Archive for June, 2009

Zombies Dismember Gordon Brown

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Thursday I was splashed down the back with Gordon Brown’s blood. It was a clean shirt, and a new one or else I wouldn’t have minded. It’s soaking in cold water now and I just hope it will all rinse out.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

Brown himself was in a sorry state. I’d watched his head torn off and his limbs dismembered, and now the zombies were trying to eat the revolting bloody mess from inside his torso. The dummy (it is really was a dummy, not just a figure of speech about our revered leader) was in pretty poor shape, rather like New Labour, outside whose HQ on Victoria Street we were. Even the best efforts of the zombies to bring him back to life were fruitless.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

At the megaphone, Professor Chris Knight was calling for New Labour to go, and for a new Labour Party to return to socialist values, starting with the re-adoption of Clause 4:

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

Around Knight’s neck was a placard with a simple solution for a current problem: “No Redundancies – we’ll nationalize the Lot!

Membership cards for the real The Labour Party were handed out, signed by the new General Secretary, Chris Knight, who led the small assembled crowd in ‘The Red Flag’, and unlike most party conference delegates he actually knew the words.

The meeting was then addressed the Political Commissar for Zombie Wrangling of the Government of the Dead, one V I Lenin, who carried a poster misquoting himself from 1918, “I want to support the ‘New’ Labour Party in the same way as the rope supports the hanged man“, complete with a small gibbet and hanging skeleton.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

A police community support officer had come and talked to the demonstrators and had moved away after declining to join the party and asking them not to stay for more than half an hour and to tidy up after them. The New Labour offices are in the area where permission is required for demonstrations, but this piece of street theatre probably qualified as a ‘media event’, for which apparently permission is not needed. It’s a fine distinction, but one that saves considerable police time.

The event was also watched by a couple of rather low-key security men from the New Labour offices, one taking photos. The only slight unpleasantness was when a man going into the offices barged angrily through the people standing around watching, and then came back to threaten one of the photographers who had protested at his rudeness. He withdrew when a number of people – including the security men – came up to him and quickly guided him inside. From his attitude I thought he might be from the No 10 Press Office, but his language was insufficiently colourful.

More pictures on My London Diary

1200 Naked Cyclists

Friday, June 19th, 2009

The World Naked Bike Ride is in several ways an interesting event, and certainly causes quite a stir as it goes through London, Passing as it does through major tourist traps including Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Oxford St, guarantees it a huge audience, and almost all of those seem to be holding cameras and camera phones.

Most of those taking part also seem to be taking photos – often even when cycling around, which can be rather tricky, but certainly at the numerous pauses on the 10km route. There’s even a Flickr pool for images, with around 700 online when I looked, mainly taken by riders.

The World Naked Bike Ride is a high profile public event in a very public place – and nobody can have any expectation of privacy.  Everyone taking part knows they will be photographed and most seem pretty happy about it.  Many smiled and waved as I took their pictures (including some who know me, but many more who don’t) and a few quite clearly tried to attract my attention.

– – –

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the whole ride was the notice that one cyclist chose to carry on his bicycle:

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

It reads:’This photo was taken without permission.’ Well of course, as no permission was needed  – either to take it or to publish it as news, nor was it feasible to ask for permission at the time.  And so far as the law is concerned, as I mentioned recently,  wityh regard to the European Convention on Human Rights, “It is no surprise that the mere taking of someone’s photograph in a public street has been consistently held to be no interference with privacy.

What is even more ridiculous is that the gentleman in the picture – actually a crop of around 1/8 of the full image – is actually apparently taking pictures himself, in circumstances where it would clearly be impossible for him to have the permission of all those who are in his pictures.

– – –

It’s perhaps a pity the the WNBR seems overall a little  confused as to what it is about, and certainly those watching find it hard to understand. I’ve written in earlier years that it it would be better to have more clarity, and in particular to make it much more clearly an environmental rather than a naturist event.  It would be good to see everyone taking part carrying a relevant message on their bike or person.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

And yet again I have to ask why can’t Nikon make a decent lens hood, with a bayonet fitting that isn’t easily knocked out of place?  I didn’t take many pictures before I noticed, but one is too many. I’ve just bought another Sigma lens, the new 24-70 mm f2.8, for use with the full-frame D700, and the lens hood – like that on other Sigma lenses – is so much firmer and more firmly fixed. Most days when I’m out using the Nikon 18-200 I’ll have to pick it up at least once from the ground after it’s been knocked off the lens.

More on the new Sigma 24-70 mm f2.8, when I’ve used it in anger a few times. But it certainly impresses in feeling solid and well built. As you might expect it isn’t a light lens, but shorter and lighter than the major competition (not that I could use the Canon in any case.)

Canon  83.2mm x 123.5mm, 950g
Nikon 83 x 133 mm, 900g
Sigma 88.6mm X 94.7mm, 790g

Most modern lenses can of course perform at the highest level, giving results that will satisfy practical photographic needs. Mostly any differences only become noticeable when photographing test charts!

More pictures from the World Naked Bike Ride in London on My London Diary, where there is the obvious warning – don’t click on the link if pictures of naked men and women might offend you.

Speak Out!

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Some events are important but don’t really offer a great deal for the photographer to work with. On Saturday lunchtime at the Angel in Islington I went to a demonstration against the shameful way that we treat people who want to come and live in this country and to contribute to our economy. Some come seeking asylum, some for other reasons, but whatever restrictions we have on immigration, we should treat people fairly and humanely. At the moment it is only too clear that we do not.

We have policies that stop people from working but fail to provide proper support. That imprison people who have committed no crime (and set up special prisons for the purpose, run for profit by companies that are apparently without morals.) We have a Borders Agency that seems to take delight in operating procedures that deny people proper legal representation and  that appears to be institutionally racist. A government that seems determined to outflank the racists on the right hand side in an attempt to gain electoral advantage.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The people in the background of this picture are from the Suarez family.  One of their young members who grew up in this country – where all his family now live – faces deportation because of a juvenile offence.  He’s one of the successes of our system in that since then he hasn’t been in trouble again. But a few years later he is threatened with deportation to a country he left when he was six and has no family. His case has gone to the European Court of Human Rights, but our immigration officers don’t care about that – they tried to deport him without waiting for the legal process to take its course.  He’s still here only because all his family turned up at Heathrow to protest when they tried to put him on a plane.  They will probably try again and hope they can get away with it without the family noticing.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

But it was Christina who made me thing and feel most at the event. Nineteen years old, her husband is in Campsfield Detention Centre awaiting deportation, breaking up their young family. She had never spoken in public before, and broke down in tears. It was hard to keep on photographing, but I felt I had to, to do what little I could for her case – and to put the pictures and her story on news sites as soon as possible.

More about the event, the cases and more pictures on My London Diary.

Carshalton Carnival Procession

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Last Saturday I went to St Helier in south London, at the centre of what was one of the largest council estates in London, to photograph the start of the Carshalton Carnival procession. It’s theme was “planets and stars” as 2009 is the UN International Year of Astronomy.

There’s something I rather like about this picture with its contrast between the high-tech space image and the very prosaic row of houses in the background.  As well as the caption in the background, not all visible, but is seems to say London Rescue Team.  The vehicle behind is of course a green goddess.

But my main interest was that three May Queen groups were taking part in the procession. Two came as May Queens and the third were dressed as aliens in keeping with the theme.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
On the Wallington May Queen float

But I’m not quite sure how pictures like this will contribute to my continuing project on May Queens, but its all a part of trying to build up a wider picture.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
The Beddington May Queen float

But there were others that more obviously fit into the project.

Of course there were other groups taking part, and you can see more of the pictures from the event as usual on My London Diary.

Capa Again

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Do we care if that picture of a falling soldier really does or doesn’t show the actual moment when a Republican fighter died for his cause?  Whether it was taken during actual fighting, or during a training exercise, or when a soldier acting out an attack for the camera got into the sight of a distant sniper? What does seem clear if you look at the surviving images by Capa is that neither Phillip Knightly or Richard Whelan (link above)  provided a believable solution to the enigma (see in particular comments #7 and #10 on the piece.)

The story seems to be one that will never come to an end – and you can read about the latest instalment in a feature, Wrong place, wrong man? Fresh doubts on Capa’s famed war photo, published in the Observer last Sunday. There is an audio slide show which takes a look at some of the evidence. Although I’d need to see rather  more before making any judgement; in particular it’s a shame that the José Manuel Susperregui, whose book Sombras de la Fotografía gives the evidence, apparently didn’t take a rather better photograph, preferably in black and white and with suitable lighting, than the one shown.

Capa’s picture was I think captioned and published in his absence by Vu magazine in September 1936, and it may well have come as rather a shock to him when he first saw it on the magazine page, although the caption there was almost certainly deliberately vague, and it was Life the following year who made it into the legend of the Falling Soldier. He was – as his writings show  – a great story-teller, and whatever the real story behind this image it would have been very hard to resist that provided in first publication.

Photojournalism is very much about telling stories, about giving our view of events, of finding ways to express what we feel about what we see; CCTV seldom provides great news images.  The power and fascination of our medium is very much tied up in the relationship between reality and the image and also between our experience and how we relate it in images. Susan Sontag, quoted at the end of the audio clip, really oversimplifies to the point of irrelevance. (But that’s ‘On Photography‘ for you.)

But images, particularly ones as iconic as ‘Falling Soldier’ have their own lives.  Although when made it was news, it soon became something else, a symbol, detached from the actual events (whatever they were) of its creation.

So while it was of vital import at the time the picture was made – and the public was almost certainly mislead at least to some extent – it is now frankly of academic interest.  And of course this is a book by an academic, if one that seems rather more  interesting than most such productions.

Olympus Pen?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

I don’t often write about cameras and stuff, but the Olympus EP1 finally anounced at a press launch in Berlin does on the face of it look as if it may be something special. Not least because with the 17mm lens (34mm equiv)  and external viewfinder it can double as a reasonably portable and very capable compact camera for those times when you want to travel light. The body is about 120.5 x 70 x 35 mm (plus some protrusions) and weighs only 335g and the pancake 17mm f2.8 only 22mm long and 71g, with the VF-1 viewfinder adding 20g. A total weight of less than half the body only for my D700. If you want a flash the FL-14 is 84g with the 2AAAs adding a little more.

Unlike the other current Micro Four Thirds offering, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1, the E-P1 doesn’t have a viewfinder, enabling it to be considerably more compact. This still rules it out for some kinds of photography, and I certainly won’t be abandoning my Nikons for a while.

The first thing I did on reading more about the EP-1 on Digital Photography Review was to go to their hands on preview but I found a more useful set of sample images on the Photography Blog which were taken with an actual production camera and I could  to download a full-size sample file taken at ISO 1600. The 12.3 MP jpeg made with the 14-42mm lens on a production camera was a 5.8Mb file. It’s not perfect but very adequate, and doubtless the results from a RAW image would be better.

A perhaps small added advantage for me is that almost any lens can be fitted to the micro four Thirds system camera using suitable adaptors. Olympus supply one to fit all my old OM series lenses, one or two of which might be useful with the body, and perhaps more usefully, any Leica M fitting lens can also be used. Apparently the results with some modern Leica lenses on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 are exceptional.

Frankly I don’t much like the EP-1’s “stylish design” with a deliberately retro glance to the old Olympus Pen. At the bottom of the first page of the DPR feature is a pair of pictures comparing it with the Panasonic Lumix L3, which to my eyes looks so much better. Perhaps in time an all-black version will evolve (as well as the black and silver version there is an even more hideous light taupe and white body.) And as on almost every other camera there are now the built in “art filters” to really f**k up your pictures and gain Flickr kudos.

I’m probably not going to rush out and buy one as soon as they come into the shops in July, but suspect I may not long be able to resist. It isn’t a cheap camera and the 17mm with VF-1 costs rather more than the zoom. It will also be interesting to hear how well the body works with other lenses, and perhaps in particular with a wider zoom than the 14-42mm.

Your Best Shot

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Thanks to Jim Casper of Lensculture for pointing me (via Twitter)  towards the Guardian Series My Best Shot, which I hadn’t looked at since November.  It’s a series that is interesting for both the selection of image and also what the photographers have to say about them – and sometimes that’s very little.  And among some splendid work there are also some that make me think “well if that’s your best I’d hate to see the worst” and others where I think “you CANNOT be serious!” and think of many many more they have taken that are so much better.

But then if anyone asked me what my best picture was, I’d probably be stuck for an answer.  And whatever I said this week, probably by next week I would have changed my mind.  And I rather hope I still have my best picture to look forward to.

Of course some of those selections are little more than a marketing exercise for the photographer’s next book or show and I very seriously doubt if the photographer felt they were their “best shot.” And perhaps such a thing doesn’t really exist in any case, though their have been a few photographers perhaps unfortunate enough to be known only for one single image – though sometimes so iconic that it must be in its way satisfying.

But mostly the pictures chosen – even if sometimes rather randomly are interesting, and so are some of the stories and the details the photographers give about themselves. So if like me, you’d forgotten about it, why not take a look. And if you come across something there you think is ridiculous – or particularly interesting –  do share it with others in a comment.

Street Photography, Iran Style

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Although I’m rather a fan of Paolo Pellegrin and have previously written about his work several times, perhaps the most interesting thing about his latest set of street portraits ‘The Changing Face of Iran‘ is that it exists at all.

The pictures and accompanying text perhaps say more about the problems of working in the country as a foreigner than anything else: “Accompanied by an official ‘minder’ from the ministry of information and armed with a government permit to take street photos, Pellegrin approached mullahs, shopkeepers, beggars and young hip-hop kids, and most readily agreed to be photographed.”

I don’t find the resulting pictures of much interest, and I hope that Pellegrin found other things to photograph in Iran as well.  But it must be difficult to take pictures there. His Magnum colleague Thomas Dworzak, another photographer whose work I admire, visited in November and with a few exceptions his work on this occasion also fails to inspire me.

Today’s election there reminds us that these are interesting times in Iran, but I have a suspicion that the more interesting pictures may not emerge for some years – and will have been taken by Iranian photographers we have never before heard of, rather than visiting firemen.

The Knowledge

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

One of the best pieces ever about being a press photographer in London (though with suitable adjustments it surely could apply anywhere.)

The alternative London “Knowledge” v1.0  by Leon Neal who works for AFP.

All just too true. And why there are certain photographic jobs I just won’t do. Which is why I’m so poor. But relatively sane.

Whither or Wither Street Photography?

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

The recent case of Wood v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis is discussed in an article by solicitor Nigel Hanson of Foot Anstey solicitors that I think makes interesting reading for photographers.

Essentially the court decided that the use of photography by the police to harass people involved in demonstrations – something I’ve written about on many occasions in the past few years- was a contravention of the right to privacy under Art. 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

But perhaps importantly for street photographers,

Lord Justice Laws said it was clear individuals still have no right to prevent another person politely merely taking their photograph in public.

He said: “It is no surprise that the mere taking of someone’s photograph in a public street has been consistently held to be no interference with privacy. The snapping of the shutter of itself breaches no rights, unless something more is added. Accordingly I conclude that the bare act of taking the pictures, by whoever done, is not of itself capable of engaging Article 8(1) unless there are aggravating circumstances.”

So it would appear that we can go on taking pictures – so long as we do so in a discrete manner, although this does not necessarily mean that we are free to either retain them or publish them.

The police lost the case in part becuase the way that they took pictures was intrusive – I’ve long argued it more to be more a deliberate harrassment than any attempt at providing evidence – but also because they were unable to convince the court of any real public interest to justify their action.

But the judgement seems to imply that if you work – like Cartier-Bresson – in a candid fashion, the ECHR would not affect you, but possibly walking right up to your subjects and blasting them with flash would clearly be an intrusion, as would a persistent following of people or workiing with a pack of photographers.

This all seems pretty sensible to me. Long ago I decided that most people would rather be photographed without their knowledge than have strangers approach them and ask if they can take photographs. There are times when I do both of these things, but  generally working without permission is more likely to produce interesting pictures. I always agree if strangers ask if they may photograph me (it seems only fair as I’m a photographer), but frankly I’m happier if they just get on and do it without asking me – so long as they don’t disturb me too much. Probably I’m rather more likely to notice if they do so, but like most of the public I prefer to ignore it.

But what the judgement also made clear (if I interpret Mr Hanson correctly) was that to retain and publish pictures taken without permission there has to be a valid argument that it is in the public interest.

I’m not quite sure what this might mean legally, but I have my own views on what the moral position is, at least so far as my own work is concerned.

The first question I always ask is to try and put myself in the position of the persons in my picture – would I find the way that I have portrayed them objectionable? It’s too easy to catch moments when people look ridiculous or show something they would not want to show.

Secondly, and more difficult,  does the picture have something worth saying about who we are and how we live – the human condition. This perhaps sounds more pretentious than I mean it to be, but what I’m not interested in are pictures that simply show how clever the photographer is (something I find only too common in much street photography),  and what I hope to produce are pictures that have something to say about life. I think that this is something that we can clearly see, for example, in at least most of the pictures of Cartier-Bresson, and something that a court might also be persuaded was in the public interest.

I hope I’m not being too optimistic, but despite the fact that the judgement found that the particular photography being carried out was outside the law, it seems to me that as photographers we can take something positive from it.