Archive for March, 2010

More on Crossfire

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Last week I posted about the exhibition ‘Crossfire‘ at the Drik Gallery in Bangladesh which was barricaded by armed police and the public refused entry. Now on Shaidul News you can read
Drik: Photo power an illustrated article about this with pictures of the opening of the show in the road outside the gallery and a demonstration against the censorship by Satish Sharma which first appeared in Himal Magazine.

The original article in Himal Magazine is easier to read and there are more pictures in the slide-shows there. In it, Sharma discusses several cases of censorship and ask what it is about the photograph that invites censure and censorship.

Those in power fear the power of the photograph and seek to control it. It is a power that comes in part from its status as evidence, at least apparently a very direct stating of the facts, but perhaps even more from the way it can seize our emotions, more directly than writing.  The still photograph by crystallising a moment more directly than film.

LIDF 2010

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Yesterday I went to the Press Preview of the London International Documentary Festival (LIDF) held at the London Review of Books bookshop in Holborn – the festival is in association with the LRB, with Ecover as its main sponsor and supported by the European Parliament – and as usual could not resist taking a few pictures.

Fortunately most of the area had a fairly low white ceiling, so bounce flash from the SB800 and the Nikon 16-35mm on the D700 made the technical stuff simple. So I’ll include a few pictures here and a few more in My London Diary shortly.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The LIDF is the UK’s premier independent documentary film festival, screening over 130 films from 36 countries, “groundbreaking output from around the globe” in London from 23 April – 8 May. This year is the fourth for the festival, which has grown rapidly and now runs for 16 days and has branched out from film to include documentary in other media: radio and photography.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

As a part of LIDF 2010 there are two 5-day Magnum Documentary Photography workshops, one for women only run by Olivia Arthur and the other by Donovan Wylie. The workshop fee of £550 plus VAT does not include travel, accommodation or other expenses, and those taking part will be selected by an on-line application including a portfolio of 6 pictures before 6.00pm GMT on Sunday 4th April.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The LIDF is a London wide festival, with screenings, exhibitions and events across the capital including The Barbican, The British Museum and Ciné Lumière as well as more local venues.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Of particular interest to me is The Invisible City, a multimedia event at The Hub, a work and meetings space on York Road, Kings Cross on Saturday 24 April. Talks, discussion, films, audio and photographs about Hackney, Kings Cross and north-east London and the changing urban environment and how it affects those who live and work there.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The films include John Roger‘s London Perambulator in which Will Self , Iain Sinclair and Russell Brand explore the importance of the edge lands on the fringe of the city, films from the London Refugee Stories Project, audio from Nick Hamilton‘s series Foot and Mouth and photography from Alex Bratall and myself, Peter Marshall.

I’ll be projecting some of my pictures of the Lea Valley over 30 years, and also showing the rather tongue in cheek psychogeographic work, 1989, which purports to be the first chapter of an uncompleted book about a series of rambling walks I made with a now-deceased author.

© 2006 Peter Marshall

The God of Music Photography

Friday, March 26th, 2010

On his Marshall Photo site it says:

Jim Marshall
February 3, 1936—March 24, 2010

We regret to announce that Jim passed away earlier today in New York City—details to follow.

You can read a few more of those details in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, which shows a picture of him at  Woodstock in 1969 with 4 cameras, at least three if not all of them Leicas.

Born in Chicago (he was no relation to me)  I admired both his pictures and his working methods and attitude, and wrote about him in 2005. Here’s an edited version of part of what I wrote then:

His approach is simple, he always chooses to work with available light, the kind of photographer who carries a camera everywhere, with at least one Leica M4 around his neck even when he goes shopping. On assignment he works with at least two, one with a 28mm, the other a standard 50mm. He never changes lenses and if he needs more he carries more cameras. Most of his work is taken on Tri-X, nominally rated at 800ASA, although he works without a meter. The secret of his work is getting to know the subject, getting their trust and then getting his pictures.

He took some of the greatest pictures of jazz musicians as well as the big names of rock and roll, and created a legend through his attitude and behaviour. To his friends he was “grossly unpredictable, fabulously silly, unbelievably opinionated, completely charming, and thoroughly maddening” while others – in particular those who tried to cheat him – viewed him as a dangerous lunatic. To Annie Leibovitz he was “the rock and roll photographer” and I can only say ‘Amen’ to that.

NPR has an article with an audio appreciation of him, as well as a set of some of his best images.  He got them by demanding “all access, no doors to be closed, no conditions” and the people he photographed trusted him. It’s something no one else will ever be able to do, with the industry now hog-tied by lawyers and control freaks.

Marshall was in New York to help organise the opening of a show at the Staley + Wise gallery, Match Prints, which pairs his work with pictures by Timothy White.

River Thames & Greenwich

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Reading another blog today I found a post about Greenwich, and it reminded me of my many walks there, particularly along the the path by the River Thames. Starting from the centre of Greenwich you can walk downriver for as long as your legs will carry you, with only slight detours away from the riverside.  The first section is now a part of the designated Thames Path,  which runs from the source to the Thames Barrier at Charlton, but you can keep on walking, the Thames path extension taking you to Crayford Ness, but there is no need to stop there.

Over the years (and starting when the Thames Path was just a roughly duplicated proposal) I’ve walked all the way out to past Cliffe though in a number of shorter sections, and photographed as I went.

© 1982, Peter Marshall
Cable laying ship, Enderby’s Wharf, Riverside Walk, Greenwich (1982)

The section at North Greenwich used to end just after a container dock, where you walked cautiously between yellow lines and hoped that they wouldn’t drop one on you as you walked through, before emerging close to the southern portal of the Blackwall tunnel. You could not continue along the riverside, but had to walk back and across the peninsula as its north end was occupied by both a large gas works, closed in 1985 and also a power station, closed in 1980.  Following the demolition of these old works and the building of the Millennium Dome you can now continue around by the river.

The smaller of the two gas holders is still there. Its larger companion was impressive, and one of the largest ever built (there was a larger one in, of course, the USA) and the gas works was the largest in Europe when it was built. I’m told the concrete silos are due to be demolished soon.

I’ve walked along the riverside path quite a few times over the years, though now I usually prefer to use a bicycle it is also a cycle route. so I also have more recent pictures, but I think it was more interesting back in the early 1980s. You can see 23 pictures from the London Borough of Greenwich, I think entirely along the riverside on ‘London’s Industrial Heritage.’

BA Cabin Crew

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

While some of my friends were up at first light touring the gates of Heathrow Airport and photographing the pickets (and in some cases then rushing up to Bolton to photograph the UAF being attacked by police as they demonstrated against the EDL there) I had a fairly leisurely start to the morning, catching the 203 bus just before ten to get me to Bedfont Football Club in Hatton, where BA cabin crew were gathering for a meeting at 10.30am on the first day of their 3 day strike.

Although there were quite a few of the BA workers there, they were probably outnumbered by the press and trade union supporters from elsewhere and there were also BA pickets at the various entrances to the airport which covers a pretty huge site on the edge of London.

Heathrow, started by subterfuge during the Second World War as a replacement for Croydon should of course have itself been replaced by now with a more suitably sited airport which would not pollute so much of the capital.  For some reason as a nation we have always backed away from the most suitable sites, somewhere well out of London and close to the main rail and motorway routes between London and Birmingham (perhaps Milton Keynes would have been better as an airport than a new town!) Instead we’ve had relatively hare-brained schemes such as Boris Johnson has recently proposed for the Thames estuary.  But at least our national madness made for a short bus journey for me on Saturday, even if the pollution from Heathrow is probably reducing my life expectancy materially.

Parts of bus journey give tiny glimpses of the past before the airport, when Heath Row was a village full of orchards and market gardens and farmland, though without the airport much of this might also have been replaced by the kind of development that has swamped the neighbouring village of Stanwell, or become the kind of derelict green belt eaten away by gravel working and small office or factory developments  which is rather common in what was Middlesex.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Len McCluskey – We Offered Pay Cuts to keep BA Premium

Of course I’ve written about the event and put more pictures on line elsewhere, including My London Diary. It got to be a real press scrum during the actual meeting, and I was in the second row, which was fine for working with a telephoto to photograph the speakers, but made it hard to get full-length shots.

The light rain didn’t help either, and for some time I was so much in a crush I couldn’t be bothered to try and take my flash off one body and put it on the other where it might have been more useful. Working like this in the rain I keep a microfibre cloth bunched up in my left hand and used it to wipe the lens filter between shots, though a few were still spoiled by rain on the lens. And every time I use it I still think I should really have bought a large chamois leather which would do the job just a little better!

© 2010, Peter Marshall
BA workers were told they would be sacked if they talked to the cameras – I hope they were allowed to clap

There were a few more shots at the end of the rally as people began to disperse, and then I lazily caught another 203 to Hatton Cross, just a few minutes walk away, to photograph the pickets there.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There did seem to be a rather full set of BA jets parked in the distance, though it was tricky to include them and the pickets in the same shot.

Unfortunately the Piccadilly line wasn’t running all the way into central London where I needed to be next, but another bus, the 285, took me quickly to Feltham station for a train to Waterloo.

UBS Picks on Cleaners

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

There is something I find sickening about the way that bankers can pay themselves large bonuses but happily use contracting companies to clean their offices that cut the pay of some of the poorest in London. Not only have the cleaners at UBS suffered a loss in pay, they’ve also lost their rights, and Alberto Durango got the sack for protesting about it as their union rep.

The protests continue, and on Friday night I was there outside the UBS’s large and impressive offices in London’s Liverpool St – next to the station – to cover the event. As at the previous demonstration I photographer there in February, it was damp and there wasn’t a great deal of light. It’s also difficult to think of new ways to photograph an essentially similar event, and the pictures have a certain deja-vu.

But there are times when I think just being there and witnessing and making an attempt to bring what is happening to the attention of others is important, and this in its own small way is one such.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Alberto takes a photograph

Earlier in the event the two children in this picture were holding a banner with their drawings on it and the message ‘Reinstate My Daddy Now!!!’ but I couldn’t find a way to get a good picture of it (you can see a couple of attempts, along with some of the other pictures I took on My London Diary, which also has more about the event.) Some things just don’t fit a frame well whatever you do.

News, Freedom etc

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

BBC news this morning reported that a committee of MPs and peers, the joint committee  on human rights has asked that a review of all of our terrorism laws passed – often in great haste – since 9/11 should be “an urgent priority for the next Parliament.”

This jogged my memory about a video that EPUK pointed out in this weeks newsletter.  Born Under Punches ( Big Brother mix) is a video around 10 minutes long that puts images and clips from various sources along with text – including quotations from George Orwell, Stella Rimington, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Capa and others to the sound track of “Born Under Punches” by Talking Heads.

It includes some familiar pictures of familiar events – including the killing by police of Ian Tomlinson, a year ago next Thursday and various other events in London where police have clashed with protesters and photographers trying to report the events.

© 2008 Peter Marshall
Freedom to Protest demonstration at Downing St, Jan 2008

Robert Capa is best known for his advice that if your pictures are not good enough it’s because you are not close enough, usually interpreted simply in a physical sense in terms of feet and inches, but also I think meaning that you are not sufficiently involved. One of the books that included his work, lurking somewhere on my shelves, was ‘The Concerned Photographer‘ published in 1968, fourteen years after his death, edited by his brother Cornell Capa which also included the work of Werner Bischof, Chim (David Seymour), Andre Kertesz, Leonard Freed and Dan Weiner.

It is this need to get close to the action that often results in friction between photographers and police, and also means that photographers often get a much clearer view of what is happening at events than some other journalists, even many camera crews. While some independents with movie cameras get in there with the photographers – notably Jason N Parkinson, who appears in ‘Born Under Punches’ on both sides of the camera, the news organisations with larger cameras and often two or three people tend to stick to the sidelines and only move in for the more organised ‘photo ops’, sometimes pushing rather rudely in front of us still photographers to do so.

So when – as in the reports of last Saturday’s protest involving the EDL and the UDF – photographers tell a very different story to that put out by the BBC and some other news organisations, you can believe the photographers. They were there, as were some journalists, while the BBC are generally only thereabouts.  Photography isn’t just f8 and be there, but both a a sine qua non for photojournalists. Having heard BBC reports of events that I’ve covered in the past, I have no doubts that their reporting is often incomplete, sometimes incompetent and almost always biased.

The BBC does make some excellent programmes (and I often enjoy listening to them on the radio.)  I’ve always supported the idea of the BBC and I think it vital to our democracy that we have public service broadcasting and a truly independent news service. But years of covering protest in London have led me to the conclusion that the BBC no longer – if they ever did – provides this. Frankly programmes such as the ‘News Quiz’ and the ‘Now Show’ are often closer to the truth than the news broadcasts or the ‘Today’ programme.

Capa’s quote used in the video was a good one: “The truth is the best picture, the best propaganda.”

St Patrick’s Day

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

It’s taken me a week to get round to writing about St Patrick’s Day, mainly because I’ve been busy working taking other pictures and getting them on line since. If you want to keep up with what I’m doing then much of it appears on Demotix, and I post updates  on my work on Twitter and Facebook. Here I try to reflect on things a bit more rather than simply cover events, and that takes time and sometimes there isn’t a great deal to reflect on.

St Patrick’s Day was a little different for me this year because I went to it with a photographer who has made covering these parades one of his specialities, although mostly in the USA where they take these things rather more seriously. And who comes from an American-Irish family and grew up in the the Bronx. I first saw John Benton-Harris’s pictures in ‘Creative Camera‘ many years ago and he had a fine portfolio in one of their year books, but little of his work is currently available, which is a great loss. I can only find 3 images on the web, none well reproduced, one from Derby Day and two (click on the thumbnails to see them) from St Patrick’s parades.

Before the parade John and I went to a couple of exhibitions, one the ‘History of Photography‘ on fairly permanent display at the V&A which seemed very much not to be a history of photography but some rather random items from their large collection (and perhaps mainly chosen for their size.)   There are a few interesting images but it’s hard to see any particular justification for the particular selection. A couple seemed to be rather poor prints – the Robert Frank is damaged and the Don McCullin seemed rather too dark, and there were a few that the only justification for their presence was that they represented the fact that many photographs are bad. It did cheer me up a little to find that several of the better pictures were by photographers I know or have met. The one image that stood out for both John and I was probably the smallest in the show, Dorothea Lange’s ‘White Angel Bread Line.’

Also in the gallery is an exhibition about the first ever museum exhibition of photographs, held at the V&A in 1858.  Consisting of work from the Photographic Society of London and the Société française de photographie  there were the huge number of 1009 photographs on show, and you would have had to get down on your hands and knees to see some and stand on a chair to see others as they were hung 5 or 6 prints high from about six inches to what at a guess is around 7 foot. The photograph of some of them by the museum’s photographer is the earliest known photograph of a photographic exhibition.

We also dropped in to the Michael Hoppen gallery in Chelsea on our way to the V&A, but neither of us was impressed by the pictures of fashion photographer Fernand Fonssagrives (1910-2003), most of which were of his first wife, Lisa with her elegant torso covered with shadow patterns.  It was something that Man Ray had played with earlier (and I suspect others too) but I couldn’t see any great interest in the work though some of the other pictures were of more interest. Lisa Fonssagrives became rather more famous as a model and after their marriage ended in 1950 she married Irving Penn, while Fernand went to Spain and became a sculptor.

And yes, I did take some pictures in Kilburn. Perhaps the one I like best is this:

© 2010, Peter Marshall

though there are others, particularly some of the kids and the old ladies that have a charm (and sometimes an Irish charm.)

© 2010, Peter Marshall

And I quite like this one of the English saint whose day it is.  (The Irish of course came and kidnapped him from Somerset.)  More pictures on My London Diary.

Friedlander’s Diet

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

I’m not sure that the video of Lee Friedlander compiled by Mark Schwarz has a great deal to recommend it, though it could perhaps be seen as an ironically satirical comment on a US American lifestyle, but I’m afraid it really is straight-forward piece of genial Californian whimsy for Mr Lee’s 75th birthday on 14 July 2009.

But the site, AMERICAN SUBURB X,  does have a wealth of interesting material, including an illustrated article on Friedlander by Rod Slemmons, Director at The Museum of Contemporary Photography, and another by Carol Armstrong, professor of art and archaeology and Doris Stevens Professor of the Study of Women and Gender at Princeton University, written at the time of his 2005 MoMA show which may well enlarge your vocabulary, though I find her style akin to torture.  But academics certainly get brownie points for that.

Of course lots more about lots of other photographers including Aaron Siskind and William Klein – and quite a few alphabetically in between on its ‘ASX Channels.’  As well as some whose names I won’t mention without mouthwash to hand.

Among the various articles, there is one by Paul Graham, from his presentation at the first MoMA Photography Forum on 16th February 2010, The Unreasonable Apple in which he likens the art world’s approach to straight photography to “the parable of an isolated community who grew up eating potatoes all their life, and when presented with an apple, thought it unreasonable and useless, because it didn’t taste like a potato.”


Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Yesterday, as I read on PDN Pulse,  an exhibition opened in Dhaka, Bangladesh with police barricading the doors of the Drik Agency where it was being shown.

The statement on Drik reads:

Drik Picture Library was forcibly closed down by the police today to prevent the launch of Pathshala, South Asian Media Academy, and the unveiling of a photography exhibition by photojournalist Dr Shahidul Alam, `Crossfire.’

From midday onwards, Drik was pressurised by RAB, police and Special Branch officials to close down the show on grounds that it does not have official permission, and later, on the grounds that it will create anarchy.

In its 20 years of existence, Drik has forged a unique position in the international cultural arena, which has earned Bangladesh a special place in the world of photography. The unfortunate event which was broadcast worldwide has tarnished the image of this democratically-elected government. We call upon the government to immediately remove the police encirclement, so that the exhibition can be opened for public viewing, and Bangladesh’s image as an independent democratic nation can be reinstated.

The show, with photographs by Drik’s founder Shahidul Alam and curated by Jorge Villacorte from Peru with research by Momena Jalil, Tanzim Wahab and Fariha Karim, was scheduled to be open to the public at the Drik Gallery until 31 March 2010 but currently can only be viewed on line due to the police action.

‘Crossfire’ gets its name from the statements issued by the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) , a sinister black-clad group formed six years ago from members of Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Air Force which carries out extra-judicial killings and torture of people in custody. Set up in 2004 by Law Minister Moudud Ahmed, they have killed over 1000 people, whose bodies are then dumped in fairly random locations and a stock press release states that they were “killed in crossfire” between the police and criminals.  A new word, “crossfired” has been added to the vocabulary.

As Alam say, the facts of these murders by the RAB are already largely well known, and a court which tried to investigate them was recently dissolved by the Chief Justice immediately before the Government was to give evidence. The installation at Drik in his words aims to “to reach out at an emotional level. I aim to get under the skin. To walk those cold streets. To hear the cries, see terror in the eyes. To sit quietly with the family besides a cold corpse. But every photograph is based on in-depth research. On actual case studies. On verifiable facts.  A fragment of the story has been used to suggest the whole. A quiet metaphor for the screaming truth.”

The large format colour pictures show scenes where these killings occurred, and had to be taken in secret, often early in the morning – also a favourite time for the murders.  The existence of the show also had to be kept secret, and it was only announced on the 16 March, when Where Death Squads Struck in Bangladesh was published in the Lens blog of the New York Times with a slide show of the pictures.

On ShahidulNews you can read more about Crossfire, with a Google Map giving details of many of the killings and their locations, and a dark video, ‘RAB Night Walk‘.

Shahidul Alam is Bangladesh’s best known photographer and his work has often before been controversial.  Last November a show on Tibet at the gallery was closed down by the police following pressure from the Chinese government, and the web site was hacked and fake virus warnings put on it to deter people from viewing it. Thirteen years ago, as the Lens article relates,  Alam was set on in the street by a group of men who pulled him out of a rickshaw, stole his camera and computer and stabbed him 8 times – in what he describes as “a particularly unsubtle warning” about his opposition political activities.