Archive for December, 2009

Season’s Greetings

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

© 2009 Peter Marshall

It’s often hard for photographers to choose an image for their Christmas card, and this is my choice for 2009, which some of you on my various card lists will already have seen. It’s a picture I like and it has a bit of a festive spirit about it, and it’s also from suburbia, if a rather more lush and leafy part than where I live. It’s not very Christmassy, but after several years in which I’ve sent out cards with Santa pictures I felt I needed a change.

I did think briefly about writing a post on the cards that other photographers send, but decided I’d rather like all my friends to keep talking to me! Seriously I do like to get cards – and increasingly e-cards to remind me of old friends, and it’s so much better to have something with someone’s work on it than a more standard Christmas card.

Seriously too, for many of us 2009 has not been entirely smooth and prosperous, so let’s all hope for the best for 2010. I shall be busy with various things other than photography over the next few days, so there may be rather less posts on the blog than usual (our first Christmas guests arrive in a few minutes) and it could even be 2010 before I post again.

So, my best wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, however and wherever you celebrate the season.

Parc de St Cloud 1984

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

St Cloud and Sceaux, parks on the outskirts of Paris, were where Eugene Atget produced some of the images that have fascinated me since I came across his work. So I went there and took some pictures myself.

Paris 1984 © Peter Marshall

Paris 1984 © Peter Marshall

You can see the rest of this set of 18 images at Paris RevisitedParc de St Cloud 1984.

More Walks through Paris 1896 & 2006

Thursday, December 24th, 2009


In 2006 I was in Paris in November for the three days of Paris Photo but spent roughly a week there staying at a very pleasant (and cheap) hotel towards the north of the 9e. It was a healthy 25 minutes walk from Paris Photo and a little closer than that to the Gare du Nord, making it handy for those of us who travel on Eurostar (and fortunately that November we didn’t have snow, so the Eurostar was working well.)


I wrote a few pieces related to the show for the company I was then working for,, which have long disappeared from the web, but  the first real post I wrote for this blog, on Friday, December 1st, 2006 at 11:51 pm was also on Paris Photo. It was only a short note, but it ended with the sentence:

 But fortunately, there was much more in Paris than Paris Photo.

You can get some idea what that more was (though without the food and wine) from a set of pictures I put on the web shortly after, Paris: November which is now linked in from my new Paris site.  These pictures were taken with a Nikon D200 in Paris and Stains, just to the north of the city.

© 2006 Peter Marshall

On the revised front page of my Paris Photos site you’ll find a rather untidy list of links to most of the sets of Paris pictures that I have on line. There are a few more sets almost ready to add, but rather more waiting until I have time to do more scans.

© 2006 Peter Marshall

An Early Amateur

Luminous Lint, an extensive collection of material assembled on-line by Alan Griffiths, now based in Canada, has an interesting album of photographs from An Unknown Street Photographer in Paris, 1896, curated and introduced by John Toohey who now owns the ‘small, olive green Kodak album with the handwritten inscription on the inside cover, “Paris, 1896“‘. It was thus taken when the Kodak revolution which brought photography to the middle-class masses had just begun.

Although I’ve not studied the work at the length that Toohey has (nor seen the other roughly 60 pictures not included in the generous selection on the site), I find his introduction to the album far-fetched. Looking through it I don’t think we can read in any great intentions by the photographer, although certainly it is produced with someone who at least occasionally had an idea of what they were trying to do. But I remain convinced that the more interesting accidents of the work are simply accidents, not least because the viewfinder on these cameras would hardly allow the kind of control that he suggests. Whenever you photographed anyone close to the camera you were likely to get pictures without heads or with only a part of them in the picture, and while you were concentrating on taking your picture on the street, people were only too likely to walk partly into them as you pressed the button.

Of course such accidental cuttings of the subject by the edge of the photograph were quickly recognised as a part of the machine’s syntax, and it has been suggested that they had some influence on the painters of the day, such as Degas, although similar effects also were to be found in some of the earlier Japanese artworks that more certainly affected artists of the late nineteenth century.

I grew up when family pictures were still taken on cameras not much different to the 1895 Pocket Kodak, larger but essentially similar models making small ‘snapshots’, though by then it was possible to get larger ‘en-prints’, but most of those in the albums were carefully posed, even if intention and result were even then not always close. In those distant days a 12 exposure film usually did families like mine for a couple of annual holidays (in Worthing or Lowestoft rather than Paris) and we relied postcards for the sights rather than photographing them ourselves.

Amateur photography was of course a craze of the 1890s, and by 1898 there were estimated to be around 1.5 million roll film cameras like the Pocket Kodak in use, with clubs springing up to support them. And there is good evidence that this unknown photographer was a part of one of these informal or formal groups that sprang up, as in some pictures we see seriously suited men with cameras.  Most likely he looked rather like one of these, although Kodak from the start marketed their cameras to women also, and this small and lightweight camera would fit readily as into a handbag as into a large jacket pocket. Of course many soon lost interest in photography and took up that other craze of the age, the bicycle, which also features strongly in these images (and even a tandem!)  Some Camera Clubs even voted to become Cycle Clubs, leading Alfred Stieglitz to comment in 1897 “Photography as a fad is well-nigh on its last legs, thanks principally to the bicycle craze.”

It was also obviously the album of someone with a serious interest in photography, as well as the income to be able to afford to indulge it. There are 92 pictures in the ‘Paris 1896’ album, showing the use of at least 9 rolls of the size 102 film which gave 12 exposures (it was one of the first models to have a red window to read markings on the back of the paper film backing.)  Probably he (or, less likely, she) took more, but not many more, as even these small 1.5×2″ pictures were relatively expensive and few other than outright technical failures were discarded.

The Pocket Kodak at around 51 x 76 x 102mm was reasonably compact cameras even by today’s standards, with a weight of around 170 grams, could as the name suggests be carried in a pocket. But it’s real selling point was ease of use –  as the Kodak slogan said, “You press the button and we do the rest”.

There was nothing to set – focus was fixed, the single shutter speed was “instantaneous” (usually around 1/100s)  and so long as you kept to the instruction only to work on sunny days and held the camera steady it would work.  The hardest thing was to remember to wind on the film after each exposure and so avoid double exposures.

Of course other things could go wrong and very often did.  The viewfinder was a small window on the top of the box which you looked into as you held the camera steady against your stomach, seeing a clear and bright but tiny image – which was usually rather less than would appear in the picture. Accurate framing was impossible (and a concept that hardly existed before the invention of the ‘miniature’ camera using 35mm film.)  If you took pictures from a sitting position, unless you thought instead to rest the camera on your knee, it would probably also appear in your picture.

There is no doubt that this is an interesting album, but I think it is best to see it for what it is, rather than to drag in the names of Walker Evans, J H Lartigue or Andre Kertesz. And if you are going to do so, why stop there; surely the wishful mind could glimpse the harbinger of Cartier-Bresson and Friedlander here too?

A Walk through Paris 1

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Let me invite you to come with me on a walk through Paris, or rather several walks. In Feburary 2004 I spent around a week there with my wife, staying in a hotel just off the Place de la Republique. We’d chosen the hotel largely because it was cheap and we didn’t expect to spend much time in it other than when we were in bed. There are plenty of things to do in Paris, even in winter.

Paris 2004 © Peter Marshall

I’d chosen the area to be reasonably close to some of my favourite areas of Paris – the Canal St Martin, Belleville, Menilmontant, the Marais… – and also not far from the centre. Although there were museums and exhibitions I wanted to visit, its good to be handy to stroll around when you’ve an hour or two to spare.

I hadn’t particularly gone to take photographs, no particular project in mind, and I didn’t take my camera bag. No real camera, no SLR or DSLR, just a pocketable digital compact. I’d just bought a Canon Digital Ixus 400 , a 4.0 MP
2272×1704 pixel camera with a 36–108mm f/2.8–4.9 lens that would fit in a jacket pocket and weighing under 200 grams –  then a relatively new model, now obsolete technology (mine gave up the ghost a few years ago and was replaced by a slightly smaller Fuji.)

I’d not had it long enough to find out some of its problems before I went to Paris. It wasn’t a bad camera, but autofocus was slow, so slow that I occasionally failed to keep it at my eye long enough for it to take a picture, and ended up with exposures of grass or pavement as I put it away in my pocket. And I’d unfortunately failed to realise that by default it applied an excessive amount of in-camera sharpening to its jpeg files – after I got home and tried making some A3 prints this failing was unfortunately obvious.  For small prints – perhaps up to A4 – it probably improved the appearance. After that I made sure that I always used the camera with the sharpening reduced to the minimum possible – still rather more than I would like.

Paris 2004 © Peter Marshall
We were there for St Valentine’s Day

2272×1704 is an aspect ratio of 1.333 to 1, rather than the 1.5:1 of 35mm and most DSLRs, and I didn’t particularly warm to the difference. I’ve never much liked using 6×6, 6×7 or 4×5 formats either.  Wider formats such as 16:9 and true panoramics are much more fun. I’d also prefer a camera with a wider angle lens – my favourite focal lengths are in the 24-28mm range. On digital I don’t like using JPEG – so much more is possible with RAW formats, but the Ixus 400 could only shoot in jpeg. The Canon lens was pretty sharp, but it gave some noticeable distortion. So all in all the camera was very much a compromise, and I wasn’t taking my photography on this visit too seriously.

In fact the results were very much better than I expected, though I did make quite a few mistakes and deleted many unsharp and otherwise failed images while I was taking them. Even later, after several years of use I still didn’t find the camera and the menus easy to use, and in Paris I often got the settings completely wrong. My most embarassing moment came in one of the museums, where a large official notice prohibited the use of flash while photographing a priceless medieval tapestry- and somehow I didn’t get the settings right!

Paris 2004 © Peter Marshall
A photographically important suburb

Of course after the Christmas pudding it would be best to go out for a real walk to burn some of it off. But if it’s snowing hard or cold or windy, or you are just feeling lazy you might try and take a few virtual walks through Paris on this site. And for those of you who know Paris, you can exercise a few brain cells by trying to identify the locations of some of the pictures, as I haven’t yet captioned any of them. It might help a little to know they are on the site in the order in which I took them.

More from Paris

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Paris 1984 © Peter Marshall

I’ve photographed this little crossing in the 10e – just along from the famous Hotel du Nord – many times and this is one of my favourite images. Last month when I stayed at home rather than going to Paris I got out some of those old negatives and scanned several hundred of them using the Epson V750.

The scans, despite what’s often said about flatbed scanners and 35mm film aren’t bad at all, and I could certainly make decent 10×8 prints from them, probably larger.  As a compromise I chose to scan at 2400 dpi. The scanner has a maximum optical 4800dpi, but at that resolution scan times get a little too long for volume production – roughly 4 times as long as with 2400. Of course I could have gone a little faster at a lower resolution, but given the time taken in removing and replacing the film from the filing sheets, putting them in the film holder, cleaning the negs and various glass surfaces  etc, the process as a whole wouldn’t be a lot faster.

Just for rough proofing of course you can scan  negatives still in their filing sheets – so long as you used the fairly clear transparent type, and its something I’ve done for making digital contact sheets. A normal full filing sheet doesn’t quite fit on the scanner bed, so you need to make two scans for each sheet – which I then usually join in Photoshop. Working at 600 dpi gives reasonably sized files where you can view individual images at roughly the size of an 8×10 print on screen, but aren’t too great for printing, though you can make postcard sized images.

Paris 1984 © Peter Marshall
One of several ‘corners’ that Atget probably photographed

After a few experiments with the Epson software, I scanned the 35mm negs in 16 bit grayscale mode and saved them as TIF files. These are around 13Mb and roughly 3300×2050 pixels. I then made any basic corrections needed to the levels and/or curves as well as using the Polaroid dust removal filter and in a few cases a little bit of work with the clone tool, and saving them as 8bit gray scale jpeg files for use. Any I want to do much more work with I can start again with the TIF, archived on external storage. Although the files need some cleaning up if looked at 1:1, most are fine for use if reduced to web size, and I’ve now started to put some of them on line.

Paris 1984 © Peter Marshall
I think I took this a little straighter – and certainly printed it so

The main problem I’ve had with the scans is cropping. Although the Epson film holder can show more or less the whole negative, the automatic location of the images by Epson Scan seems to prefer a little cropping, especially with images where the edges of the negatives aren’t quite parallel to the edge of the film, which seems to be the case with quite a few of my negatives (I think it was a speciality of Leicas that it was easy to load the film slightly out, though working with M series cameras I never managed it quite as obvious as M Henri Cartier-Bresson occasionally did with the older models.

Paris 1984 © Peter Marshall

If I want to make new prints (and I hope some people may want to buy them) my first step would be to find the negatives and scan them at higher resolution in my dedicated film scanner, A Minolta Multiscan Pro. Especially when used with two devices made available by enthusiasts, this model produces some of the best possible film scans, as good and sometimes possibly better than drum scan.  Unfortunately the scanner is no longer available, but the idea of the Scanhancer, produced by Erik de Goederen from Holland, has been incorporated into some later scanner designs – though without acknowledgement. The other thing that improves the quality of the scans are some custom-designed and specially machined masks from another member of the user group, the MultiPro Xpander from Drazen Navratil in Zagreb. These hold the negs as flat as possible and the oversized 35mm mask allows the entire negative to be scanned. Altogether the Multipro group is a good example of how the Internet enables people from around the world to gain from each other’s ideas and experience.

Using the Epson V70 you can of course locate the negative edges more accurately manually, but it would slow down the whole process to a snail’s pace and isn’t really feasible when scanning several hundreds of negatives. I did recently get a mailing from Silverfast who claim that their latest software does the job better, but an upgrade to that supplied with the scanner was at a special offer price of 299 Euros, which I found not in the least attractive.  Of course I did install Silverfast when I bought the scanner, but soon decided I preferred to use the Epson software. Though some people do swear by Silverfast, I found myself more swearing at it.

So far I’ve put the first set of 28 black and white pictures from my visit to Paris in 1984 onto the web, where you can already see 45 of my colour images from the same year:

Paris 1984 © Peter Marshall

as well as more black and white work from 1973.  More from Paris later.

While thinking about Paris, I can’t help but think of some of my friends there who I missed seeing in November, among them Jim and Millie Casper.  The LensCulture web site has been running since 2004 , establishing an enviable reputation in the world of photography, and attracting around three or four times as many visitors a day as this site.

I’ve often linked to audio interviews and other features on Lens Culture from this site, and I’m happy to give another link to the site, this time to a request for donations to keep Lens Culture going.  Like these pages, it carries no advertising – as the site says:

Since our inception in 2004, Lens Culture has been completely self-funded, without revenue from advertising or any other outside source. We prefer to keep Lens Culture “content-rich and clutter-free”, and your contribution today will help it stay that way.

Soth’s Top Ten

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

This is the time of the year when everyone who blogs (except me, and I’ve done it in the past) makes up their top 10 lists of something or other, and if few of the have the little bit of excitement we’ve seen in the UK in recent weeks over the Christmas number one in the pop charts (see The Day the Music was Resurrected if you’ve somehow managed to miss the story as it was presented in the Morning Star – rather more interestingly than in some other papers) they do sometimes have a little fascination. Most popular with photographers are lists of the year’s top ten photographic books, and there are quite a few of these around this year as always.

Alec Soth’s list on the Little Brown Mushroom Blog  interests me for several reasons. Of course he’s a photographer whose work I admire, but there are two particular books he lists that caught my eye. Both that are at least in part familiar.

Soth writes about Robert Adams‘s 1985 book Summer Nights, “I used to be embarrassed that the 1985 edition was one of my favorite photobooks.”  Well I’m not ashamed to say it has long been one of my favourites too, and the fact that the first edition is still available second-hand at under £20 reflects the fact it was popular as photographic books go – and I don’t entirely share Soth’s thoughts about the cover design.  Of course it isn’t the 1985 volume he is listing, but a new version of the book with extra images, Summer Nights, Walking, again published by Aperture.

I wrote quite a lengthy piece perhaps 8 years ago about a then largely forgotten body of work by Chauncey Hare, again published by Aperture, Interior America. Depending on where you buy this a copy can cost anything from around £65 to £650 (though the latter price is from a”rare book dealer”) which perhaps reflects the rather more difficult nature of his images of American domestic interiors, though I was hooked on his work as soon as I saw some images projected at a workshop by Lewis Balz.

A day or so after my feature went on line at (where of course it has long disappeared) I got an e-mail from Hare, who I think was surprised that anyone remembered his work  and was bothering to write about it. By then pursuing a different career he was uncertain that he wanted to be written about, although after a few exchanges I managed to persuade him and got his permission to add a little material about his later life to my piece.

Again, Soth isn’t listing the 1978 classic, with its elegant and sober design by Marvin Israel and Kate Morgan, but a new volume from Steidl, Protest Photographs, which includes work form both Interior America and his 1984 This Was Corporate America along with other pictures. You can see 20 spreads from the book on the Steidl site, and as Soth says “I haven’t had time to wrap my head around this tome, but it only takes a quick glance to know that this book is a killer.

I’ve not had time to look at all the other books that he lists, though I’d familiar with several – including one I think I’m most unlikely to buy or review.

Charlie Mahoney

Monday, December 21st, 2009

On Burn you can view ‘A Troubled Paradise‘ , a fine audio-visual presentation by Charlie Mahoney about the Maldives,  which “will likely be the scene of one of first humanitarian disasters due to climate change. The story also ties in to an interesting social-political situation.” He continues “I hope you find it interesting.” I did and I think you will, though as usually with presentations I sometimes would have liked to look at some of the images for longer or shorter.

You can see some of the same pictures – as well as other work by him on his own web site.  He has an impressive list of clients, publications and awards- the latter including the 2009 Environmental Photographer of the Year Award, the 2009 International Photography Awards, the Life category of the 2008 Travel Photographer of the Year, the 2008 PX3 Prix de la Photographie for photojournalism, the 2008 SOS Racism Photography contest and the new talent category of the 2007 Travel Photographer of the Year.

Mahoney gained a BA in International Relations and Biology at Bowdoin College in Maine, USA and before his career in photography worked in investment banking and equity management. He has a Masters in Photojournalism from the University Autónoma of Barcelona, the city where he is now based.

It’s also worth looking at his dokumentary fotografr blog, where the latest post looks at a problem I’ve often mentioned here (most recently) – with a video of a US photography activist being stopped for taking photographs on the LA Metro.  He comments “I was detained for a half hour in the metro station in Barcelona for the same thing two years ago. What can more can you say here?!?!” It happens in all sorts of places around the world.

Another video related to the problems of photographing in cities where increasing public space is privately owned is Love Police – The Corporatization of Open Space on Bala Fria, which like Guardian journalist Paul Lewis in my link above, starts at the Gherkin in St Mary Axe.

Leica X1

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Although I’ve yet to touch or even see this camera for real, I’m beginning to feel an interest in it, despite the price tag (it is a Leica after all, so the main market will be the idle rich.)  But I spent quite a while reading – and reading between the lines as well – the lengthy full review of an almost-release version on Digital Photography Review. Their test camera came with the final development version of the firmware, and Leica told them the release version will have ‘bug fixes and performance improvements’.

DPR always give hardware a really good going over, and also realise that different people will have different needs and uses for cameras.  It’s an intelligent and thorough site, and gives readers much of of what they need to make an informed choice, even if sometimes they miss out things I think are important or fail to explore how users might tweak files. There are some things reviewers can’t really do and you only find out from working for several weeks or months with a camera.

The LX1 also comes with a full copy of Adobe Lightroom, which should be good news for those who don’t already own what I think is the best software around for digital photographers. Presumably for those of us who already own it, at least if we wait to purchase the camera after Lightroom 3 emerges (its full release is expected in April 2010, though you can download a free beta version) at least we will save the upgrade cost.

You can read the details on DPR, but what came into my mind as I read about this very limited camera with an APX-C sensor and a fixed 35mm equivalent lens was that it seemed to me to be an almost perfect digital replacement for one of my favourite film cameras, the Konica Hexar (aka Konica Hexar AF)  at least when equipped with the accessory viewfinder, although its a shame that the lens is only f2.8 rather than the fine Hexar f2. This was described as “the ideal stealth street camera” and within its limitations was both faster in use and better than any Leica. I bought one from the USA soon after it came out in 1993 – they were never easy to find here and at the time you could save around a hundred pounds by ordering from B&H in New York

Apart from the lens quality and speed, the great thing about the Hexar was shutter noise. In normal mode it was considerably quieter than any Leica, just a gentle click, inaudible on the street. But it also had a ‘quiet mode’ that more or less needed a stethoscope to detect it – often the only way I could tell I had taken a picture was by looking at the frame counter. I doubt if the LX1 will be quite as quiet, but DPR say it is very quiet.

I used the camera mainly on manual focus and exposure – when shutter lag was essentially zero. Again the LX1 may not be quite as fast (and its autofocus seems rather slow)  but I think it will be usable.

Thinking back to the Hexar, even the  price for the LX1  doesn’t seem too bad. From memory the Hexar cost me around £500 (which at the time was probably around 900$.)  Allowing for inflation that wouldprobably benearer £1000 now, 15 years later. But when comparing with a digital camera you need also to add in a certain amount for the price of film and processing – and having just been to a little pre-Christmas celebration with some of my neighbours I can quite decide what would be reasonable.  Lets assume I would take the equivalent of perhaps 5 films a week on the LX1 – about my average with the Hexar – and add on a couple of years work, making a total of 500 films.  The current cost including processing it myself is around £2.60 for the film and £0.90 for the processing chemistry, that would make a total of around £1750.

What I think is clear is that the LX1 is not a general purpose camera, but a tool for a very specific job. If its a job that you want to do – and it was once for me, and perhaps may be again – then I think it may be the right tool. The Leica X1 is now starting to look quite reasonably priced and I think I’ll start saving my pennies.

And if I do get one, the first thing I’ll do when I take it out of that so carefully (what a waste) designed box is to look for my black tape to put a piece over that red Leica flash on the front. Its the last thing anyone who is actually trying to work with the camera needs.

Advice to Met Officers

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

On Monday, a statement by Assistant Commissioner John Yates was issued by the Metropolitan Police Press Bureau which details the advice sent by him to all MPS officers and staff. It clearly repeats the tone of the advice contained in the Home Office circular in September, and I’ll repeat it in full at the end of this piece.

Photographers may even feel it is worth carrying a copy with them, but I think should you do so that you should make use of it tactfully if you are approached by the police or even police community support officers while taking pictures.  If you adopt a confrontational or evasive attitude when you are questioned it will only serve to escalate the situation – and can be a trigger for some very inappropriate behaviour by PCSOs and police, as I think two reports from the Guardian clearly demonstrate.

One was a deliberate attempt by Guardian reporter Paul Lewis to get himself harassed while taking what were misleadingly described as “Casual shots of London’s Gherkin“and the second was the considerably more serious and inexcusable harassment of Italian art student Simona Bonomo at Paddington, described in a story and video “Italian student tells of arrest while filming for fun” a month ago which they published last Tuesday.

Had Lewis, when approached by security staff told them – or the off-duty police officer who came along – he was a Guardian journalist working on a story about the harassment of photographers while photographing buildings and shown them his press card there would of course have been no story. But it seems pretty clear to me from his own video that he was behaving at best rather curiously and in a way that was clearly intended to arouse suspicion.  If you poke the animal with a stick you should really be hardly surprised that it bites.

Of course the response of the police was stupid and in some respects over the top, but hardly unexpected. The least defensible part of their response seems to have been the stop and search carried out on the photographer who was recording the event from a distance with a telephoto lens, for which there appears to be no remotely believable justification.

I have considerably more sympathy for Simona Bonomo, particularly as she was both assaulted with obviously unreasonable and entirely unnecessary force by police officers and was then stitched up with a fixed penalty fine of £80 for a public order offence of which she is obviously innocent.

But again I think it was an incident that need not have happened, and that the Guardian’s report of it is again in some respects misleading though they deserve credit for bringing it to public attention.  Their headline that says she was arrested “while filming for fun” is incorrect. Although her first rather offhand response to the PCSO was to say that she was filming “just for fun” it is clear that this was not true, both from the actual video footage which starts with her filming security cameras (which probably alerted the PCSOs) on the buildings and what she says later on in her exchange with the PCSO. She is an art student at a London university and was working on a project on surveillance (and rather painfully this incident produced some only too real material for it,)  Had she made that clear when she was first approached the situation would almost certainly not have escalated as it did – the PCSO himself says so on the video.

Of course the police – and the PCSO – got it seriously wrong. But while photographers should stand up for their rights,  we should also generally be open and clear about what we are doing. If anyone asks me why I’m taking pictures – by a member of the public or the police force – I try to explain briefly and politely (usually but not always entirely truthfully), and when appropriate show my press card or offer my business card.

Of course sometimes you need to explain to people about your rights – and for some years my camera bag contained a personal letter from the Met which clearly explained that like all other photographers I had a right to take photographs on the public highway which sometimes came in  handy (and arose from a rather unpleasant run-in I had with two officers in the ’90s.)  But it’s generally more effective to do so in a polite and reasonable rather than a confrontational way. Experience tells me that arguing the law with the police at street level is unlikely to be productive – if they don’t know it they certainly won’t admit it.

Back when I taught photography – mainly to rather younger students than Simona Bonomo –  we advised students how to work in public, and in particular that telling people who asked that you were “working on a project for your photography course” was often a good way to get their cooperation.  I know a number of working photographers who still sometimes use this excuse – just as the great ‘Eisie’ – Alfred Eisenstaedt – would sometimes assure the people he was photographing that he was “just an amateur.”

Some of my students did occasionally decide to work on projects that might be contentious in some way and it was then my job to discuss the possible risks with them,  and at times suggest other ways of approaching the subject. For a project like this I would have provided a student with an official letter signed by the head of department “to whom it may concern” giving brief details of the student and the project with a request for their cooperation and of course a phone number they could ring if they had any concerns, and have asked the student to ensure they had this with them when working outside college on the project.

© 2004 Peter Marshall
Paddington Basin, 2004. Peter Marshall

I’ve photographed around new developments in Paddington and the surrounding area on several occasions over the years without permissions or problems, though I was approached by a security man on one occasion. I told him what I found interesting in the particular view I was taking and he went away thinking I was mad but harmless.  I suspect that much of the land here is actually private – like so many new developments, but I wasn’t asked to stop taking pictures.

© 2004 Peter Marshall

Anyway, here’s the statement from the Met in full:

Statement by Assistant Commissioner John Yates

John Yates, Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations, has today reminded all MPS officers and staff that people taking photographs in public should not be stopped and searched unless there is a valid reason.

The message, which has been circulated to all Borough Commanders and published on the MPS intranet, reinforces guidance previously issued around powers relating to stop and search under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Guidance on the issue will continue to be included in briefings to all operational officers and staff.

Mr Yates said: “People have complained that they are being stopped when taking photographs in public places. These stops are being recorded under Stop and Account and under Section 44 of TACT. The complaints have included allegations that people have been told that they cannot photograph certain public buildings, that they cannot photograph police officers or PCSOs and that taking photographs is, in itself, suspicious.

Whilst we must remain vigilant at all times in dealing with suspicious behaviour, staff must also be clear that:

  • there is no restriction on people taking photographs in public places or of any building other than in very exceptional circumstances
  •  there is no prohibition on photographing front-line uniform staff
  • the act of taking a photograph in itself is not usually sufficient to carry out a stop.

Unless there is a very good reason, people taking photographs should not be stopped.

An enormous amount of concern has been generated about these matters. You will find below what I hope is clear and unequivocal guidance on what you can and cannot do in respect of these sections. This complements and reinforces previous guidance that has been issued. You are reminded that in any instance where you do have reasonable suspicion then you should use your powers under Section 43 TACT 2000 and account for it in the normal way.

These are important yet intrusive powers. They form a vital part of our overall tactics in deterring and detecting terrorist attacks. We must use these powers wisely. Public confidence in our ability to do so rightly depends upon your common sense. We risk losing public support when they are used in circumstances that most reasonable people would consider inappropriate.”


The guidance:

Section 43 Terrorism Act 2000

Section 43 is a stop and search power which can be used if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that a person may be a terrorist.

Any police officer can:

– Stop and search a person who they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist to discover whether they have in their possession anything which may constitute evidence that they are a terrorist.

– View digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by the person searched to discover whether the images constitute evidence they are involved in terrorism.

– Seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects may constitute evidence that the person is a terrorist, including any mobile telephone or camera containing such evidence.

The power, in itself, does not permit a vehicle to be stopped and searched.

Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000

Section 44 is a stop and search power which can be used by virtue of a person being in a designated area.

Where an authority is in place, police officers in uniform, or PCSOs IF ACCOMPANIED by a police officer can:

– Stop and search any person; reasonable grounds to suspect an individual is a terrorist are not required. (PCSOs cannot search the person themselves, only their property.)

– View digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched, provided that the viewing is to determine whether the images contained in the camera or mobile telephone are connected with terrorism.

– Seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects is intended to be used in connection with terrorism.

General points

Officers do not have the power to delete digital images, destroy film or to prevent photography in a public place under either power. Equally, officers are also reminded that under these powers they must not access text messages, voicemails or emails.

Where it is clear that the person being searched under Sections 43 or 44 is a journalist, officers should exercise caution before viewing images as images acquired or created for the purposes of journalism may constitute journalistic material and should not be viewed without a Court Order.

If an officer’s rationale for effecting a stop is that the person is taking photographs as a means of hostile reconnaissance, then it should be borne in mind that this should be under the Section 43 power. Officers should not default to the Section 44 power in such instances simply because the person is within one of the designated areas

So the Met at least have clear advice on the law – though it remains to be seen how well this will permeate down to street level. I hope someone has given a copy to the guys in the City of London force too, and elsewhere around the country.

African Photography

Friday, December 18th, 2009

One of the aspects of my work over around 8 years for ‘About Photography‘ of which I’m most proud was the series of articles that made up the ‘World Photography‘ section. It was of course work that drew on previously published research by various scholars – one of whom, despite being clearly acknowledged for his work obviously felt I was trespassing on his private patch.  But it also involved considerable research by me, both on the Internet and in published sources and brought photography in various countries around the world to the attention of a wider public.

There were some aspects that were particularly hard to find out much about, and African photography was one of these, though I did write a little about photography in Egypt and the Arab world in North Africa, about Drum magazine in South Africa and some South African photographers including David Goldblatt and Roger Ballen.  And of course Seydou Keïta (see also) and Malick Sidibé from Mali, but there simply wasn’t the wealth of material that is now available – for example at sites like African Imagery – on line.

On the ‘A Photo Student‘ blog you can see that students on some MFA courses now get taught about Africa  (and of course many other things – it’s a blog worth exploring, if it makes me feel that some UK courses are, from what I hear, not quite in the same league) along with some good illustrations and great links. James Pomerantz is a New York-based photographer who had gone back to school and is documenting the experience on the blog, where he has the freedom to do many things that I couldn’t do when working for a large company, particularly in terms of copyright, where I was unable to claim “fair use”.

One particular link that worries me is to a document I would have loved to have found a few years ago, An Outline History of Photography in Africa to ca. 1940 by David Killingray and Andrew Roberts, published in the journal History in Africa, Vol. 16, (1989), pp. 197-208, from the African Studies Association.

If you belong to an institution that subscribes to JSTOR you can access this free and legally, but otherwise you can only see the first page, which contains very little of interest unless you pay a $12 access fee.    Unfortunately I think few public libraries subscribe to this service, although universities and a few schools and other institutions do.  There is a link on ‘A Photo Student‘ to a full copy of the article, downloaded from JSTOR which I won’t repost here. Having written Writing for Free a while ago my thoughts over copyright are quite clear, although it is unreasonable  that should you pay your $12 (or your institution a subscription) none of it will get to the authors of the article.