Archive for June, 2009

Olympic Photography Paranoia

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

It’s nice to know that someone at the British Journal of Photography reads Amateur Photographer (interestingly the word ‘Amateur’ in the masthead of their web pages has now shrunk to about 2 point size)  and it was a ‘tweet’ from ‘1854’, that obscurely named BJP blog (of course I know why, but that doesn’t make it any less obscure) that sent me to the AP feature posted yesterday, Photographers a ‘security’ risk, warn 2012 Olympic chiefs. Not the snappiest of headlines (sorry!)

Like many of us, Dr Patrick Green is taking photographs around the Olympic site as it develops (I started in 1983, but that’s another story.)  And he was trying out  his new Olympus E-30 DSLR at Dorset Place, just off the Leyton Rd on the east boundary of the site a couple of weeks ago around 4pm on Sunday 14 June.

His picture in the AP shows a security guard standing next to a secuirty barrier witht he Olympic site in the background.  Dr Green says he was told that that photography was forbidden and one of the guards “threatened to call more security who he said ‘would come with dogs’.”

Dr Green apparently got to see a “security manager” who told him that his pictures posed a ‘security risk’ – terrorists might use the images to plot an attack if they were posted on the internet. And while an ODA spokeswoman stated “Filming and photography of the site from public highways and areas around the Olympic Park is permitted,” she also made it clear that anyone appearing to take a particular interest in security operations was likely to be talked to by the security guards.

While this event appears to be yet another example of paranoia about photography – and yet another skirmish in that long-running battle between security men and photographers, so far I’ve yet to have a real problem with security in taking hundreds if not thousands of pictures since the blue fence went up around the Olympic site.  One of the men putting up that fence did ask me why I was taking pictures – and so I told him, and although I don’t think he could be described as satisfied, that was the end of the matter. Other times I’ve seen security men looking at me and my gear, but so far I’ve not been asked about my pictures. And once or twice people from the ODA I’ve met have even been friendly.

I don’t think I’ve photographed in Dorset Place, a short street with not much of a view, though I have taken pictures from the next street off Leyton Road, Thornham Grove, and this is from just down the road:

© 2008 Peter Marshall

These buildings are mainly for the shopping centre. Here’s one taken last Saturday from half a mile or so away looking towards the Olympic stadium. I’ll put a few more on My London Diary later.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Stratford Station and the Olympic Site

Hoax Upsets Match

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Probably most  will have read about the “student hoax” that won Paris Match’s annual contest for student photojournalism, a set of black and white images on how students at the French university of Strasbourg were making ends meet – if you’ve not seen the pictures, they are on the Paris Match site.

Students are shown searching through boxes left on the street after markets for food, staying in overcrowded rooms where they take turns to sleep on the floor, having to work as prostitutes, working long hours at low paid jobs, having to travel long distances from cheap lodgings…

At the prize ceremony, the two winners, Guillaume Chauvin and Rémi Hubert, from the Strasbourg School of Decorative Arts, read out a statement that the pictures were faked, made as an artistic gesture to point out the voyeurism and gullibility of the press. The Independent quotes them telling Le Monde, “We pushed the clichés to the limit. We thought the whole thing was so hackneyed that it could never win … We wanted to call into question the inner-workings of the attitude of the kind of media which portrays human distress with complacency and voyeurism.”

They were given the 5,000 Euros at the award ceremony, but the cheque was later stopped, although they claim not to have broken any of the competition rules in their work.  The rules will presumably be rewritten for next year!

Although the pictures are described as “entirely faked” this is arguable. Obviously they were pictures taken with the cooperation of the people involved, but the techniques and the level of direction are perhaps little different from those in many more legitimate photojournalistic projects.

Photographic history is of course full of such things – for example in the work of one of our greatest photographers, Bill Brandt, where so many of his deservedly well-known scenes of London in the thirties were acted to his direction by family, friends and servants.

It’s really the stories that were faked for the Match entry, or at least partly faked. Student poverty is a real issue, but the particular students shown were presumably not feeling its pinch in the way the captions to the images describe. The young lady in miniskirt and boots viewed from behind on a hotel or hostel corridor may well not be “Emma, 23 ans, Master de Philosphie” and may never have said “Pour pouvoir étudier le jour, je me sers de mon cul la nuit… ” But such things are happening and it is a picture that could well have appeared in the press entirely legitimately with the small text “posed by model” hidden at one corner.

I suppose the main thing I think about this work is that it represents a waste of time and effort. There is a problem of student poverty, and students such as Chauvin and Hubert have a privileged position to see it and document it in a truthful and serious work of reportage. To tell it without the clichés, without being hackneyed, though I’m not sure voyeurism is ever absent from photography.

Had they chosen to do so, their work would probably not have won the Paris Match prize, probably not even have been of interest to the magazines or to newspapers. The real problem lies in a culture that depends on prizes and values the voyeurism about distress these students were questioning.

You can see also see some of the other work entered for the competition on the Paris Match site, where the work by Chauvin and Hubert is not identified as the winning entry.  You can also watch a video of last year’s award ceremony, but not this!

New Topographics – Broadcast

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Curator of photographs at George Eastman House, Alison Nordstrom talks to Brenda Tremblay  of Greater Rochester area public broadcasting organisation WXXI about the rather curious history of a small photographic exhibition that almost nobody saw which influenced a whole generation of photographers.

Of course we all know about the ‘New Topograpics’ or at least we think we do.  But certainly I found her short talk of considerable interest.

Of course I wrote previously about the new version of this show currently at George Eastman House and later touring – though not here.  Nordstrom mentions the slim catalogue for the original show – you can see a picture of it here. It had 23 black and white and one colour photographs- and 2500 copies were printed. The price Nordstrom suggests is considerably more than that paid in this 2004 auction. Also on Photoeye you can see more about the new book on the show by Nordstrom and Britt Salvesen, coming from Steidl at the end of the year. 

Jacko RIP

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Although I can’t claim a High Court judge’s knowledge of Michael Jackson, he was never more than a vague figure to me, and I find today’s hype ridiculous. The 20th century produced plenty of musical geniuses – Charlie Parker would be my nomination for the No 1 spot – with Jackson not even in the running so far as I’m concerned. With music videos and MTV culture Jackson seems more a symptom of the breakdown of our civilisation than anything positive.

© 2002 Peter Marshall
A Michael Jackson fan at Soho protest against Sony, June 2002

Not that I personally wished him any harm. I had a great deal of sympathy for the way he was hounded by the press, and certainly wouldn’t wish a heart attack on anyone –  having been fortunate enough to recover from one.

But he was one of the very few celebrities I’ve photographed – it happened by accident, as I was on my way to photograph a demonstration against the use of sweated labour – ‘Give Nike A Red Card’ – at Oxford Circus in June 2002, saw a TV crew running, and followed them.

Fans were demonstrating against Sony failing to support Jackson’s latest record, and I took a few pictures of them – and eventually put a couple on what was then my new web site, My London Diary – halfway down this page. I hung on taking pictures for a bit and then an open-top bus appeared and the fans broke out from behind the barriers and surged around it. Jackson appeared with a large placard, ‘Sony is Phoney’ and a puppet, and pretended he was going to climb down into the sea of fans.

© 2002 Peter Marshall

© 2002 Peter Marshall

I was shooting with a Leica and probably my normal 35mm lens, rather more interested in the fans’ responses than Jackson himself who appears rather small on the few images I took (and I’ve cropped the two above for the web so he is more visible.)

© 2002 Peter Marshall

And when I got the the end of the roll it didn’t seem worth loading another  – so I went off to photograph ‘No Sweat’, who after their demo at Oxford Circus set off kicking a football and marching down Oxford St.

© 2002 Peter Marshall

It was an interesting day and ended with what was I think the first of a number of curious encounters I’ve had with the Met. After I’d followed the demonstrators to somewhere opposite Selfridges – and by then the police had pushed them onto the pavement – an officer came up to me and very politely said – with a curious little smirk “I think you’ve taken enough pictures now, don’t you Sir?”

PHotoEspaña 2009 Awards

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

You can read the details of the PHotoEspaña 2009 Awards on their web page (in English) but the two major awards, the PHotoEspaña Baume & Mercier 2009 Award went to Malick Sidibé (Mali, 1935 or 6), and the  Bartolome Ros Award to Spanish photographer Isabel Muñoz, born in Barcelona in 1951 and based in Madrid.

 Malick Sidibé

I’ve written on several occasions about Sidibé who has become deservedly well-known over recent years and last year was  given the 2008 ICP Infinity Lifetime Achievement award. He opened his portrait studio in Bamako in 1962 and among his other awards are the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in 2003. Lensculture has some pictures by Sidibé, and a transcription of an interview with him.   Hacklebury  also has a selection of his pictures and a brief biography while the Jack Shainman Gallery have an installation view of one of his shows and some works in their frames.

Isabel Muñoz

What strikes me immediately about the work of Isabel Muñoz, which you can see on her web site (her projects are under the link ‘La Obra‘, but ‘Making Off‘ throws some light on her methods) is both the precision of her black and white work, but also its enormous theatricality. It’s work that I admire greatly, but perhaps it sometimes leaves me a little cold.

There is also a gallery of her pictures from Ethiopia on LensCulture, as well as ten minutes (plus three)  of her in conversation with Jim Casper – another of his often revealing interviews (needs Quicktime – unfortunately QuickTime Plugin, v7.1 is blocked by Firefox 3  on Windows. ” Reason: remote code execution in multiple versions” so I had to switch to Internet Explorer – and presumably take a a risk!)  Muñoz talks in some detail about the subjects of her pictures and working with them.  She works on medium format, making large digital negatives (thanks to Dan Burkholder‘s methods) for platinum prints as well as normal silver prints.  In Ethiopia she also used a digital camera and made colour prints – and found the digital camera gave her a different relationship with her subjects.

Kew Bridge Occupation Continues

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

On Saturday 6 June, a group of activists occupied a site next to Kew Bridge that had been empty for more than 20 years, intending to develop it as a community resource. The action was very much inspired by the 1996 ‘The Land is Ours’ action in Wandsworth, where a site owned by Guinness was occupied for five and a half months before the eviction.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

Land is a scarce resource, particularly in urban areas, and land rights campaigners argue that it should be used for the good of all, not simply for the profits of landowners. Local communities should have a much greater role in planning, and where owners fail to live up to their obligations to use land responsibly they should lose their rights. Legally UK local autorities have quite extensive powers to “remedy the condition of land”, including the issue of notices under Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1990 and compulsory purchase, but seldom make use of them.

The site at Kew Bridge has been derelict for over 20 years, being simply used by its owners as an appreciating asset as land prices have risen. LB Hounslow has failed to take effective action. A year or two ago the current owners submitted a very extensive mixed development for planning permission which was rejected and are making a further submission which Hounslow are in process of approving.  It seems astonishing that while the rejected proposal included affordable housing, there is none at all in the latest proposal. However the current fall in housing prices probably makes imminent development unlikely even if permission is granted.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The site appears to have been left to grow wild by its owners, with some dumping of materials in parts of it. The large fence around its perimeter creates an empty eyesore in an extremely desirable and visible riverside site, next to Kew Bridge, part of London’s South Circular Road. The site is also a few yards from a railway station and on several bus routes, and not far from the Great West Road and M4.

The occupiers intend to use the site productively, growing vegetables and providing workshops and meeting spaces for the local community. Local people have brought materials for building and plants and helped in clearing the site and constructing some simple buildings on it. The site welcomes visitors warmly but wants to be a good neighbour and  has banned amplified music and enforces a strict policy against alcohol or drugs on the site.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

Last weekend the Eco Village/Brentford Community Garden had a solstice open weekend with activities including face painting, music, picnic area and children’s workshops, and I dropped in at the end of the day to take some pictures. Already the site has been considerably improved.

More pictures from the Kew Bridge Eco Village on My London Diary

Tamils March for the Release of Captives

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Organisers the British Tamil Formum estimate that  100,000 Tamils marched through London today from Hyde Park to Temple Place, calling for justice in Sri Lanka and a separate Tamil state there. The march was led by a group of ‘detainees’ in a barbed wire prison camp to dramatise the terrible conditions of civilians held in internment camps and demanded their immediate release as well as full UN access to the camps.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

Some also carried photographs of their relatives who have been killed or who have disappeared and demanded that the Sri Lankan government and army be tried for war crimes, as well as calling for economic sanctions, an arms embargo and the suspensiotn of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth.

Some in the demonstration carried black flags, but many showed their support for the banned LTTE (Tamil Tigers) with flags and t-shirts.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The march was certainly more than 2 km long, as when I was with the head of it in Trafalgar Square a police officer I was standing beside received a message saying that it was still coming out of Park Lane. The front was moving slowly (it isn’t easy to walk with a concentration camp) and the people behind were generally fairly tightly packed across the whole eastbound carriageway of Picadilly and down Lower Regent St, so I think that the BBC figure of 20,000 was probably a considerable under-estimate. By the time I went home just after 4pm, crowds were still streaming past onto the Victoria Embankment.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

More pictures on My London Diary.

Rogue Frames and the f0.0 lens

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

I don’t know whether I’m unlucky but I do seem to get some fairly inexplicable problems with cameras. Back in April I suddenly found that while taking pictures my Nikon D300 had suddenly decided to switch from using program mode to manual, and then to set the rather unlikely speed of 1/8000. Since I’d been shooting on around 1/250, this gave considerable underexposure and it was a few shots before I noticed. I do suffer from wandering fingers and it’s just possible that I had twiddled the dials while intending to do something quite different, but I rather doubt it.  Apart from anything else, I make a point of always leaving the manual setting on 1/250 f8 as a handy starting point under normal conditions, and there had been no reason to change it that day.

But even more curious were 5 or 6 rather dark frames that appeared on Sunday. I was using the D700 with my new f2.8 HSM Sigma 24-70mm zoom, and the first 960 exposures were more or less spot on.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but scattered through the next 250 or so exposures are 5 or 6 rather dark frames. I was taking pictures at Kew Eco-Village, and for frame 972 I have a perfect histogram and the settings show I’m in mode P, 1/500, f11 and 24mm.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

Frame 973, for reasons best known to the camera, was apparently taken using mode A, 1/5000, f4*  and 8mm*, while 974 is back to the identical settings as 972.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

By giving +4.0 stops of exposure in Lightroom, and pushing up the brightness, I can actually see and image, but it’s as if I had shot at perhaps ISO 12,800 rather than the indicated ISO 400. You can clearly see the difference even when reduced to web size.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

I didn’t change the settings for 973, just pressed the shutter again. I hadn’t changed lenses and the widest that lens goes is 24mm. I’ve no idea what those asterisks mean – and despite its 444 pages I don’t think the D700 manual tells me. I’ve tried asking Nikon support, but they don’t have a clue either.

In Lightroom I can actually reclaim a rather noisy but possibly usable image from 973, and I also learn that I took it with my 0.0mm f0.0 lens…

Of course as photographers, you will be surprised that the frame was actually under-exposed. 1/500 at f11 isn’t that different in terms of exposure value from 1/5000 at f4 – perhaps 1/3 stop less, or the equivalent of perhaps ISO 650, while the actual result looks more like ISO 6400 or faster. So the camera is lying about the exposure it actually gave.

Yesterday I actually took around 1150 frames on the D700 working on several different things in various locations. A few used the internal flash, and all were shot using RAW. The battery was still up for more when I finished, but perhaps in future I’ll try and remember to change it whenever it gets below around 50% and see if that gets less rogue frames. But battery life when I used my first digital camera was less than a hundred frames – sometimes considerably less. It’s an area where we’ve really seen a dramatic improvement.

I’ll also perhaps try to look at the back of the camera rather more often. I actually don’t like to do so, finding ‘chimping’ disturbs my concentration.

Do other photographers suffer from this and similar problems?  Odd frames that the camera has obviously thrown a wobbly on – if not identical to mine. If so I’d like to know – please either comment or e-mail me (petermarshall(at) – replace the (at) with the @ character.)

Cameras are now computers. So we shouldn’t be surprised if occasionally they crash or give obviously nonsense results, or even hang.  All of the digital cameras I’ve used have occasionally stopped working. The D100 had a little hole you could poke a pen down to reset it, but that seems to have been left out on recent models.  If your camera starts playing up or simply stops working, usually simply removing the battery then replacing it will reboot it and sort things out.

And if anyone actually finds that f0.0 lens, I’d like to borrow it for some available light work at dead of night!

Lightroom 2.4 & Picture Window Pro

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Despite my previous experience of upgrades to Adobe Lightroom, I threw caution to the winds and downloaded the latest version, Lightroom 2.4, as soon as I got the notification from Adobe.

Of course I did back up my current Lightroom catalogue before installing the upgrade, but in fact everything went smoothly. Apart from adding a few newer cameras, and fixing some minor bugs, there are no great changes listed for Lightroom 2.4, but on my system at least, the latest version is a welcome improvement.

I’d been thinking that perhaps I needed a more powerful computer when processing a lot of images in Lightroom. It wasn’t that it was particularly slow, but even the odd second or two waiting here and there adds up to a very late night when you have shot a lot of stuff.

Lightroom 2.4 just feels more responsive, making it faster to go from images to image, easier to adjust the various sliders, lagging behind less when you dodge or burn.

I’ve long been an evangelist for Lightroom,  recommending it so often and so firmly that people have told me I should be getting a salary from Adobe. But it really has improved the way I handle digital images, getting better pictures faster from those RAW files. So I’m just a grateful user, though should Adobe read this I wouldn’t turn down some bounty  – a free copy of the ridiculously expensive Photoshop for example…

Seriously though, if you are using Lightroom, I think you’ll find this free upgrade worthwhile – and so far, working with it on around a hundred images, I’ve come across no problems. And if you take digital images and haven’t yet moved to Lightroom, what are you waiting for?

Another recent upgrade, one that I’ve not tried, is to Picture Window Pro 5.0 a sensibly priced alternative to Photoshop from Digital Light & Color (Windows only.)  I quite got to like this program in an earlier version, but though I think in some ways it was more powerful, I never got to find it’s approach to simple things as intuitive as that of Photoshop.  It was very much a program written for photographers rather than graphic designers, but I’d been using Photoshop for too long to really adjust.

The new version does have a powerful range of features including full 48 bit support, colour management including soft proofing and raw conversion and the price – $89.95 ($44.95 for an upgrade from previous versions)  is sensible. I think the only feature I needed (if very occasionally and under protest)  missing from the earlier version was CMYK conversion, and I assume it still doesn’t do this. It can read CMYK files, although I think this still needs an additional dll to be installed.

Let Them Work

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

As a part of Refugee Week, London Amnesty Local Groups  and others including the Refugee Council organised ‘Still Human – Still Here‘,  a march starting at Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment to a rally in Trafalgar Square. As well as marchers with placards and banners, there were a number of large puppets depicting refugees from different countries.

Among the other groups taking part in the march were the London Detainee Support Group ‘Detained Lives‘, Refugee Action, members of the Let Them Workcampaign, supported by Student Action for Refugees (STAR), Refugee Council, TUC, Brighter Futures, Barnardos, and Still Human Still Here,
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and the Gay Activists Alliance International.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The UK’s treatment of asylum seekers is often inhumane and seems driven more by a desire to look tougher than the right wing on immigration than any sensible response to the issue. A report by the Independent Asylum Commission last year stated that our treatment of asylum seekers “falls seriously below the standards of civilised society“. In particular, as many including MP Iain Duncan Smith have commented, “the policy of making asylum seekers destitute is mean and nasty and has not worked.”

Many of those who come here have skills that would contribute to our society – and are keen to do so. One placard pointed out that there are over 1100 medically qualified refugees on the BMA database. Others emphasized the considerable contribution made by famous refugees, both historical, such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and more recent refugees including Rashmi Thakrar, the founder of Tilda Rice, the first company to bring Basmati rice to the West, who arrived in Britain in 1972 when Idi Amin expelled Ugandan Asians.

Allowing refugees to work would also reduce dependence on public funds and avoid the degrading hardship faced by those who are forced to depend on charity and handouts. It makes sense in every respect, but to do so might leave Labour exposed to attacks from the ultra-right. Labour are running scared of the BNP.

Stopping locking up asylum seekers and would-be migrants in immigration detention centres when they have committed no crime would save considerable public expenditure and avoid the current denial of justice when many of them are unable to have access to advice and legal support. The detention centres – run by private companies to maximise profits at the expense of the detainees – have been repeatedly condemned for their mistreatment of those in their care.

Our treatment of refugees is a disgrace, and New Labour’s record in this area is sickening. There really is something gravely wrong with the priorities of British media (and perhaps the British people) when so little is made of this and other major issues and so much of the relatively minor expenses fiddles by our politicians.

More pictures on My London Diary.