Archive for June, 2010

Name the Photographer

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

A nice little photo quiz from James Pomerantz on his A Photo Student blog – all you have to do is to name the photographer responsible for the 50 pictures he is posting in five installments (and 40 are already on line as I write.)

Some are pretty easy, one or two I’d be ashamed to know. So far my average is around five or six out of ten, though I could take a decent guess at a few more and probably find the answers fairly simply on line. But I don’t intend to answer, not least as the prize is some outdated film.

It’s probably not as outdated as some of the film I have around the place, but really I feel all film is outdated now.

Joe Deal (1947-2010)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

I’ve heard and read quite a few people responding to the news of the recent death of photographer Joe Deal by expressing their ignorance about him and his work. He was of course one of the photographers in the famed ‘New Topographics‘ show of 1975, which changed the direction of landscape photography and was recently revisted at George Eastman House (though their web site is rather uninformative – there is more at LACMA, and a feature on NPR.)

I first saw his work in reproduction that year, and a little later he was one of the photographers that Lewis Baltz discussed in some detail on his workshop I attended, showing work from his then current project on suburban housing along the San Andreas Fault Line in Southern California. Like many other photographers who worked in the urban landscape I found this show refreshing and it altered all of our work – and you can perhaps see this in at least some of my and other photographer’s projects on the Urban Landscapes web site – such as my Meridian, DLR and other panoramic series.

You can see a good selection Deal’s Fault Zone series and other work from the period on the Robert Mann Gallery site, where he had a show in 2004. There is an obituary by William Grimes in the New York Times with a slide show and you can also see a second show which begins with some of his more recent images at the Robert Mann gallery.

Five things to do to protect your images

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The latest post by US lawyer Carolyn E. Wright on her very useful PhotoAttorney blog suggests five things photographers can do to protect their online images.  Mostly its familiar advice (and Lightroom 3 might help if you intend to add a copyright watermark to all your pictures) there was one item in the five that was – at least for me – a little novel.

This was her suggestion on copyright management information (CMI), not a term I’ve used before. This is the kind of information we are always advised to put in the metadata of our image files such as your name and copyright information, so nothing new. But although I’ve heard a UK lawyer saying it’s an offence to remove this in this country, I didn’t know the position in the US.

According to Wright, it seems even clearer there, and under the U.S. Copyright Act (Section 1202) removing CMI carries a fine of $2,500 up to $25,000, with  lawyers fees and any damages from the infringement on top. And you can collect on this whether or not your images have been registered with the US Copyright Office.

She also suggests you should use a visible copyright notice on or adjacent to the image whether or not you have registered copyright, as even if your work has been registered it might be possible for an infringer to claim they had used the image without realising it was copyright, drastically reducing the damages you might get from having your work used.

I don’t intend to follow all of her suggestions. Registering with the US only makes sense you are prepared to go after big bucks in the US courts should your pictures be used without consent. And disabling right-click on your web pages will annoy innocent users, including those who can legitimately claim “fair use” such as students writing course essays. But I am thinking seriously about adding a small but clear copyright notice to all of the images I upload in future to my web sites – and of course making sure that all of the images have this and my contact information in the metadata.

For once the image by her that accompanies the post has some relevance, not for the two snow white birds in the image (probably the only oil-free birds to appear on the web in the past month or so) but at the bottom, very clearly visible, is her copyright line.

Lensculture 26

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Lensculture issue 26 is now on line and as always there is much to look at, not least a preview pick of 40 pictures from the 2010 Rencontres d’Arles so that I can see what I will be missing from July 3-13 th (the exhibition programme continues until September 19th>.

I’ve thought about going there for years, but have never quite got around to it. Until around ten years ago there was a good reason, since it was always a very busy time for me at work, and it would have been difficult if not impossible to get the time off, but since then it’s largely been a matter of sloth and failing to persuade any of my photographic friends to accompany me.

Another feature I was very pleased to see was a selection of 16 images by Tony Ray Jones, a highlight of the recent Month of Photography in Krakow, Poland.  I did a very good PR job on his behalf with a lecture at the 2005 FotoArt Festival at Beilsko-Biala (just  a short trip down the road from Krakow) on the ‘Two Rays’ of British photography – Ray Moore and Tony Ray Jones, and again when I spoke in the same lecture hall two years later in a presentation of the history of British ‘street photography.’

You can see my pictures from Bielsko-Biala and a dairy of the 2005 festival there on line, though for copyright reasons I was unable to post my full lecture.  I also kept an online diary in 2007, in which I promise to make a version of my lecture available – but as yet I’ve not managed to do so. There are some copyright issues that I’ve not found a sensible way to resolve.

Sally Mann at the PG

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I was disappointed in various ways at the Photographer’s Gallery opening of a show of Sally Mann‘s work yesterday evening, the last to take place in their current premises before they close for extensive rebuilding. But the show, The Family and the Land, which continues until 19 September 2010, is certainly worth at least a brief visit.

I was a greatly impressed by Mann’s At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women which brought her to the attention of the photographic world when published by Aperture in 1988, although the quality of the reproductions failed to do justice to her work.  (It was her second monograph, following Second Sight: The Photographs of Sally Mann which had been published in 1983.) At the time my students included many young women just a few years older than her subjects and a number of them were inspired by her work in their own projects. But it also disturbed some, as you can read in a thoughtful review by portrait photographer Elsa Dorfmann who felt uneasy about what she calls Mann’s manipulative approach.

Although none of the pictures from At Twelve are included in the current show (the programme notes state that she “first came to prominence for Immediate Family” which was exhibited and published four years later) I think it is more than arguable that ‘At Twelve‘ has had a much greater direct influence on other photographers, with an avalanche of projects dealing with girls in this age group since then.

Immediate Family‘  also published by Aperture four years later in 1992, but this time with seriously good duotone reproduction, also had a powerful effect both on me and my students. One smallish area of the gallery has a dozen or so images from this project, although I would have liked to see many more. Of the sixty plates in the book, only a handful are inclued in the show (The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude, 1987, The Perfect Tomato, 1990, Vinland, 1992, Candy Cigarette and Emmet, Jessie and Virgina, 1989.) There are over 30 images on the Houk Gallery site (the last of those listed is titled EML there, which includes one or two others on the gallery wall.

Immediate Family caused a stir that went well outside the world of photography, with accusations from the right that it was child pornography and promoting pedophilia. There is a long essay by Valerie Osbourn which makes some of the controversy clear and also has some good descriptions of some of the images concerned. Before leaving for the opening I heard a rumour being spread by one a well-known photography critic that this show would be raided by the police who would demand the removal of some of the works. Given the choice of images it was perhaps just an illustration of that particular man’s warped sense of humour. But it was something that occasionally worried me when I was using Immediate Family in my teaching, and a few of my students obviously were rather disturbed by her images.

Having photographed my own children and others in my family in the previous twenty years it was something that neither surprised or disturbed me – and I had indeed been shocked at the powerfully negative response to a few of my own pictures when I had shown them in public in the 1970s.

There are people who have a problem with showing children and family life as it really is rather than in some idealised way, although Mann’s work goes beyond just doing this, with some carefully constructed tableaux. As she writes in her introduction to the book, “Many of these pictures are intimate, some are fictions and some are fantastic, but most are of ordinary things every mother has seen.” And at least some fathers and uncles too.

Later, Mann turned to wet collodion, learning the process from two of the modern masters (now fairly numerous), though perhaps deliberately avoiding becoming too competent at it. It’s much ‘artier’ if you don’t quite get it right (or perhaps more accurately in her case in every sense get it spectacularly wrong.) One or two of her pictures in the series Faces, giant close-ups of the faces of her now rather older children from 2004, have a real touch of the Julia Margaret Camerons, though others to me lacked any presence.

Applying this technique to the kind of American landscapes of the Civil War in rural Georgia and Virginia certainly had a powerful resonance, and the best of this work is impressive, and the accidents and degradation of the process powerfully evocative while on other prints it seems merely an irritating affection. Size too is an issue in her work (and of course the art market) and there are images in this show that I think would actually be more powerful at 8″x10 ” than at 40×48″ or whatever. (Her latest show, Proud Flesh, returns to a more sensible size.)

What Remains is in some ways a disturbing set of images, its subject matter the decomposing bodies at what seems like a rather ghoulish research project in Tennessee. There is a warning notice in the gallery that some may find the work disturbing, though I think I found it annoying. One of the photographers I met at the gallery would have liked to have seen these pictures made with high definition using modern film, camera and lenses. In a way I think she was right, and they would have been more effective, but I’m not sure I would have wanted to view them. I was reminded of many years ago when one of my students photographed in the local hospital mortuary, and I was very relieved to find that the low light conditions there meant that all her pictures were blurred by camera shake.

Immediate Family remains by far the most important series of Mann’s career, and it has never been shown in any depth in this country – and to this extent the current show (an edited version of a touring exhibition from the Museum of Modern Art, Sweden) was a disappointment. It was amazingly her first solo show in the UK, and tried to do too much but ended up doing too little. A second disappointment was that the photographer was delayed and not present at the opening. The third came at the bar. Fortunately there are some decent pubs within a short walk of the gallery, but it may account for what seemed a rather thin attendance for the opening of one of the rare shows of genuine photographic interest at the venue.

You can read an interview feature with Sally Mann by Blake Morrison on the Guardian site, and see more of her pictures, including images from Faces and Proud Flesh on the Gagosian Gallery site. She is also featured in the episode ‘Place‘ made in 2001 on the Art:21 site which also has clips and interviews about the wet collodion process and other aspects of her work.

Epsom

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

I’ve still not been to the Derby, but did go to Ladies Day at Epsom this year. Not sure I’ll go again, and certainly not if they refuse me accreditation.

There were some ladies there.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

and horses:

© 2010, Peter Marshall

even a couple of unicorns:

© 2010, Peter Marshall

but little of interest!

A few snaps here on My London Diary.

Celebrating Murder

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I would probably have gone to the Israeli Embassy to photograph the demonstration organised by the Zionist Federation UK to support the action of the Israeli armed forces in storming the Gaza flotilla and killing nine of the peace activists on board in any case. But hearing that the English Defence League (EDL) intended to add their support to the demonstration made me determined to go along to photograph it.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

On its Facebook page, the English Defence League (EDL) Jewish Division shortly after commented “In a show of solidarity with Israel, EDL supporters did not fly any flags except the Israeli flag. The support of the EDL was noticed within the crowd – our flags flew high and proud” and elsewhere on the page a member asserts that 5 or 6 of them actually took part in the protest, while another small group of EDL sat and watched from the other side of the road “waiting incase anything kicked off” (sic)  and that one of them was possibly arrested. Over 500 people have expressed that they ‘like’ the Facebook group

Although I was pleased to read that the Board of Deputies of British Jews has condemned the EDL’s supposed support for Israel, some of the statements reported from people in the Zionist Federation before and at the event appeared to welcome their support, although I think later they made clear their opposition.

According to the [not] english defence league jewish division blog, one of the supporters of the EDL Jewish Division, former CST (Community Security Trust) member, Mark Israel, claims Jews should back the EDL as an alternative to existing community groups. Later I was pleased to read it reported that the EDL’s “advances have been swiftly rebuffed by Jewish leaders”

There was an England flag along with the many Jewish ones, and a man with an explicitly anti-Muslim placards. And although I cannot positively confirm the EDL claims that there were a number of them among the demonstrators I have no reason to doubt it.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

While responsible Jewish organisations around the world at least expressed regret at the loss of life during the boarding of the flotilla, I heard nothing of this from those demonstrating. Their mood seemed to be exultant, stressing their support for Squadron 13 who had carried out the killings. At one point a section of the crowd at least was chanting ‘dead Palestinian scum‘.

I know that many Jews do not share these feelings. Some indeed were a few yards down the street in a counter-demonstration together with Muslims and others.  My own view is that peace can only be achieved through talking to people, not by blockades but by negotiations. And as history has shown in Ireland, South Africa and elsewhere around the world it means talking to people who you don’t like and who you call terrorists.

More text and pictures from the demonstrations opposite the Israeli Embassy on My London Diary.

9 Years on Wednesday

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Wednesday June 2 was a significant but largely ignored anniversary. Nine years earlier, on June 2 2001, peace protester Brian Haw began his protest in Parliament Square. Nine years later, despite an Act of Parliament and various raids and harassment by the police, he is still there. Still there because our government is still pursuing a war against the people of Iraq, and against the children of Iraq, with children still dying. He said he would stay for as long as it takes, and it’s taking far too long.

I’m not sure when I first photographed Brian Haw. It’s still hard for me to find work I took when I was still shooting on film. Certainly I photographed him when he spoke at an International Women’s Day peace event in Trafalgar Square in March 2004, and later that year at his protest in Parliament Square.

© 2004 Peter Marshall
Brian Haw in Parliament Square in 2004 after more than 3 years of protest

His protest there has changed the face of London so far as protest is concerned. Before then I’d gone to Parliament Square only on fairly rare occasions, but now it has become a major venue for political protest.

Since then I’ve made numerous visits, sometimes taking pictures, on other visits simply talking to him and the others in the peace campaign.

I photographed his display along the length of the square shortly before the police made a night raid and trashed most of it in May 2006:

© 2006 Peter Marshall
Parliament Square,  Brian Haw in the centre of his display, May 2006

And I was there for the party a few days later on June 2 2006 when we celebrated five years of his protest:

© 2006 Peter Marshall
Parliament Square, 2 June 2006 – 5 Years of Brian Haw’s protest

In March 2007 I took what is still my favourite picture of him:

© 2007 Peter Marshall

and later in that year I was at another party to mark another year there:

© 2007 Peter Marshall

and again in 2008:

© 2008 Peter Marshall

I was there in 2009 when he was arrested and bundled into a police van (he was released by the court and back in the square the following day):

© 2009 Peter Marshall

This year there were no celebrations on June 2, although a few people came by to give Brian their regards and note his achievement.   The police came along too, and marked the day by issuing a summons to Brian’s fellow protester in the peace campaign there, Barbara Tucker, for using a megaphone, illegal under SOCPA – the Act that was meant to clear Brian out of the square.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

More about my visit to see Brian and Barbara, and the Democracy Camp also now in Parliament Square, on My London Diary.  There are far too many sets of pictures of my earlier visits to list them all here, but these are some of my earlier visits:

Ethics and Images

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Reuters issue guidance to its photographers and journalists in A Brief Guide to Standards, Photoshop and Captions, which has probably become one of the most misunderstood documents on the web. As might be expected, it includes a great deal of very good sense, but although the principles set out in the document are useful and straightforward enough, most people have misinterpreted the intent of the guidelines.

Unless you work for Reuters (or a similar agency) and have the luxury of leaving working on your pictures to the picture desk, they are really nothing to do with how or how much you should work on your own images.

I don’t have anyone to do my work and I don’t like the idea of leaving others to work on my pictures. Back when I used film I preferred to make almost all my prints myself, regarding my input into that as a part of my work as a photographer. I learnt to be a good printer, and certainly a far better printer than anyone I could ever afford to print my work for me; good enough to be asked quite a few times by other photographers if I would print their work, though I always said no.

The Reuters guidelines are there so that photographers who have not been granted greater “Photoshop privileges” don’t mess up their pictures but leave the real jobs to the trained guys on the desk, who photographers are encouraged to ask to do things like “lighten the face, darken the left side, lift the shadows etc.”  Too many of those who have commented on them or recommended them simply have failed to realise this (and it’s an easy trap I’ve to some extent fallen in in the past.)

It isn’t in any case sensible to try to lay down rules about exactly how much of this or that tool is permissible, not least because many photographers will use different software and hardware. Trying for example to set down limits for sharpening ignores the very different approaches to in-camera sharpening (even of RAW files) adopted by different camera manufacturers. Even using the Nikon D300 and D700 I find different levels of ‘capture sharpening’ appropriate when importing images into Lightroom.

The key to what is or is not acceptable is always intention, both when taking pictures and when processing them.  The three rules that Reuter’s give boil down to respecting the content and journalistic integrity of the image and not doing anything that would mislead the viewer. This is basically all we need to keep in mind and apply.

Photography – at least in the areas of documentary, photojournalism and news – should be about the accuracy and clarity of transmitting information and ideas. Adjustments made to images which are essentially to correct the defects and limitations of lighting conditions, the photographic equipment, photographic skills and process are generally acceptable, while those that seek to alter the scene as perceived by the photographer or to produce graphic derivatives are generally inappropriate for documentary, photo-journalistic or news photography.

Traditionally in black and white photography, printing involved burning and dodging of areas to create an image that expressed more clearly the photographer’s intentions. Some of the best known photographers – Gene Smith being a prime example – at times pushed this perhaps beyond acceptable limits, but it is a degree of control over our work that few photographers would want to relinquish.

One area where it often becomes important is when using direct flash, where the lighting in various areas of a picture can be very unbalanced and some differential correction is often necessary.

What I think might help is to try and lay down some guidelines for photographers, and I’ve made a start on this below by trying to put various things we may do on a kind of spectrum of acceptability – between those things we should always attend to and those that we should never do. Of course there are problems, and sometimes its a matter of degree – almost anything can be taken too far and become unacceptable.

Although some of the vocabulary may be taken from Photoshop, I now see little reason for photographers to use this software other than for one or two very specialised tasks. Lightroom 3 now does more than 99% of what I need that I used to use Photoshop for.

Always appropriate (as necessary)

  • dust removal (scratch etc removal from film)
  • level adjustment
  • colour temperature adjustment
  • exposure adjustment
  • brightness adjustment
  • minor contrast adjustments
  • slight cropping
  • image rotation
  • highlight removal
  • image resizing
  • image sharpening (best done with suitable plugins rather than Photoshop)
  • distortion correction
  • noise reduction (Lightroom 3 probably removes the need for specialist software)
  • Vignetting reduction/removal

Often appropriate

  • Curve adjustment
  • Local dodging
  • Local burning
  • flare removal
  • local contrast adjustment
  • perspective correction

Sometimes appropriate

  • Deliberate blurring/pixellation of detail (eg to hide identity)

Seldom appropriate

  • radical cropping

Never appropriate

  • Content sensitive fill
  • Removal or addition of important image elements

I’m sure there is much I’ve missed out, and this is intended as an initial attempt at a rational discussion of the issues. It does reflect my own practice as a documentary photographer who has worked with both film and digital.

There are some difficult questions to which I have no answer. For example the use of slow shutter speeds to produce blur, sometimes with the addition of flash to produce visually powerful effects has long been accepted as legitimate in these areas of photography, and continues to be so in the digital age. But similar if not identical results can be achieved using suitable software. Personally I find this unacceptable, but find it hard to justify my opinion as to why it matters at which stage of the process this is done.

There are also some – relatively few – special cases where some extreme graphical techniques are appropriate. These generally are so obvious that it is hardly necessary to label them as such.

Against the Deportation Machine

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The first week of June was the European Week of Action to Stop the Deportation Machine and there were two demonstrations planned on Tuesday afternoon as a part of this, both at immigration reporting centres in London.  Both are ordinary looking office blocks, and you have to look very closely to find the small brass plates that tell you anything about what goes on inside. But if you are a refugee or asylum seeker a visit to either of them can be a very stressful occasion – and one that could end with you being put into a holding cell en route to forcible deportation to a country where you may face persecution, torture and even death if an official decides not to believe what you tell them.

Photographing demonstrations like this presents some problems. Firstly there usually isn’t a great deal to photograph – a rather anonymous building, a fairly small number of demonstrators and not a lot happening. Occasionally there are also people present who do not want to be photographed, at times because their own position as asylum seekers remains unresolved. And on this occasion things were not improved by some rather persistent light rain.

Communications House, more or less next to Old St tube station just north of the centre of the City of London is a place I’ve photographed several times, as there are regular monthly demonstrations here as well as the occasional special event.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

A little light relief was provided by the security men who came out and told the protesters that they had to remove the banners which they had taped to the wall of the building. One of them tried to tell me I couldn’t take his picture, but since I already had taken quite a few frames I didn’t really bother to put him right.  I left a little before the protest ended to have a coffee at one of my favourite cafes a short walk away, the Juggler, which has a gallery space where I’ve organised a number of shows in the past, most recently ‘Taken in London‘ last year.

There were rather more demonstrators later in the afternoon at Beckett House, next to London Bridge Station, and for a while it did stop raining, but remained dull and dreary. I’d got there around the time the protest was supposed to be starting and there was nobody there, and instead of waiting as I should have done I took a short walk around the area. More than 20 years ago I did a little research and wrote an self-published an A4 leaflet with an industrial archaeology walk of the West Bermondsey area just to the south (I printed and sold between 500 and a thousand copies – later made available on-line here) with a couple of photos and a bad photo-derived drawing, and I still like to have a look now and then to see how things have changed (and quite a lot has.)  The last time I paid a visit was for Zandra Rhodes’s birthday and a fashion show on Bermondsey St.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

As such diversions tend to, it took me a little longer than I expected and by the time I got back to Beckett House (named I suspect for Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, killed in December 1170 and made a saint rather than the Labour politician and one-time Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett)  things were in full swing and I had missed some of the action, with a possible sighting there of one of the new Home Office ministers. After our new election came up with the Lib-Con government, few of us can recognise any of those involved.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

This second ‘Against the Deportation Machine‘ demonstration was a slightly larger event, with around 30 people taking part, and became just a little lively when most of them decided to take a walk around the building and demonstrate in the car park at the back, so that those working on that side of it could see what was going on. The security men got a little worried at this, and came out and made the demonstrators leave, one lifting the gate barrier to make our exit easier.

You can read more about the two demonstrations and the reasons why people were demonstrating as well as see a few more pictures from Communications House and Beckett House on My London Diary.