist views or those who do not support the principle of civil and religious liberty for all.

Although I had some trouble covering an earlier march by the Apprentice Boys of Derry where I reported “being pushed backwards by a large man in dark glasses and instructed very firmly to leave“, I’m pleased to say that today I wasn’t threatened – myself and the other photographers were treated very civilly – and one of the marchers  complimented me on the pictures of a previous march on my web site.

More text and pictures on My London Diary.

Odd happenings in London

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

One of the great things about walking around London is that things happen. You turn a street corner and meet the unexpected.

On Saturday I was standing on the spot where I think Ian Tomlinson died, perhaps around a hundred yards from the floral tributes to him at the end of Royal Exchange buildings, where he was assaulted, I think for the second or third time, by a police officer. I wasn’t there, but I’ve read the accounts of some who were and viewed many of the videos and still images on the web from that day.

After receiving some help from nearby demonstrators (the police at that point appear to have simply laughed at his injured and confused state)  he managed to stagger east down Cornhill, finally collapsing outside Starbucks or a neighbouring shop.  Again some protesters went to his aid and finally police medics came to assist. He was taken into the mouth of St Michael’s Alley and, too late, an ambulance was called and allowed through the barriers.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

Suddenly a group of people came along the alley, each bearing a single red rose, and crossed the road to stop at Starbucks. I photographed them and followed, thinking at first it was a tribute to Tomlinson I hadn’t heard about. Outside Starbuck’s we were treated to a highly moving performance of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets about the death  of a young woman – and there was a picture of her and flowers taped to the shopfront.

Apparently by coincidence, this location had been chosen as one of a number on a trail from the Globe Theatre around various performances to celebrate the birthday of Shakespeare next Thursday. And I’m pleased to report that I was told that, unlike Ian Tomlinson, the young woman in the picture is still very much alive.  I left the actor waiting to repeat his performance with the next group. More pictures on My London Diary.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Clogs and cheese

April 18 was presumably chosen for a kind of Dutch trade fair in Trafalgar Square because Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) is celebrated on April 30, so perhaps that was thought close enough. Like other such ‘events’ it was a depressing spectacle, and I really only went there to use the public toilet, still free unlike most others in Westminster. Frankly, apart from some of the cheese (and too much of that reminds me more of soap) there was little to attract. The Amsterdam Orange Festival on Queen’s Day sounds far more interesting, with huge numbers of people dressed in orange and unregulated street trading across the city. Or perhaps we should have a Trafalgar Square event held in November in conjunction with Amsterdam’s High Times Cannabis Cup?

But there was another Orange event in London the same day which was perhaps more interesting.  More details in my next post.

Stop Police Brutality

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Last week I photographed two demonstrations against the police treatment of demonstrators, particularly at the April 1 demonstrations in the City of London, but also more generally.

There does seem to be a growing realisation that the police over the last few years have changed the emphasis in their policing of protests. The setting up of the para-military Tactical Support Group, trained and equipped for street combat, and the increasing use of surveillance techniques, including CCTV and the intentionally confrontational use of photography by the Forward Intelligence Teams have led to a raising of the temperature of inevitable friction between police and protesters. A temperature that “kettling” then increases to further heights until things too often boil over.

Increasing the police appear to see this as a battle, and come prepared, mentally and physically for a fight. The TSG in particular tend to stand like a group of thugs, bouncing on the balls of their feet, rubbing fists in palms, itching for a fight. It isn’t how I want police to be. As a placard on Saturday reminded us “The police serve society – they do not control society“. That’s how it should be, but increasingly not how it is.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

Of course a part of the problem is legislation. Poorly thought out knee-jerk reactions to terrorism which have done little if anything to increase our security but have led to hundreds of highly publicised raids and arrests, but very few charges – and even many of those clearly unfounded, and thrown out by courts.

Police campaigns to increase paranoia – particularly against photographers – haven’t helped. Nor has the campaign they have mounted against the press, which was very evident on April 1, with injuries to a number of my colleagues. They also threatened many journalists with arrest to try to clear them away at Bank, apparently because they didn’t want witnesses to the use of police dogs on the protesters.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

One piece of legislation that has led to more friction than any other is SOCPA, where late additions were made to an act dealing with serious organised crime with the intention of outlawing the protest in Parliament Square by Brian Haw. The act failed to stop his protest but made it an offence to protest in a wide area of Westminster without getting police permission in advance.  Its main effect has been a vast increase in the number of demonstrations – both legal and illegal – many directed at the act itself, with a few unfortunate individuals being targeted for often rather dubious prosecutions.

At the protest outside New Scotland Yard on Wednesday evening, police pointed out to the organisers that their protest on the wide expanse of pavement outside the building was illegal, and asked them to move to the other side of the street where it would be legal.  The very narrow pavement there made such a move impractical, and unsurprisingly when the matter was put to the demonstrators they were unanimous in deciding to stay put.

City of London Police were rather more relaxed at the demonstration outside their Wood St headquarters on Saturday morning, attended by three of the large ‘Four Horseman of the Apocalypse‘  puppets from the April 1 carnival at Bank and the remains of the fourth destroyed there. Some of the protesters also showed signs of the attacks by police on demonstrators there and on the even more peaceful Climate Camp in Bishopsgate.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

More pictures and details of events at New Scotland Yard and City of London Police HQ on My London Diary.

Ballard Dies

Monday, April 20th, 2009

There have probably been relatively few famous inhabitants of Shepperton, a small suburban corner of Middlesex within spitting distance of where I live, but unquestionably J G Ballard who died on Sunday, age 78, was one of them.

Certainly one of Britains major post-war writers, James Graham Ballard saw the future embodied in the present culture, and wrote his own apocalyptic ‘Ballardian’ version of it, based strongly around the outer suburbs where he – and I – live. He clearly foresaw the surveillance society and many of the problems of late capitalism.

Best known for his ‘Empire of the Sun‘, a superbly written work based around his experiences as a child in the Japanese internment camps in China and made into a film, it was his other works which are more important, perhaps culminating in his last novel, Kingdom Come (2006), firmly set in the suburban zone around the M25. In many ways close to home.

It was a great disappointment to me that the film ‘Crash‘ was  migrated by its Canadian director to Toronto.  The book was very firmly set in the Heathrow area, and, although I’m not sure it would have been a better film in West London/Middlesex, it would certainly have added to its relevance for me.

I wrote briefly about him and his work, and how it had inspired some of my own photography in ‘Under The Car‘, based on a section of a lecture I gave in 2007 in Brasilia.

© Peter Marshall
A Ballardian landscape © Peter Marshall

G20 Bank Videos

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

More and more videos are coming onto the web giving a fuller view of the protests in the City of London on April 1, and in particular of the way the police handled the demonstrations.

The Guardian was of course the first to feature the assault on IanTomlinson just before his fatal heart attack, and among the other highlights there is a short clip by Jason Parkinson,  showing police carrying out a baton charge on press photographers. Another clip by Jason records police threatening press photographers under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, telling them to leave the scene and stop taking pictures – or be arrested (they later issued an apology for this.) Others worth viewing include Rikki Blue‘s footage of riot police attacking peaceful demonstrators at the Climate Camp in Bishopsgate.

If what happened at Bank and in Bishopsgate can be called riots, on the evidence of the videos the rioters are mainly the police, although you can clearly see a few minor incidents involving demonstrators in the videos. The breaking of windows at the RBS was an isolated ocurrence, which involved few people and was soon abandoned. On Jason Parkinson’s blog you can see a good impression of rather more of a riot at in Strasbourg where the NATO summit was taking place on April 4. This is serious stuff, where the photographer’s kit needs to include helmet, gas mask and body armour.

Here in London things are usually more sedate, and only the police get kitted up with riot gear, (which always seems to alter the way they behave)  although photographers may well need to rethink after April 1. Another video of the events by Ollie Wainwright on Vimeo includes footage of David Hoffman, a veteran photographer perhaps best known for his pictures of the Poll Tax Riots, being attacked by a policeman using a riot shield to beat him in the face. There is a lengthy slideshow of his pictures of the day on his web site.

Hoffman bets that no other photographer used a senior citizen bus pass to get the the event, and he may be right, but only because I chose to walk from the station as I was early and to take the underground when I left early to go to the peaceful march in the West End.  The pictures that I took before I left give a good impression of the kind of peaceful demonstrations that the organisers of both the G20 Meltdown and the Climate Camp had planned and were taking place before the police intervened.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

There were perhaps 5-10,000 peaceful demonstrators in the City and probably less than a couple of hundred who had come with the intention of making real trouble. Sensible policing would  have isolated the troublemakers rather than attacking everyone indiscriminately.