Archive for November, 2009

Photovintage and Voyage Imaginaire

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Were I in Paris at the weekend I would go along to the Hotel Millennium Paris Opera on Boulevard Haussman on Sunday for the Salon de la Photovintage organised by the AnamorFose Gallery from Belgium. AnamorFose was founded by Xavier Debeerst in 1997 as a virtual Photogallery specialising in vintage and historical photography.

The gallery centres around Belgian photography and also pictorialism, but also included the work of modernist photographers such as Willy Kessels as well as contemporary work. Perhaps the best way to get a view of its character is to look at the catalogue, a 32 page PDF file.

Apparently the organisers of Paris Photo didn’t like the orginal name of this event, Paris Photovintage, and asked for it to be changed. But it is really all the events like this around the city that make a trip to Paris worthwhile.

Tonight I’m also missing several gallery openings, including  “Voyage Imaginaire” at the Galerie Claire Corcia, with contemporary photography by Francesco Gattoni, Mathilde Maccario, Louise Narbo and Carolle Benitah. Last year I was impressed by Narbo’s work at the same gallery and wrote briefly on it. And from there, perhaps by another opening or two, I would have made my way to the best of the various parties going on in Paris.

But unfortunately my voyage too is only in my imagination, though I’ve been scanning pictures of Paris all day and editing them.

Lightroom – a New (Un)Twist

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Although I use Adobe Lightroom for all my pictures and have on several occasions recommended it as doing 99% of what photographers need, there are some aspects of  it I’ve not found useful as well as pretty essential features I think are missing.

So I was very interested to read a blog post by Thomas Foster, Untwisted Adobe Camera Profiles. Foster is a recent convert to Lightroom from Aperture making the change for its better workflow with “Global presets (presets for just about everything for that matter), better selective editing (more like Capture NX2), better interaction with Photoshop, the ability to use Photoshop droplets in presets, and most of all Adobe Camera Profiles.”

However, like me,  he finds the results of the ‘Recovery’ slider disappointing. I’ve learnt to keep or return it to zero as a first stage in my development of any imag, as it has a flattening effect on the image highlights I find disappointing. Following that I use the selective editing tool to tone down just the out of range highlight areas, either by a simple ‘exposure’  painting – using a value of perhaps -20 and sometimes painting several times, or by using my special “highlight removal” preset  (Exposure -40, Brightness +20 or similar.)

Foster read an article by Chromasoft, Hue Twists in DNG Camera Profiles, which looks at the deliberate “twisting” in Adobe profiles that gives a slight shift in  tint with different intensities. The result of this is normally a more natural look, but it is one of the effects which can make the ‘Recovery’ tool give odd results.

Foster provides a link to a file containing “untwisted” profiles which will avoid this and gives instructions for installing these for the cameras that you use so they will be avaiilable in both Photshop and Lightroom. It’s simple, takes only a few minutes, and leaves the standard Adobe profiles intact. Once you have the untwisted profiles in place and have restarted Lightroom, you can then select the untwisted profiles when working with images by going to ‘Camera Calibration’ in the Develop module and selecting one of the “untwisted’ profiles.

I tired this out with the beta version of Lightroom 3, using some files with fairly challenging highlights, and it did make it much easier to deal with them, and I couldn’t see any problems caused either by the new profiles, though they do have a slightly unwelcome flattening on the lighter tones so  it’s still better where possible to use the standard profiles. These are however a very useful method when you need them.

Paris 1973

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

This morning I would have been going up to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris for the photo show, but as I mentioned in my earlier post Paris Photo 2009, I’ve decided not to go.

So instead, I’m standing at my computer with an espresso and a croissant, mentally supplying the smell of stale smoke from Gauloises and the noisy traffic in the street outside and dreaming of the city. In my dream I’m in a very particular cafe, just a few minutes walk from the Rue de Rivoli where Paris Photo is held, and later in the day I’ll stroll through the passage across the street and into the Jardin du Palais Royal and down through there, out by the Theatre and across the square, untidy with traffic to wait at the crossing before descending the escalator into the basement depths of the Carrousel du Louvre and Paris Photo.

As in previous years it will be a fantastic show, and I’m sorry to be missing it, though I do find the venue a little difficult. I don’t think “I didn’t know I was agoraphobic until I went to Paris Photo” would be a good advertising slogan but it happens to be true so far as I’m concerned, and on my first visit I found myself rushing in panic for fresh air after a couple of hours in the depths.

So rather than go to Paris (and I will go again next year for the Mois de la Photo and Paris Photo if not before) I’ve decided to bring a little Paris into my life here and on the web.

© Peter Marshall 1974
Flea market, Paris, 1973

I don’t think I’ve written before here about my first published portfolio. In fact it only came back to me yesterday evening when I started thinking about this series of posts. Although I’d had an interest in photography from an early age (doubtless aided by the occasional image of scantily dressed young ladies that appeared in the Amateur Photographer which I devoured religiously every week at the local library as a teenager) and actually owned a real camera (a story for another time) since I was around 14, I only took up photography practically at the age of 25.

Paris at the start didn’t actually help in this, as on my first visit there in 1966 I dropped my camera – a Halina 35x – into the lake at Versailles as I was getting into a boat with my girl friend – and it was only recovered after quite a few minutes sitting on the bottom of that murky water. It never quite recovered despite careful cleaning, and the shutter gave random timings regardless of its setting but generally slower than 1/30s thanks to the rust on the shutter blades.

I visited Paris again in the summer of 1973 (by which time that girl friend was my wife) and we stayed an attic room in a huge mansion in the centre of Paris that was now a student hostel. We were broke, and walked the streets all day living on baguettes slit in half with a strip of dark chocolate or cheap cheese in the middle and cheap wine eaten in small squares as we followed the Guide Michelin walks around the grand and not so grand areas of Paris. In those days the walks in the guides were more detailed, and they were at least twice as long and twice as many as in modern editions.

© Peter Marshall 1974

Occasionally we treated ourselves to a plat du jour in the kind of cafe where French workmen eat and on rare occasions to one of the cheap tourist fixed price menus, but mainly we lived on bread, and eating as much as we could of it at the hostel breakfasts with jam and honey.

At night we staggered up four or five flights of the grandest staircase you can imagine (though rather less grand by the time you got to the top where our room was) and collapsed onto a bed lit by the dimmest imaginable of electric bulbs – more a nightlight than anything you could see by.

Memories are dim too, but it was one of our most enjoyable of holidays, and also for me the first time when I really got down to some serious photography; over the two weeks or so we were there I took around 20 films, probably more than I had taken altogether in the previous six months.

Fortunately by then I’d finally given up on the Halina 35x (a solid Hong Kong made viewfinder 35mm camera with a decent 45mm lens which sold for £7 13s. 3d in 1959 – but definitely not waterproof!)

© Peter Marshall 1974

I carried two cameras around Paris, one the tank-like Zenith B, an M42 Russian made screw-mount SLR with a 55mm f2 standard lens and my first telephoto, I think the surprisingly small Russian Jupiter-9 f2 85mm (like most Russian lenses, derived from “liberated” Zeiss designs.) It was a camera where everything was manual, and using it was hard labour. The Zenit had a lousy viewfinder for an SLR, dim and hard to focus, and winding on often required suprising force – and it was easy to accidentally rip a film from the cassette trying to wind on to frame 39.

As a contrast, also hanging around my neck was an Olympus SP, arguably one of the best fixed-lens rangefinders every, with automatic exposure, spot or centre-weighted metering and a fine 42mm f1.7 lens. YOu could also use the metering for manual exposure. Perhaps the only better camera of a similar type I’ve used is the Minolta CLE – one the best of the Leica M range – which is almost the same size.

© Peter Marshall 1974

After coming home I sent a dozen or so prints mainly from Paris to a photographic magazine. A few months later, picking up a copy at W H Smith’s I was delighted to find several of the pictures I sent reproduced with a short text as a portfoliom for which I received £25. This was my first real publication.

I’ve spent today adding around 25 pictures to the set from Paris in 1973 that were already on my smallest web site,  peter-marshall.com. Later, probably tomorrow, I’ll put up some of the colour work I did in the city in the early 1980s.

New Colour on the Lea

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

For various reasons I’ve been unable to get out and take pictures this month.  First there was the swine flu which put me out for a week, and I’m still not 100% fit – the flu has long gone but I’ve still a bit of a chest infection which gets me coughing whenever I exert myself, and sometimes even if I don’t.

Then there’s been the weather; unless there is something really important – or someone is paying me – I’m not normally going to photograph in the raging gales and pouring rain we had on Saturday. Perhaps I should get a waterproof camera and put up with it.

But the weather didn’t just put me off, it also closed the railway line that I rely on to get to London, the flooding rendering a bridge unsafe.  Three days later it’s still closed to traffic and we’re hoping it will reopen by the weekend. Meanwhile, there’s a bus link and an extra 45 minutes or so on what is normally a 30 minute journey.  Instead of a little over an hour spent travelling in both directions its now more like three.

And of course, being November it now gets dark so early. Unless I pay higher fares to travel early there is really little time to work if I come up and want to photograph by daylight. Of course I should be taking advantage of the fact that I can now take night photographs and still get home in time for a good dinner, and perhaps when I feel a bit better I will. But for the moment I’m mainly staying in and getting on with various things  around the house. Sunday I gave the eucalyptus tree its annual trim and Monday I cut down most of the creeping plant that covers much of the front of the house.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
River Thames view towards Bow Creek and Trinity Buoy Wharf

But I’ve also found time to get on with scanning the slides from the River Lea in the 1980s I found the other day. The Epson V750 really does do a very good job of 35mm, hard to tell the results from those with my dedicated film scanner, a Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro, probably (especially when used with the Scanhancer diffuser) the best non-drum film scanner ever produced.

© 2009 Peter Marshall
Another from the River Thames and not the Lea

Unlike Minolta (now out of business), Epson are still bringing out software updates for this scanner, and had I downloaded and installed the latest version at the start it would have saved me some time, as it turns out to be more reliable on my system than the older version I had installed.

Epson also supply a set of ICC profiles for use with the scanner (for transparencies, mono transparences and reflective material) and with correctly exposed slides – Agfa, Kodachrome and E6 – this generally gives excellent results. The Epson software also lets you adjust the exposure3 – black, white and mid points precisely, though it is just a little fiddly as it shows you the histogram of the original rather than the result, and you have to make an adjustment then click to see its effect.

Using the scanner with the film holder which holds 12 mounted slides, the software automatically detects and crops the image areas (it is sometimes fooled by some very dense slides), allowing you to set the exposure individually for each of them then click the scan button and forget about it until all 12 have been scanned. Scan times are pretty short, but of course depend on resolution and on whether you choose to use the various software corrections such as Color Restoration, Backlight Correction, Dust Removal and Digital Ice.

I’ve tested most of these things and so now normally leave them all switched off. They must have their uses (other than for marketing) but I’ve failed to find them. I scan 35mm colour transparencies at either 2400dpi or 4800dpi  if I’m feeling serious, and in 48 bit colour, using the scanning software in standalone mode.

At 4800dpi the scans are rather large – around 150Mb – and handle a little slow on my ageing computer.  2400 dpi gives  files at roughly 3000 x 2000 pixels, good enough for prints up to around A4 in size or even a little larger. 4800 dpi gives files around  6000 x4000 pixels, and there is little point in any higher resolution as the files essentially contain all the detail that there is in the slide.It is also the highest actual optical resolution of the scanner.

Using the software in standalone mode means I can continue to work in Photoshop while the scan is taking place.  All slide scans benefit from some dust removal, however careful you are – unless perhaps you actually work in a ‘clean room’, but I’ve only ever found one effective piece of software to do this. Polaroid some years ago made their ‘Dust & Scratches‘ filter for Photoshop – and other apps that use Photoshop plugins – available free of charge (it also runs as a standalone program if you don’t have Photoshop.) At settings similar to those shown below it removes most small dust spots and loses very little if any detail; at higher levels of some sliders you can get some nasty artefacts produced, so it has to be used with a little care.

Since Polaroid had its problems, this software has disappeared from the Polaroid site, but you can still find it on the web, though perhaps you shouldn’t tell too many people, just rush off and download it before it disappears.  Of course it may not work on Windows 7 or recent Mac versions, but its fine on Windows XP.

After applying this, I then take a quick look at the histogram using the Levels dialogue (Ctrl-L) and adjust those if necessary, as well as setting the mid tones to an appropriate value. Most scans need nothing doing at this point. If I’m still not satisfied by the contrast and the colour balance I then go on the the Curves dialogue (Ctrl-M) and use the middle eye-dropper from there to select a suitable neutral in the image, after that making any adjustments needed to the curve to get the contrast and brightness I want.

Large scans I tend to save at this point and write to CD later in case I want to work on them at a later date without the time involved in re-scanning. Then I cut down the image from 16 bit per channel to 8 bit so I can save as a jpeg on my hard disk (usually at quality 11) to give a master file from which I can print, make web size jpegs etc.

Working at 2400 dpi, I can process the scans as above in a couple of minutes, more or less at the same speed as the scanner works. That way I can probably do decent quality scans from around 20-30 slides an hour. Working at 4800 dpi slows things down to perhaps a quarter of this rate, but is still significantly faster than the Minolta slide scanner, where two high res images an hour is a good rate.

Having produced around 150 images, there was then the problem of putting them all on line. Rather than hand-crafting web pages I decided to use a Lightroom HTML web gallery. This produced the structure of the new site pages in a matter of seconds, but I wasn’t happy with the quality of the images. Fortunately it was a simple matter to copy better files to replace them – making sure of course they were the correct size in pixels. Possibly I could have got Lightroom to produce better files by altering some of the parameters, but it was easier to use those I had. I do normally use Lightroom to produce my images for the web after all.


Possibly on Stratford Marsh…?

There are pictures in these sets that I would normally have edited out (and one I left out by mistake) but with historical archive material some of the finer points of photography are perhaps less important than the subject matter.

© 2009 Peter Marshall
Two blue rectangles, two red buckets – but where?

I haven’t captioned these images either, which at least solved one problem, which is that as well as not having a proper filing system, at the time I was not particularly interested in knowing the exact locations of the colour pictures I was taking.  Of course it is vital to their value as historical record, and while I do know most of the locations there are a few – such as the couple above –  that are annoyingly hard to place.

The two galleries are linked into the rest of my Lea Valley – River Lea site – at the bottom of the page. Clicking on my name on any of the display pages takes you back to the home page for the site.

Hard Times On-Line

Monday, November 16th, 2009

One of the oldest and most respected of on-line photography magazines looks likely to halt publication – at least temporarily – following a decision by Canon to end its sponsorship.

I’ve often admired ‘The Digital Journalist‘ for its great features on photojournalism, linking to a number of them over the years.  Its editor, Dirck Halstead, had become Life magazine’s youngest war photographer during the Guatemalan Civil war when he was only 17. After that he went to college and then worked for UPI for 15 years and was in charge of their picture bureau in Saigon during the Vietnam War. From 1972 he covered the White House for Time for 29 years, making 47 Life covers, as well as working on many films. You can see over a thousand of his pictures in his on-line archive.

With this background, Halstead was able to make his site an authoritative one, getting pictures and features by some of the best photojournalists in the 145 issues produced over 12 years to date. He headed up a strong team on the magazine, including Horst Faas as Europe Editor and Marianne Fulton as Dispatches Editor. Contributing editors include many more fine photojournalists, and then there are around a dozen contributing columnists and photographers – you  can read the full and impressive list on the magazine’s credits page.

All this of course needs substantial funding, and this comes through sponsorship and advertising. Canon was the magazine’s principal sponsor and in a letter in the November issue Dirck Halstead writes:

“Unfortunately, our principal sponsor, Canon, whose market has also been impacted by these turbulent times, has decided they can no longer afford to provide their financial backing to The Digital Journalist. We are very grateful for the generous support they have given us over the years. “

Halstead’s letter starts with the grave news “I am afraid that the December issue of The Digital Journalist may be our final issue, at least for a while” and the magazine now has PayPal links asking readers to donate funds for the future of the magazine. It came as a surprise to me that, according to Halstead, the site only has “more than 10,000” loyal readers, though I’m not sure exactly what that number means. I hope they do come up with the money to keep going, as well as to carry out the kind of funding they had been hoping to actually “send photographers out into the world to do their work, documenting the important stories that shape our lives and history.”

>Re:PHOTO of course operates on a very different budget. Like zero, or rather a small negative amount that comes from my pocket to pay for the web hosting. And a great deal of unpaid work by me. It’s a part of what I somewhat laughably call my business (it was only just in profit last year, though earlier years have been better) and it promotes my own photography as well as commenting on issues which I hope are of interest to you guys who are reading this.

Somewhere on >Re:PHOTO  it says I welcome contributions of material to be published here that fit within the general idea of the site. I’ve been very pleased to publish a few pieces – mainly exhibition reviews – by John Benton-Harris, whose work I admire. Contributions are welcome from others too, so if there’s an issue in photography you’re burning to write about do get in touch – but the rate is exactly what I get – zero.

I’m pleased to say that this site too has its loyal readers – and from time to time I meet some of them when I’m out taking pictures. It certainly it gets a pretty healthy number of page views – around 2,800 per day on average at the moment, and rising. But hardly I think in the same league as The Digital Journalist.

I do hope The Digital Journalist manages to keep going, though I think it likely it will need to very much tighten its belt. A tighter financial climate and the shake-up that is causing may even improve it. Although it does deal with the changes and developments in the industry, it often seems very much stuck in an earlier age, and just occasionally strikes me as being written for retired photographers by retired photographers.

Lea Valley in the 80s

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Clearing out accumulated junk from the loft on Friday I came across several box files containing mounted transparencies from the distant past when I used to shoot on colour transparency.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Bow Creek

Way back it was the only colour generally accepted for publication, and although very little of my work actually got published, like all photographers with aspirations of seeing their colour work in print I shot colour transparency. The boxes were a mixture of Kodachrome, Agfa and various E6 emulsions. In those days I was extremely short of cash, and worked quite a lot of the time from bulk film, loading 36 exposure cassettes of both black and white and colour transparency film from 100 ft rolls using a bulk loader.

Most of the E6 I saved even more money by processing myself. There were various processing kits on the market, differing in their ease of use and in the colour and quality of the results they produced. And you did need to maintain a fairly accurate temperature at least in the first development. Although I did have some failures, it perhaps surprising that much of what I processed came out well. (The first few films I processed in the 1970s were E4, but when E6 was introduced in 1975-7 both films and processing were considerably better.)

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Lee Navigation

What in particular caught my attention in the box files were half a dozen boxes labelled ‘R Lee’ and dated from 1982-3. The River Lee, for many years London’s forgotten river, has now become a fairly hot property as the main Olympic site straddles its various streams between Stratford and Hackney Wick.

Back in 1982-3, I hadn’t really worked out any proper filing and storage system for slides – and its a problem I only really solved by stopping shooting – at least for myself – on transparency film around 1985. I changed to using colour neg largely because of its greater latitude; shooting mainly in daylight, transparency gave dark empty shadows as soon as the sun came out, and I didn’t like the effect. But I was also influenced by seeing the work of other photographers who had discovered the benefits of colour negative, in particular it seemed possible to produce more natural and more subtle colour.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Lea Navigation

There were good systems for slide storage, but one thing they had in common was expense, and I was generally skint. Since I often used slides in slide shows at this time, all of my slides were mounted in slide mounts. The absolute failures were binned, those I might use immediately went into a slide album. The rest went back into boxes and eventually inside larger boxes into the loft.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Lee Navigation

Dark and relatively dust-free storage means most of them are still in decent condition, and I’ve now spent around 20 hours looking through them and scanning those of more interest to me.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Bow Back Rivers

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that many are variants on slides already in one of my few albums, though sometimes they are in better condition. A few really add to my record of the area at the time, but most reflect my absorption at the time with colour and form.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Stratford Marsh

Dating and pinpointing the locations on them is difficult – with little or nothing to go on expect possibly a month and year scrawled on the mount or on the box. Quite a few I recognise, and yet others I will be able to place from the contact sheets of my black and white work, generally rather more carefully marked up.

Kodachrome did at least come back in card mounts with a frame number on them, which can be useful, but unfortunately I didn’t add a film reference number or date.

I also curse the fact that I took so few pictures. Some days I perhaps walked ten miles around the area and only made a dozen exposures. Surely there was far more of interest.

Of course I was mainly photographing in black and white at the time, and you can see some of the pictures I took on my River Lea – Lea Valley web site, where there are already around 20 of my old colour pictures.  Looking at those I’m reminded of how tricky it is to get the colour correct from slides compared to digital – I hope some of the new scans are better. If I can find the slides I made the existing pictures from I’l try to do some new and better scans too.

Consequences by NOOR

Friday, November 13th, 2009

NOOR is an Amsterdam-based agency of nine documentary photographers which aims to “contribute to a growing understanding of the world by producing independent in-depth visual reports.”  As well as encouraging and promoting the individual work of the photographers, “collective projects are at the core of Noor.”

You can see a little of one of these, Consequences by NOOR on-line at the moment, a slightly confusing blog on which more material will be posted later. The exhibition, which opens at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, December 7 – 18, 2009, looks at some of the crunch points of climate change around the world: “subjects include: a massive pine beetle kill in British Columbia, genocide in Darfur, the rising sea level in the Maldives, Nenet reindeer herders in Siberia, Inuit hunters in Greenland, a looming crisis in Kolkata, India, coal mining in Poland, oil sand extraction in Canada and the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest by Brazilian cattle ranchers.”

At the moment there is a single photograph and some text about each of the nine photographers, Francesco Zizola, Jan Grarup, Jon Lowenstein, Kadir Van Lohuizen, Nina Berman, Pep Bonet, Philip Blenkinsop,  Stanley Greene and Yuri Kozyrev. It’s a distinguished list including a number of photographers I’ve written about in the past.

The latest post includes a video of Zizola shooting ‘A Paradise in Peril‘ in the Maldives, the lowest lying country in the world, and which will be one of the first casualties of the sea level rise caused by global warming and the melting of polar ice caps. In it Zizola talks about the situation and also a little about how he is trying to show it through his pictures, some of which are inserted into the video.

Zizola, born in Italy in 1962 and living in Rome, published the book Born Somewhere in 2004 after photographing the situation of children in 28 countries over 13 years. His latest book Iraq, part of an Amnesty International series published in 2007, contains pictures from the early months of the 2003 invasion. He has received many awards, including World Press Photo of the Year in 1996,  seven World Press Photo awards and four Pictures of the Year Awards.

The Unseen Bert Hardy

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

It was a full house at the Photographers’ Gallery last night for Graham Harrison‘s talk on ‘The Unseen Bert Hardy’, and one from which I’m sure every member of the illustrious audience – including quite a few who had known the man – went away with their view of Bert Hardy changed, and wanting to see more of his unknown and unpublished work.

I think we all have  a view of him – that perhaps comes in part from how he used to talk about his work – which sees him metaphorically as a skilled British craftsman in blue dungarees, a wooden folding two foot rule in his top left pocket and a pencil tucked behind his right ear – as well of course as a Contax around his neck, and the kind of attacking attitude you’d expect from a schooling in a gym on the Old Kent Road.  Of course he was born a working class lad south of the river, just off the Blackfriars Road (he got a blue plaque there last year and of course has a seat in St Brides), he was a highly skilled technician – and as many of his published pictures and some of the new work last night attest, had both a great feeling for light and also the technical ability to use it, particularly what in the old days used to be called “contre-jour“. But he was more than that.

Part of his reputation comes from the comparison with Bill Brandt, and the famed Gorbals assignment in particular. It’s perhaps hard to understand why Picture Post (PP) sent Brandt on the job in the first place, because his rather splendid de Chirico-like views or the tenements are perhaps exactly what you would have expected of the man.

When PP panicked on seeing his pictures, they sent Bert to rescue the story. Or rather, as Graham Harrison pointed out, they sent the ‘two Berts‘, photographer Bert Hardy and writer Bert Lloyd.  Lloyd, another south Londoner, had started collecting folk songs while working in Australia in the 1920, joined the Communist party in the 1930s and worked – often with Hardy – on stories for PP from around 1945-50, and was one of the pioneers of the folk revival, presenting folk as a live working class from rather than the effete activity of largely upper-class folk collectors. They worked together, “Lloyd engaged the subjects in conversation and Hardy photographed them” as it says below the poster for a show of Hardy’s work from Tiger Bay there fifty-one years after they were taken in 2001.  The page also raises the question:

For generations, people in “Tiger Bay” have objected to how they have been represented by photographers, writers, journalists, social scientists and others. But they like Bert Hardy’s photographs of themselves and their community. Why is this so? What sort of documentary practice is this that local people find so alluring? 

I’d like to think the answer is that it is one that is made by people like them who get down beside them and work with them, something that has very much to do with both Berts.

Another of the well-known projects on which they worked together was : The Elephant and the Castle, and you can still see 25 pictures from this – including quite a few not published at the time at the James Hyman site.

Back to the Gorbals. Through the party – and perhaps also through folk-song, though the two things were closely linked – Lloyd had a contact in the Gorbals, a Mr Mac-something (I was making notes in the dark and my handwriting is worse than Gordon Brown’s) who made the job considerably easier by taking them to the right places and to meet the right people.

Over his 16 years at the PP as its Chief Photographer, Bert Hardy shot over 800 stories and over 500 were published. 23 of the made the cover. He didn’t waste film and there were very few failures.  When he was able to develop his own films, they were finer grained and I think sharper than those from the lab (and of course after PP, he went on to set up Grove Hardy, and there were several photographers present who had used them to print their work – including David Hoffman and Homer Sykes – as well as one of the printers who used to work there.)

Perhaps what came most clearly from the “unseen” work was a suggestion of a very much more complex photographer. As well as the warmth of vision, the humanity, the empathy with his subjects, there was an appreciation of the surreal – an aeroplane flying across the wallpaper behind a group at airforce training, a long row of people in lice-proof calico suits being sprayed, a half-naked yoga pose in front of so very conventionally dressed ladies and men on a line of sofas and chairs along the wall behind.

The talk was recorded, and I hope will be made available somewhere, either on Harrison’s Photo Histories web site or on the Photographers’ Gallery site. I hope what we have seen is just a first instalment and that Harrison will be able to go on and look at the rest of Hardy’s work in the archive to produce an exhibition and a book.

Although we’ve seen a few shows in recent years from PP photographers, there is still I think a lot to be found in the archive. When I tried to write about some of the other photographers who worked there it was hard to find their work for PP anywhere on the web as examples, and for most there were relatively few – and usually the same few – in publication. The Getty site isn’t that friendly and work is hard to find much by Felix Man for example.  Unfortunately for copyright reasons what I did write on some of the others – Bill Brandt, Bert Hardy, Thurston Hopkins & Kurt Hutton is no longer on-line.

It’s perhaps time for a major show at one of the big London galleries to re-evaluate the  work of all the PP photographers – including the stuff that only made it as far as the archive. It would be a great contribution to London’s increasingly successful photo festival, Photomonth, in a couple of year’s time.  Or perhaps a season of shows at a smaller venue such as the Photographers Gallery? One small thought that comes to me is a tenuous Olympic connection – surely PP will have covered the 1948 games here?

Field of Remembrance

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

This year because of illness I’ve missed several remembrance events I would otherwise have photographed.  But while I was in Parliament Square earlier crosses with poppies were already being planted in front of the abbey. This set commemorate the submarines that have been lost, the two larger blocks representing the First and Second World Wars.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

My own father was in the First War.  He was fortunate always to be a little behind the front line because of his job, and although he got given a gun and stood on guard duty occasionally he was never taught to fire one (and didn’t ever know if it was loaded or not.)  His wasn’t a dramatic story or one involving great bravery and he suffered no significant injuries; it is the story of an “ordinary” man caught up in events.

At his call-up medical the doctor discovered he was deaf in one ear and asked him if he really wanted to go, and he said he “might as well.”  Quite unusually 119377 Marshall W F eventually became  3rd “Ack Emma” in the Royal Flying Corps where his extensive experience and skills could be put to good use in keeping the planes flying.  Late in life he wrote a brief memoir of the first 40 or so years of his life, including the war years.  These two extracts are exactly as he wrote them:

Corporal said “Put it down here“. I pointed out that the pit was on the other side of the lorry, and it was only sensible to put it over there.  I was reported and had to go to see the Sergeant -Major.  He said that I was on active service and people were often shot at dawn for disobeying orders.  I told him I didn’t expect to live very long, and if he liked doing that sort of thing it was OK by me.  He told me to clear off and not be so silly .  I rather think he had a word with that corporal.  I didn’t hear anymore about it…

Chinese coolies prepared our sites and probably erected buildings; and of course they dug the petrol holes out.  There was every nationality represented amongst the troops and auxiliaries.  It was amazing how varied an organisation the armies were.  There were lots of horses, mules and bullocks pressed in to do the work.  Then there were the Tommies and the Frenchies and all the other fighting men, all colours, marching backwards and forwards – Colonials, Indians, Africans; we had an Empire then!  Our armies were advancing then, and we had to keep up with them.

I thought particularly of that second quotation when hearing the disgusting nonsense talked by the leader of the British Nationalist Party, Nick Griffin, trying to hi-jack the war (in his case particularly the1939-45 war, but the same kind of thing was true in that war) to support his party’s racist policies. Without the active support of the very peoples he would like to deport we would have lost both wars.

Not of course that our main parties have kept faith with those people who fought for the UK and were British subjects, most of whom were denied the right to enter the UK under the Macmillan government’s panicky Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and later of their remaining and largely meaningless status with the British Nationality Act of 1981 under Thatcher. Labour’s record on the subject is no better.

New Nuclear Power?

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Having grown up in the era when nuclear power was going to make virtually free electricity in unlimited amounts – at least according to the industry – and having seen the fiasco it really was I’m unconvinced that nuclear power is the answer to any problem.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Decommissioned power station on the Blackwater at Bradwell, Essex

And of course I’m still unconvinced we have any real answer to the huge amounts of nuclear waste that our existing and decommissioned power stations have built up, yet alone the increased amounts power stations on the ten sites announced yesterday will produce. Apart from Bradwell, other exisitng sites to be reused are Sizewell, Suffolk , Hartlepool & Heysham, Lancs, Hinkley Point, Somerset, Oldbury, Gloucestershire and Wylfa,  North Wales, and Sellafield in Cumbria, which is joined by the two new sites nearbty, Braystones and Kirksanton.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Bradwell, Essex

Not that I’m against nuclear entirely. Their is one huge nuclear power source whose greater use I entirely support. It’s called the sun.

Even in the UK it can be a useful source of energy, though probably more by its effects on making air and water move around in various ways.  We have more than enough wind to meet our energy needs, even before we start to add in other renewables.

Of course there are problems in the kind of expansion of wind energy that we need, and in particular those caused by the failure of our government to act. Allowing the one factory in the UK producing turbine blades to close.  Failing to make promises about the future return for renewable electricity and to use EU funding  for the proper purpose (and using it to promote agro-fuel production, adding to the problem.) Failing to give any real lead over planning for wind farms and so on.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Ed Miliband faces critics at the DECC

Another area of failure has been over cutting energy use, concentrating on a few easy targets and neglecting the major places we need to make cuts. Going down false(or at least highly unlikely) roads such as carbon capture and storage and carbon trading.

The government have been working hard to give themselves a green gloss, but overall is it any more effective than Mrs Thatcher’s ‘Keep Britain Tidy campaign?  Not of course that the opposition look much more likely to get things done. It’s almost enough to make me join the Green Party again.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Bradwell, Essex

Apologies for the rant, but I find it hard just to watch my planet going down the tubes.

The locals used to find the River Blackwater had nice warm water downstream from the power-station and there is a nice white sand beach just a little downstream.  I imagine the new station – if it ever happens- will be built close to the old, and make use of at least some of the existing infrastructure. Given it’s really only a short distance from London it’s an incredibly isolated place, with huge fields of organic wheat being harvested while I was there for a week in the summer.