Archive for January, 2010

A Foggy Day

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

© 1976-7, Peter Marshall

I can’t tell you a great deal about this picture although I took it, other than what is obvious from looking at it (and I do have the luxury of seeing it at around ten times the size of the version above and of being able to look at the contact sheet.)

The field of maize is covered with frost, and  from the other frames on the sheet I can guess that it was taken somewhere in Old Windsor (it used just to be called Windsor until some King or other decided to build a new castle a couple of miles down the road in 1080.)  Again from the contact sheet and negative number, I can guess it was taken in late 1977 or possibly early 1978.

I came across it while looking through my old files and although usually I remember the details about pictures that I’ve taken – or at least some of them – this one was a blank, although as soon as I saw it I responded strongly, but it was like seeing someone else’s work rather than my own.

I’ve often said “I’m not really a landscape photographer” but I think this one isn’t bad. It was taken on 35mm Kodak Tri-X and has – for a ISO 400 film – remarkably fine and sharp grain on the scan I’ve made.

Around that time I had a small commission from an arts magazine to provide some photographs to go with some poems, at least one of which was about winter. This wasn’t one of the pictures I used, but might possibly have been shot with that in mind.

More on Haiti

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Joerg Colberg at Conscientious has posted a couple of very  useful links, to More Perspectives on Haiti and Crisis Journalism by Matt Lutton on dvafoto and Staring at Death: Photographing Haition Pete Brook’s interesting Prison Photography site which has a very lengthy annotated list of links.

Although Brook, “a very amateur photographer” who has decided because of this to “stick to looking and commenting”  is based in Seattle, he writes “I have strong political views about prison reform, particularly in the United States, and increasingly moreso as regards Her Majesty’s Prison Service in the United Kingdom.

Me too.

© 2008 Peter Marshall
Gwen Calvert and Pauline Campbell in protest outside Holloway Prison, Jan 2008

You want to make money?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

PDN Pulse has a feature on the top-selling microstock pictures of 2009 showing some of the examples.  It is more than depressing to look at them and think that this is how to make money at photography.

Or photography and bad Photoshop in some cases. One of the comments reads “hideous. I’d rather prize my teeth out with a butter knife than look at this garbage” and its hard not to agree.  But these guys are making a good living from it, while many if not most good photojournalists struggle to keep going at the moment.

But as I keep telling myself, I don’t do it for the money, though I do need some money to keep on doing it. Some things are worth doing, other things just aren’t. Whatever they pay.

On which subject, from Twitter this morning I found a link to Don’t Be Scared of the F-Word When Exploring New Business Models by London / New York based freelance commercial photographer Jonathan Worth on Black Star Rising, in which he argues that doing things for free can be worthwhile. It’s worth reading (sorry!)  and I’m very much in agreement that it is sometimes a good and even profitable idea. But just not in the vast majority of cases, when people just want to rip us off and the chances of our benefiting in any way are close to zero.

And yes, I do a lot of things for free, not least this blog and my posting of work on sites including My London Diary, the River Lea/ Lea Valley, London’s Industrial Heritage and the Urban Landscapes web sites.

Saturday in Tragalgar Square

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

If you are a photographer – or simply someone who cares about our civil liberties, and can get to London on Saturday then I hope you will join us for the mass photo gathering in defence of street photography organised by I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist (PHNAT) at 12 noon.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
I’m a photographer not a terrorist flash mob at Canary Wharf, Sept 2009

This is one of a series of protests by photographers against harassment by police while taking pictures, and in particular about the use of legislation aimed at preventing terrorism against people exercising their right to take photographs in public places.

Of course it isn’t just police. I think the latest silly incident involved a student taking pictures at Hounslow Central Tube station on a Sunday afternoon. I used to live just down the road, used it often (and probably took pictures there)  and can certify that no sane terrorist would ever bother to attack it.

The paranoia doesn’t just affect photographers of course. Eighteen months ago, just a hundred yards from where I live, a young student decided to hold a one-person peace protest, holding a placard “Stop training murderers” outside the building used by the Army Cadet Force (not as the paper says “an army base”.)

Eight police, including armed officers and dogs, swooped on his house to arrest him, while a helicopter hovered overhead. They arrested him under the Terrorism Act, took his books and computer and kept him in jail overnight. In the morning he was charged under the Public Order Act, and on the advice of the duty solicitor, accepted a police caution.

He has now realised how misguided this was (and that solicitor should be struck off) and is trying to have the caution rescinded.

© 2009 Peter Marshall
Photographers protest at New Scotland Yard, Feb 2009

It comes shortly after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Section 44 stop and searches are illegal (the UK government has announced it intends to appeal.)

I’ll be there (and so too will Jess Hurd, back from Haiti and one of those involved in setting upPHNAT) and over 1400 people have signed up for the event already on Facebook.

I hope to see you there!

Haiti – Man-Made Disaster

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

I’ve been wondering for a few days whether or not to write anything about Haiti. The plight of the people there has surely touched us all, and many of us have contributed towards helping them. Giving money may  not be much, but for the moment it is what most of us can do, and people there need a lot of help.

Information from there of course flows across the web; in the first hours most of the first-hand broadcast reports relied on people using Skype as mobile services were down.  And days later, much of the real information is coming from the web, with broadcasts lagging behind on picking up the stories about the kind of US military takeover which is holding up supplies getting to the people who need them.

The first reports came from journalists and photographers in Haiti when the quake happened, but many Haitian journalists were unable to work because of their own personal devastation – the subject of an appeal by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

After the quake, photographers flooded in to Haiti by various routes and we’ve seen many pictures – for example on the NPR site, in the Guardian (by David Levene)  and the New York Times. And you can also look at work from agencies such as Panos and VII.

Magnum in contrast have a set of pictures from their files on Slate, the majority of which show it as an island paradise – especially for tourists – or take a rather romantic view of voodoo. Reality does creep in through some of the more recent work.

London-based photographer Jess Hurd decided to go because of her anger “as a human being and a journalist that this level of avoidable devastation [was] caused by an earthquake.” As she goes on to explain on her blog, Haiti has been impoverished by decades of corrupt and incompetent rule, supported by the USA and policies which have prevented positive development of the country for the people.

The earthquake was a natural event, but the disaster that it caused is largely man-made, a consequence of colonial policies that have impoverished the country and the people.

Report after report (especially outside the mass media) is telling us how the US Military insistence on taking military control of areas before food distribution occurs is stopping the supplies – which many of us have contributed to – to reaching the aid organisations and the people who so desperately need them.

Hurd describes her trip to Haiti as “the most harrowing story I have ever covered” and her pictures which are linked from her blog carry the disclaimer: Please view with caution, these images graphically depict the aftermath including decomposing bodies and a harrowing hospital operation. You can see more of her work from this and other stories at Report Digital.

Brighton Bash

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Monday I took the train to Brighton, sometimes described as “London by the sea” which is pretty ludicrous as it has a very different feel to the capital. I did just glimpse the sea as the train rolled into the station – around a 45 minute journey from Clapham Junction, but that was it, as I was headed up into the hills to the north-east, a short bus ride away to Moulsecoomb Wild Park, an area of downland preserved as a park when it was bought by the Brighton and Hove Council in 1925.

I was there to photograph a protest against a weapons factory on an estate hidden behind the trees on the edge of a railway cutting. Parts from the factory there ended up in the bombs that were used in Operation Cast Lead. the 22 day Israeli attack on Gaza that killed 1417 Palestinians and had ended exactly a year earlier. This demonstration was the latest in a whole series of protests against the arms manufacturer EDO MBM/ITT organised by the Brighton-based Smash Edo campaign over around the past five years, including the Carnival Against the Arms Trade I photographed in June 2008.

What was extremely civilised was that the meeting point for the demonstration was a café, and I walked in and ordered a mug of tea to find it full of photographers. We could have had a union meeting on the spot.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Make tea not war

Those years of demonstration have also been years of confrontation and harassment by the police although during Monday’s demonstration the police did appear to be trying to adopt a less confrontational approach in some ways – and during the several hours I was taking pictures they clearly did not want to make any arrests – though they did make five after I left.

But they were clearly also not prepared to let the protesters get the the factory to demonstrate their, blocking off the road leading to it. And although the protesters more or less surrounded the factory estate during the protest they did not manage to break through the police protecting it.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
The dress code for the event was black – and mask up. A few decided not to wear masks.

This was an event when neither the police nor many of the protesters really want to be photographed – although the organisers of the protest do want press coverage and send out press releases. The organisers suggested that those taking part wear masks as both police and press would be taking photographs, and we were, in our rather different ways. At least one police officer was using a long telephoto on a Nikon DLSR  to record pictures of individuals taking part, while others were using Sony camcorders to make a record of the action.

The march stopped on the main road where the demonstrators could see a strong police road block on the road leading up to the factory. I’d gone ahead at this point intending to photograph both the police block and then the marchers coming up towards it, and had climbed up about 20 feet on the roadside bank to get a good view. Unfortunately, at this point at least three quarters of the marchers decided to try to find another route, running up the hillside a few hundred yards behind me into the woods.

So I had to run up the hill too, and it was a pretty steep climb, and I began to feel my age. There were a couple of younger photographers with me but I soon decided to take my own time rather than try and keep up with them as we climbed perhaps a hundred feet.  Then I was on my own in the middle of the wood and having to choose paths, trying to work out a likely route that would intercept the way the protesters would go.  Not too easy as I’d never been here before, but I decided that since there were around 250 of them that they would get pretty spread out – mostly the paths were only wide enough for a single file – and I would be bound to come across them.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
The front of the long column marching through the woods
Eventually, about seven minutes later I did, and I think I’d found a more direct route as I saw the head of the long and spread out column coming towards me.  For the next ten minutes or so we wandered single file through the woods, passing quietly behind one group of police horses waiting on the edge but then we were seen by a group of police with dogs in the wood in front of us. They shouted from around 50 yards away and told us to go back or we would get bitten, and although they were too far away behind trees and bushes to get a picture I didn’t feel inclined to go closer. Although police recognise and sometimes respect a press card, police dogs don’t.

The protesters were even less keen to continue than me, and took a path away from dogs and out of the wood on the other side, where more police were waiting. For the next half hour or so, police and protesters seemed to be playing a game of some sort, with the police letting protesters through then chasing them back and finally stopping them on a path close to the factory.  A couple of times the police brought in their horses to disperse the demonstrators, and the dogs were used again to threaten demonstrators who had entered a factory site next to the arms factory under a fence.  There were a couple of major scrimmages, and police armed with riots shield also lent a hand. One protester was injured slightly by a baton to the head, but otherwise it was mainly a matter of pushing and shoving. Really the only thing missing was a ball.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A lot of pushing and shoving, but most protesters hung back and watched

And of course I and all the other photographers were trying to take photographs. At times there was rather a crush of photographers on some narrow paths, and tree branches really did get in the way of pictures. I did get pushed rather a lot by police, although I took care as always to keep out of the way. But a few police do sometimes seem to have a mindset that says that anyone with a camera is by definition in the way. And couple of times a police photographer gave me a fairly hefty shove so he could get a shot – where normally photographers would have respected that I was there first!

Eventually the demonstrators tired and decided it was time to go back to meet up with the rest of the protesters, and we walked back through the woods, this time accompanied by a few police officers, and down the hill to the road into Brighton.

By this time I was rather tired, and my feet were hurting. I hadn’t bargained for all the hill-climbing and off-road walking and so hadn’t worn suitable footwear. So I wasn’t pleased to find that the protesters were setting off to march back the couple of miles into Brighton, and nor were the police. A quarter of a mile down the road they tried to block the road, but chose a bad place as many of the marchers simply walked through a car park and around the block.  Their second attempt wasn’t a great deal better either, and it wasn’t until the march was almost in the town centre that they did manage to stop it fairly effectively.

However it was obviously too late.  The march could hardly be kept where it was blocking a major road, and once let to go on it could not be controlled in the open space of The Level and the city streets leading away from it. Issuing a Section 14 order stating it could not proceed into the city centre was surely a waste of time.  As the police withdrew and came to a wider space officers rather stupidly grabbed the odd protester and others simply walked past – and eventually all had to be allowed to proceed.

I’d had enough by this time and went to the station for a train back to London and home. I think it had been an effective demonstration, getting considerable publicity in the local paper and another step in the fight to close down the arms factory.  Pictures and stories – including mine front-paged on Demotix – published elsewhere helped to raise the profile of the campaign outside tle local area. You can see the pictures from the day on My London Diary.

More Culture

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

If you’re in a rush (as I so often seem to be) it’s dangerous to visit Lens Culture, where a new issue is now on line. There is a ten-minute interview with Roger Ballen about his work, nicely done and one of the earliest of a new video series, Lens Culture: Conversations with Photographers, though perhaps the music was just a little overdone.  There is another with Simon Roberts too.

Completely new to me were the black and white portraits of kids at play by which Jim Caspar found in a contest at The Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado that he was asked to judge.  Some of Donna Pinckley‘s pictures have a quality that reminded me of Diane Arbus‘s kid with a hand grenade, (see the contacts and read more about Colin Wood, interviewed 41 years after the exposure in the San Francisco Chronicle.)

There is also a feature Chaotic Harmony: Contemporary Korean Photography, a review of the book accompanying the show of 40 contemporary Korean photographers at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. With 13 images it gives what can only be a very partial idea of the work but may whet your appetite; if so, the book  Chaotic Harmony: Contemporary Korean Photography  (ISBN: 0300157533 / 0-300-15753-3, Tucker, Anne Wilkes; Sinsheimer, Karen; Koo, Bohnchang is available for around £18 including delivery from the cheaper UK suppliers.

Don’t fly out to Houston as Chaotic Harmony closed there earlier this month; but the page is still worth visiting for the audio there. Still showing in Houston is Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea continues until Feb 14th – and you can see an interesting presentation on it on their site.  Chaotic Harmony will be on show at Santa Barbara from July 3 – September 19, 2010.

Too much more of interest to mention, and I have to get down to some other work. If you’ve got any time to spare don’t miss Lens Culture.

Join the Heathrow Airplot

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

I have a personal interest in Heathrow Airplot. Not just because I live near Heathrow Airport and am very much opposed to its expansion – for years I’ve been arguing that we should be running it down and eventually closing it to make better use of the land.

Almost since the start I have been one of the now over 60,000 “beneficial owners” of this former orchard in the centre of the Middlesex village of Sipson which would be wiped off the map if the third runway goes ahead. Although I suspect that a way would be found to overcome the legal obstacles that Greenpeace hope that the existence of so many owners would put in the way of compulsory purchase of the Airplot I still think that joining the Airplot is a useful way of supporting the campaign. It’s quick and free and I urge you to take a look at it and join if you support it – and you can do so wherever you live around the world.

© 2003 Peter Marshall
No Third Runway rally at Harmondsworth, June 2003

I first photographed the campaign in 2003 when we marched from Sipson to a meeting on the village green at Harmondsworth on a beautiful June afternoon. After the speeches I went to walk around inside the wonderful medieval Tithe Barn at the side of the church, specially opened for the day, and then into the Five Bells to sample a pint (or two) of a beer specially brewed to support the campaign.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Climate Rush and NoTRAG at the fence around Heathrow, Sept 2009

Since then I’ve photographed a number of other events organised by NoTRAG and other groups opposing the expansion, and last September I was at the Airplot itself for a couple of days when the Climate Rush was camping there at the start of their march with caravans to the West Country and held a Celebration of Community Resistance involving groups from around the British Isles.

© 2009, Paul Baldesare
Climate Rushers picking apples on the Airplot, Sept 2009

Tent City – Jason Parkinson

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

I first met Jason Parkinson when he was filming a demonstration outside Harmondsworth Detention Centre – one of our special prisons for immigrants – a few years ago, when he was getting a bit of harassment from the police who were refusing to believe his UK Press Card was genuine ( a too common police trick), and since then I’ve come across him filming at many of the protests I’ve covered. He’s one of those guys who manages to get in the right places to film, stands up to people and asks awkward questions, and is also an excellent film editor.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Hank Roberts on the roof at ‘Tent City’ protest
You can see his trailer for the 30-minute documentary Tent City Occupation on YouTube, where there are also links to some of the other short clips he has posted over the more than two years he has spent investigating the setting up of a privately funded City Academy in Wembley.  His work has laid bare much of the shady dealing behind the story as well as showing the fight put up against the scheme, led by local teachers who realised the issues involved. This is a story that should become a national scandal and I hope that Jason’s film will make it so.

I visited the occupation on the site for the new Academy in July 2008 and here in part is what I wrote about it then:

Teachers in the London Borough of Brent are among those who have been taking to the tents in the occupation of Wembley Park Sports Ground, just a hammer throw or two from the well-known stadium. They know that the government’s program to establish City Academies has failed to deliver the promised results, and that putting one in the area will only damage the exisiting three good schools in the area. Wembley doesn’t need a new school – and if it did, handing £30 million of public – our – money over to private enterprise to run one simply crazy.

The area is also one of the more congested parts of London. More school places will mean more school runs, especially from the southern areas of Brent where there is a shortage of space. The sports ground is also used by local groups, including a nursery school, sports groups (a football practice was taking place while I was taking pictures) an three small businesses creating local employment, all of which will find it hard to find alternative venues and are likely to close.

It’s also hard to know why a political party that campaigned against the academy in the elections which got it into power in Brent should perform a sudden about-turn and not only decide it has to be done, but that even though the site won’t be ready for several years it has to start straight away in substandard accommodation. It is a change of policy that has encouraged allegations of illegality – and may be challenged in court.

Do watch the trailer – and vote for it on YouTube.  You can read the whole of my account and see more pictures on My London Diary.

Rainy Day in London Town

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Yesterday was too wet for a die-in. The International Solidarity Movement had hoped to get 1417 people to lie down on the paving in Trafalgar Square as a graphic reminder of the 1417 men, women and children killed during ‘Operation Cast Lead‘, the 22 days of Israeli attacks on Gaza a year ago.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
All 1417 names on the list

The figure is disputed and comes from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, with the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem giving a slightly lower figure of 1387 and official Palestinian and Israeli sources differing rather more. But a great many certainly were killed, and the great majority of them – over a thousand – were non-combatants. Again the two more believable sources  give figures of 313 or 320 children in the overall figure. By contrast there were 13 Israeli deaths, including three soldiers killed by “friendly fire.”

(The figure of around 1400 is in one respect an underestimate, in that Palestinians are dying all through the year as a result of the Israeli blockade limiting their access to medical treatment; deaths due to this cause in the 22 days are not included in the estimates.)

Unfortunately due partly to the lousy weather with heavy rain rather fewer than expected turned up. Well under half of those who had signed up on Facebook as coming actually turned up to collect the names they had been allotted, though fortunately there were quite a few who for one reason or another hadn’t signed up.  But for whatever reason the event was still well over a thousand people short. Although it seemed quite a sizable crowd in a corner of the North Terrace, it was still perhaps only a fifth or less of the number who died in Gaza.

Not only was it too wet to lie down on the pavement, it was also really too wet for photography, at least as the event started. I was walking around holding up an umbrella with one hand and a camera with the other. An umbrella is a real pain, particularly in even slightly crowded situations for the way it limits your mobility. Photography, or at least this kind of photography, is all about getting into the right place to take pictures. Well at least that’s the sine qua non. “F8 and be there” is all very well (so long as you realise that being there sometimes needs almost millimetric precision) but you still need to release the shutter at the right time.

You need to learn how to get through small gaps in crowds fast, to slide into positions, to duck and weave to where you need to be, but really it’s impossible when you are holding an umbrella, and particularly so when everyone else is.

And then there’s the lack of a third hand to hold and use the cloth that you will need – even under an umbrella – to wipe the drops of rain off the filter. I use a microfibre cloth that isn’t bad, but really a genuine chamois leather is still better, though it costs several times as much. I went for the false economy and regret it every time it rains.

Fortunately the rain stopped for the speeches

I think almost all of the pictures were taken on program setting, though several times I used the “flexible program” facility, turning the handy thumb wheel to change the aperture or shutter speed.  I was also working on ‘”Auto ISO” with the camera ISO  set as ISO 800. The light was dim but changing,  giving some quite varied settings.  There were rather too many frames where the Sigma 24-70 was wide open at f2.8, and slightly higher lower ISO setting might have been better. The lens is usable wide open, but noticeably better at f4. I would welcome the ability to set a maximum lens aperture at which the ISO starts to increase when in Auto-ISO mode. With this lens for normal use I’d like it to start increasing ISO at f4 and only open up to f2.8 once the upper ISO limit had been reached.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Anti-Zionist flag burning has become a ritual

I had thought wrongly that AutoISO worked with the set ISO as the minimum and was surprised to find some of the pictures I took had used a lower ISO – down as low as 320 in at least one case.  In fact the vast majority of images were taken at ISO 800, although according to the manual the lower limit when using AutoISO is always ISO 200.  But ISO 800 was a better base to work from under the light conditions, so I’m pleased it seems to do so, though mystified why it chose to use lower values for these particular frames rather than simply alter the aperture and shutter settings as it could have done.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A few people did stage a die-in for the cameras at the end of the event

Incidentally Nikon did release a firmware update for the D700 recently, which I’ve downloaded and applied and recommend; if you have a D700 you should now be using Firmware Version 1.02.